I sit on the floor in front of my daughter’s dresser, tall kitchen trash bag in hand, and I start sifting through the current contents of her overflowing drawers. She is the youngest of four — my last and final baby — and I am doing her seasonal clothing shuffle. Only this time it’s different, because the stuff she’s outgrown isn’t going into storage for the next kid. It’s going away for good.
I started making a donation pile — black and white striped leggings, a checkered peplum top, and nude colored textured onesie. I dig a little deeper and as I grab a brightly colored pair of donut pajamas, a vivid memory of her flashes before me. Hair matted and cheeks red, her hands gripping the rails of the crib, she jumps as high as she can, multicolored donuts bouncing up and down. I can feel tears welling up in my eyes as I come back to the present moment, pajamas in hand. Sadness and panic set in with the realization that I will never have another baby to don those faded donuts. So I pause, and rather than throwing them in the donation bag, I carefully fold them and place them on a closet shelf. Because although I want to be at peace with the changes that are happening, I am not.
Every few months, as a necessary household chore, I propel myself into this same mini trauma — self-inducing small panic attacks via cute little clothes. And it’s not the emotionally appropriate small cry session that many of my friends experience in these moments, instead it feels intensely heavy and dark — as if there is something wrong with me. Because every time I say goodbye to these outgrown clothes for the last time, I am saying a final goodbye to what I wholeheartedly believe is the greatest phase of my life. And I have no idea how to move through the goodbyes without feeling immense grief for the things I will never get back again.
I will never again unvelcro the gray and white swaddle, unveiling my perfectly needy and hungry newborn baby. I will never again zip the footie pajamas with the little monster feet extra slowly to avoid pinching that extra soft, sensitive skin. I won’t feel the ruffles from the magenta onesie on my stomach while nursing, and I won’t maneuver over chunky thighs with the blue polka dotted leggings. And while I am so incredibly grateful that I get to have these memories with my four healthy, growing children, I am also desperately sad with each transition and change.
Maybe that is okay, though. Maybe rather than so constantly trying to “fix” myself, I give myself a little grace. Because I think it is possible to be grateful and sad at the same time. To feel excited for the future, but also heartbroken leaving the past.
So how can I make these seasonal clothing cleanouts a little less tragic? Popping a beta blocker before grabbing the donation bag would be a good start. Maybe outsourcing the job — although let’s be real, I’m too much of a control freak for that. So I will start by allowing myself to melt down rather than holding a death grip on my emotions. I will give myself permission to hold on to some special things, without obsessing over the finality that they will never be worn again and I will practice mindfulness — strategically bringing myself back to the present moment when my brain takes a nosedive down a rabbit hole of days past.
But really, despite my relentless efforts, this is a problem that I can not solve. Instead, I simply have to live through it. I have to keep seeing them change, watching them grow, and packing away old clothes that no longer fit. And although what may be a simple, mundane task to others feels so wildly painful to me, I surely will survive. And likely have some wonderful days ahead.
Samm D. is an ex-lawyer and mom of four who swears a lot.