For four years I’ve wanted to cull all the baby clothes I have accumulated. This partly because I want to put babyhood behind me and look forward to each new future stage of development that my children will reach; but on a practical side, our house is very small and I feel suffocated by the clutter.
Each year I looked at the plastic storage tubs stacked four-high in ‘the baby’s room’ and thought that I might as well keep it all since we were not finished our family. As each of my boys approached two, they clearly could not fit into any cute outfits, onesies or overalls anymore. So there would be a time each year that these tubs would be pulled out and the clothes sorted for the next size up and the baby items washed and packed away. It was fortuitous in a way that all our children were the same gender; it was practical and less expensive to have each boy wear hand-me-downs.
But today I have sorted those storage tubs for the last time. At the time I did it methodically and tried to be ruthless. There was a pile of clothes to give away, a pile to donate to charity and some brand new items that could be sold at a garage sale. At the time I did not get sentimental about the tiny outfits. Some of the clothes had been part of my life since I first became a mother but I did not let myself reminisce; I’m not prone to flights of fancy. I told myself they were just clothes.
It wasn’t until later, after I had bundled all the give-away bags of clothes into shopping bags and put them into the back of my car that I allowed my thoughts to wander. I didn’t know how I felt exactly about extracting this intrinsic part of my life and discarding it. The clothes represented a history – I could easily recall who gave what items as gifts for the boys and which had been bought new by us as excited, idealistic and naïve parents-to-be.
I knew which onesie had been worn by Master 4 on his first plane flight and which one he was wearing when his poo overflowed up his back on another interstate flight and how I struggled to clean a wriggling baby on the miniscule plane toilet change table. I knew what Master nearly 3 was wearing on the day we discovered we were pregnant with Master 1. I knew what Master 1 was wearing when, while still in hospital, he went blue and nearly choked on uncleared mucous. I knew what Master nearly 3 was wearing when he had a terrifying febrile convulsion. I knew which pyjamas were favoured by each boy dependent on the cotton percentage and how hot they slept at night . . .
Each item of clothing had become a historical family map for me but I never imagined it would be so. Maybe it was because of the yearly ritual of changing out the clothes and sorting them that another layer of memory was embedded. Maybe it was a sense of connection and emotion that baby clothes bring to a mother that I never thought would affect me . . .
I hurriedly pulled up to the Op-Shop car park and got out of the car and grabbed the bag of clothes. I tried not to think at all as I unceremoniously dumped them into their donations bin but I had a surprise pang of what I think was regret, or maybe guilt. Something thudded in my heart as that bag hit the bottom of the bin. I could not hold onto these clothes forever just because my children had once worn them. They did not fit my children anymore. They did not fit in my house anymore. They were needed by others with babies.
The next stop was at a dear friend’s house who’s expecting fraternal twins. She would definitely be able to put the clothes to good use. I knew she was at work today. I liked the idea of leaving them for her to find on her doorstep when she got home as a nice surprise. But part of me wanted to tell her all about the clothes – what I found most useful, what was coolest in the wet season and to coo together over the cutest things; I wanted to hang on – not to the clothes but to the memories they invoked I suppose.
I consoled myself as I drove off that all the clothes I had given away were all in good condition and would be well appreciated by people who needed them. Other mothers would remember their children in them and I felt more than a bit silly that I had become emotional about the whole process.
Suddenly Master 4’s strident voice came from the back seat; “Mum why are you giving away my favourite baby clothes?”
“Oh, because they don’t fit you or your little brothers anymore”
“Yeah, cos we’re growing big and strong, reeeallllly quickly!”
He was so right. By the time I arrived home I was over feeling strange about it. My house was a little less cluttered and others could benefit from my donations.
As I looked around the house I noticed that the clothes were just one aspect of babyhood that had gone. There was still the cot, high-chair, endless baby toys, numerous tiny food storage containers and bottles. It seemed that my babyhood was far from over in any case!