I am not an overly sentimental person.
Emotional? Yes. Dramatic. You bet. But sentimental? Not particularly.
I didn’t keep a pregnancy journal. I don’t have locks of my kids’ hair tucked away in their baby books. I don’t swoon over my children’s art projects. And the markings on their height chart stop in 2013.
I have always been content to say goodbye to the past, and move on to the next phase of their rapidly-changing childhood, to let go of one season so that we could move into the next. But when I packed up their old crib two years ago so that my niece could share in its coziness space of slumber, I was hit by a wave of emotion so strong and shocking I was nearly knocked to my knees, head in my hands, tears falling.
Nonetheless, for two years, my niece slept in that crib and now it is her younger brother’s turn to sleep there. Shortly after he was born, our extended family spent the afternoon together celebrating the newest member to the family. While my sons played with their 2-year-old cousin, my husband joked with his brother. My father-in-law watched baseball while my mother-in-law held the new baby. I chatted with my sister-in-law in the kitchen, and out of the corner of my eye, I spotted the crib in the baby’s room. Eventually, I wandered in to have a look.
Instantly, I was transported back to those years when my sons slept inside the crib’s four slated walls. All the feelings I felt after my older son was born – shock, exhaustion, sadness, emptiness, anger, frustration, and fear – came rushing back, mixing together with the memories of my younger son’s infancy – gratitude, joy, wonder, awe, and (again) exhaustion – until I couldn’t separate the two experiences and they swirled together into a tornado of emotion.
“The crib…” I sighed when my husband joined me in the room.
“The teeth marks always get me,” I said, walking out of the room and fighting back tears. But, really, every part of the crib holds memories, both good and bad, of years that cannot be relived, mistakes that cannot be corrected, memories that will continue to blur.
The minimalist in me relishes the resourceful sharing of belongings, especially something as temporary in its functionality as a crib. The helper in me is thrilled to relieve my in-laws of the burden of buying new furniture while, at the same time, ridding our house of an unnecessary fixture. The mother-aunt in me rejoices in the shared connected between my sons and their cousins.
So why the sudden and out-of-character sentimentality?
For better or worse, the crib is the backdrop for many of the most palpable memories of my sons’ childhood thus far. There are the sad and painful memories of the sleep-deprived, anxiety-filled first few months (or was it years?) of my older son’s life when, standing next to the crib trying desperately to get him to sleep, I cried as hard as he was crying. So many of those newborn days, when I was under the heavy cloud of postpartum depression, are dark and hazy with scars that are still healing. But there are also enchanting visions of the crib supporting my sons’ stubby feet as they stood for first time, smiling proudly, surrounded by an army of stuffed animals, books, and sippy cups.
For me, my sons’ crib holds many of the best memories of their childhood, as well as the worst, and like most memorable things in life, it is impossible to separate the good from the bad. The bitter and the sweet are so intricately intertwined they take on a more vibrant tang, making the memories stand out so vividly in our brains.
We are, by nature, sifters. We shake our memories out through a sieve, tossing aside the gritty rubble and broken seashells. We hold on to the soft pebbles and sea glass that remains, turning them over in our hands, eyeing them closely. Every once in awhile, we might pick up a broken seashell or a sharp stone, tracing over its edges with our finger until we finally say, I think I can make something beautiful out of this.
And this shared crib, for me, is like scooping up a bucket on the beach. There are millions and millions of sandy everyday moments, when one day runs into the next without any decipherable distinction. There are gnarled rocks with pointy edges that cut deep with the acute realization that I desperately want a do-over, a mulligan to make up for those dark days I messed up so badly. There are broken seashells offering remnants of what might-have-been or what should-have-been. And there are pebbles of tender moments so soft and smooth that they feel like velvet against my heart.
And if I sift long enough, and look closely enough, I sometimes find the occasional piece of sea glass, the shared memories. If I hold them up to the light, and squint through the shadows of regret, the gentle memories that I want to hold on to sometimes look a lot like the new memories that will be made.
With enough sifting and enough attention, I might find enough sparkly sea glass to complement the soft pebbles, the opaque seashells, and even the jagged rocks, connecting it all with a gritty paste of sand to make something that looks a little like a mosaic of shared memories.
The mosaic of a family.