When we took the Christmas tree down this year, I carefully separated the decorations into three piles. One to take to the charity shop to be recycled, one of things that were falling apart and needed to be thrown out and one of things to be lovingly packed to take with us to our new house. To be put on next year’s Christmas tree.
This last pile included things that the children had made and brought home from playgroup, pre-school, primary school. Or things that we had made together, sticky with glue and messy with paint.
It also included things we had bought together, A. and I, before the children were born and things we’d bought since, small ones exclaiming excitedly at the twinkling, glittery beauty of them. Some were decorations my mother had made, sewn, with love and care.
By now you know what’s coming I’m sure..
It was this last pile that I hastily put into a plastic bag, keeping them aside while I organised everything else into its proper place and it was this bag that I put by the fridge to be moved into the storeroom later, when I rushed out the door to pick up the kids from school.
Tonight, while I was washing up and A. was bathing S. and Z., I remembered this bag, dried my hands on my favourite bright red teatowel and went to move it to safety.
It was gone.
You knew it was coming.
I called up the stairs. “A.! Where’s that bag that was next to the fridge?” He came to the top of the stairs “What?”
I repeated the question.
“I threw it out when I took the rubbish.” He was dimly, uncomfortably aware, without knowing why, that there was a problem. “Why? What was in it?”
I told him and his face fell. “You’re joking!” I shook my head, lip trembling.
For the next 10 minutes we searched, him outside, in the vain hope that somehow the bin men had miraculously missed the bag when they’d been to collect our rubbish. They hadn’t of course, they were as efficient as they ever had been. A. was sorry but of course, it wasn’t his fault, I should have moved it sooner.
I searched inside, in the storeroom, in the loungeroom, anywhere I could think of but I didn’t find it and with each successive failure to discover it, I felt more and more sad until finally I was sitting on the floor of the storeroom/laundry crying as though my heart might break.
I don’t get deeply attached to ‘things’ as a rule. As long as I have my family around me and everyone’s safe and healthy, I’m pretty philosophical about breakages and losses. But this was a bag of memories. Memories of my babies, their eyes lit up with the joy of Christmas. Memories of proud little faces as we asked about their lumpy, glittery offerings and they explained their creative process. Memories of walking in the cold, cheeks rosy in the wind, to buy that special round, painted bauble we’d seen in the shop window and loved.
I sat for a few minutes, indulging in my grief and then shook myself and stood to go back into the kitchen, reminding myself that in the scheme of things it was a small tragedy. That everyone was okay and that together we would create new memories. I was wiping my tears away with the red tea towel when S. came in, still warm from the bath, tall now, almost as tall as me. “It’s okay Mummy.” he said, wrapping his arms around my neck. “It’s all going to be okay. What was in the bag?” I told him and he hesitated for just a second, then hugged me again.
“We’ll make new ones Mummy, don’t worry.” I hugged him back fiercely. What a great kid! “Yes we will darling and it is all okay, you’re right.” We smiled at each other and I sent him off to get ready for bed.
Five minutes later I heard a small, firm tread behind me and I turned to see Z., looking as though he was there with a purpose. “Why were you crying Mummy?” I told him I’d felt sad because I’d lost some special things. He nodded. “Well, when you’re crying, you should think of something happy” he said earnestly “like us hugging you, or doing something fun.” as he spoke, he stepped forward and opened his little arms. I leaned down and he put them around me, as far as he could and patted me for a moment. He stepped back and for the next few minutes, explained to me in a complicated, convoluted way how the brain and the mind work and what other steps to take when we feel sad. Then, pausing only to make sure I was okay, he turned and ran back up the stairs. I could hear him telling A. and S. that he had managed to stop me crying and I smiled.
10 minutes later, I found that little bag of memories, hidden in a corner I hadn’t thought of and I added to their preciousness the memories my boys had just created, before I put them carefully away.