We have a lot of stuff; this blog didn't get the name "The Clutter Museum" for nothing. However, aside from piles of paper and Lucas's toys and art supplies, this clutter doesn't tend to clog up the house.
It's all in the garage.
See, I'm very much of a save-and-purge mentality. I want to save up enough stuff to warrant making the trip to the thrift store to donate, or enough to have a yard sale. That, however, is a lot of stuff. So I tend to accrue piles of things I no longer want or need, but that are still in good condition: books, clothes that are in classic styles but no longer fit, toys that Lucas has outgrown.
It's this last category--all the material culture that accompanies baby- and toddlerhood--that I find particularly difficult to deal with. My approach has been to put my maternity clothes and Lucas's outgrown clothing, as well as his infant toys, into big plastic bins in the garage. I was saving them for our next child.
A few months ago, Mr. T and I decided to try to conceive a second child, but it quickly became clear to us that we lack the emotional energy, the physical energy, or the financial wherewithal to care for a sibling for Lucas. I'll soon be going back on the pill.
I'm 32 (soon 33), so I know my years of easy conception are waning. Sure, I understand I haven't closed completely the door to a larger family; after all, I could go off the pill within the next few years and still have a statistically low-risk pregnancy, or we could grow the family through adoption.
However, Mr. Trillwing is 13 years older than I am, and he does not want to be a raising teenagers when he should be enjoying his senior citizen years. I don't blame him. The thought of putting TWO kids through college--financially and emotionally--makes me uneasy. Really, despite my dreams of providing Lucas with a sibling--I can't imagine not having my own sister in my life--on paper the decision to have only one child is a no-brainer. Financially and environmentally and in terms of marital stress, it makes perfect sense.
But back to the stuff in the garage.
One of the hinges that raises and lowers our garage door broke a few days ago, and the landlord is sending out someone to fix it this week. To make the repairs, the door installer needs everything in the garage to be cleared away from the door to a depth of ten feet.
That's a lot of stuff--mostly Lucas's baby stuff. The automatic swing, the vibrating bouncy chair, the toddler play center, the playpen and safety gates, the bathtub that fits neatly into the kitchen sink. Numberless onesies in newborn and infant sizes, bearing their embroidered puppies and bunnies, their tiny cars and trains.
I need to figure out what to do with all of it. Giving it away means acknowledging, at least for the time being, that there will not be another baby in our lives, that we will never again share the joy of a first smile, of early giggles, of first steps and babbled words. (It also means no more sleepless nights or mastitis or runny poop, but of course I'm overlooking all those experiences.)
It means acknowledging, in short, that Lucas's babyhood is behind him. I might have come to grips with this development sooner, since he is almost three and a half feet tall. But I've noticed that every week Lucas grows less interested in the last of his baby toys. Even though he's young enough still to sleep in a crib, he's old enough to be afraid of the dark and whatever lurks in it. This week he requested a night light for the first time.
To be honest, many of the trapping of Lucas's babyhood will be easy to give away--I never was fond of them anyway, except that they have a connection to my son. But I do tear up when I think of the vibrating aquarium bouncy chair:
The chair sat by my desk for many months as I was writing my dissertation. Lucas snoozed or looked at soft books or gazed, fascinated, at the bubbles and lights and sounds of the "aquarium." I can still summon the buzz, its exact pitch and cycle rumbling against the ball of my foot as I gently rocked Lucas, and I can still hear the sounds of waves that emanated from the speaker--still see, in my mind, its little light show. During those naps of Luke's, I sat in the dim dining nook that served as my office, the only sounds the vibrating chair, the recording of waves, and my typing. My dreams--of a completed dissertation, of motherhood, of a tenure-track teaching job--were illuminated then by the white light of a laptop, and by the gently pulsing, colorful lights meant to soothe an infant.
Getting rid of that chair means not only acknowledging that my little boy is growing up and that I'll likely not have another baby, but that another window is closing: All that academic training I had, all those aspirations and hopes of being rewarded in a traditional way for my intellectual efforts--my hopes, in short, for a tenure-track teaching job, are also passing away. We all know that working outside the classroom, that not publishing regularly, within the couple of years after graduating, can indicate to search committees a lack of intellectual resolve, a lack of loyalty to the ways and culture of the academy.
I remind myself of how much I love my current job. But in many ways accepting an academic staff job is like going back on the pill--it's one way of assuring one's intellectual progeny, if one has any at all after committing to an 8-to-5 gig, will not be taken as seriously as those on the tenure track.
Once I get on this train of thought, it's hard to get off, as any depressive knows: I should have worked for a disciplinary, instead of an interdisciplinary, Ph.D. I should have researched a topic that has more contemporary relevance. (Hello? I started my Ph.D. program days after September 11, but did it ever occur me to look at Middle Eastern studies, even though I was in a program and at a university that could have supported such research?) I should have spent less time pursuing my many intellectually and aesthetic interests and more time focusing on publishable topics. I shouldn't have spent so much time teaching.
But: I'm a damn good teacher. I like my areas of research. I like that I have many interests.
I also love being a mom, and I've observed that pursuing a full-fledged academic career makes being an engaged parent very difficult. I know I've done a good job of triangulating our financial resources, Mr. Trillwing's and my desire to have careers, and our geographic location into a high quality of life for Lucas.
That said, I'm always considering alternative paths: different careers, ones that will let me spend more time with Lucas while he's still young. Different, less expensive towns. Ways to live closer to our family support network. Alternative, more productive or creative or fulfilling ways to spend my precious evening leisure time.
Making these decisions is tough. And there's a lot of physical and emotional clutter--a warehouse of vibrating aquarium bouncy chairs--between me and where I need to be.