16 september 2007
By Nanci Olesen
Listen to this audio essay.
We emptied our attic the other day. We’re going to make a little room up there.
Our attic holds everything we can’t deal with as our lives speed on. We hired our friend’s son, who lived at our house on and off for weeks at a time when he was a kid and his mom was on tour with a theatre company. He’s a young man now. He just started college. But when he saw the Playmobils and toy swords, he let out a little squeal and for a moment it was as if he and our son were going to set up on the stairs and start playing. Our girls carried boxes of stuffed animals and doll clothes, sometimes carelessly, sometimes tenderly. We found PILES of video cassettes… The Brave little Toaster and Beauty and The Beast (sung) … those soundtracks are imbedded in my head….
I was upstairs in the hot little attic, finding fabric that I meant to make into matching sweatshirts when the kids were 4, 5, and 8. My heart started beating fast. The kids started making fun of all the things I insisted on saving. Then I began to get exasperated. I was thinking “How could things have gotten so out of hand? Why didn’t I just make photo albums after each trip? Who even cares about that poster from that school play?”
Suddenly the attic was empty. You could imagine the clean, Nordic space we were going to make up there.
Now the garage is filled with all that stuff. No car will park there for months. Our memories and intentions have been moved from the attic to the garage.
I know this is nothing new. I know that mothers and fathers have shuffled through their kids’ possessions for years, frantically trying to keep pace with castaway toys and clothes and schoolwork. I can tell already that there is a big train wreck coming when our kids leave and I’m left in a house where nobody builds forts in the living room and there aren’t kids piled on top of each other in the basement having sleepovers.
That afternoon, my heart felt tight and hot. Like I’d been betrayed. As if those nights popping popcorn for them and the afternoons helping them glue their paper doll houses together will never come around again.
—Nanci Olesen is the host and producer of MOMbo. She has three kids, 17, 13, and 12. The attic renovation is almost complete, and the garage is a nightmare.