Okay, “hoarding” is such a dirty word, I know. If you have ever watched the ridiculously addicting reality show Hoarders, you’ll know that the word conjures up visions of old women living with hundreds of cats (both alive & dead) in a house she must crawl through rabbit trails to navigate. But we all hoard a little bit, don’t we? We keep things that other people would find easy to discard–be they concert tickets, old Christmas cards, stuffed animals from childhood, discount ______ sold in bulk. Some of us are “collectors,” because what we keep is interesting to other people–like sand from faraway beaches or Hello Kitty paraphernalia that clearly isn’t just for kids. Some of us are just moms, storing away little keepsakes that embody the deepest meaning to no one but just us. One day, we think, our children might really like to see their drawings from preschool, their first handprint, or the baseball mitt from their first Little League game…But even if they won’t, we still keep them. For us.
Alright, I’m pretty sure I’m not a truly pathological hoarder, because I don’t keep fingernail clippings or used band-aids. Hey, even I’ve got my limits. But I know it’s been hard for moms & dads to just toss out that pacifier when it’s time, even when it will be a relief. Anything our children have been attached to, we are attached to. Blankies, binkies, cozies, mangy no-longer-plush animals. After all, there aren’t that many Pinterest ideas for preserving things that carry the crusty, sticky remnants of our children on them (though in the future that DNA might be easily used to clone our little rugrats); not like the quilts made from onesies or t-shirts. And for body parts like hair & teeth, we are only just this side of cannibal if we want to make them into jewellery & wear them, right? Remember a long time ago when Angelina Jolie got a bunch of flack for wearing Billy Bob’s blood in a vial around her neck? Ew, gross, people said. I don’t think it’s really gross–it’s just very literal. I want to keep a piece of you with me. Because the piece represents the whole. (Which, btw, it turns out, it wasn’t a vial.)
A New “Hair-Brush”
Here is a great idea that I loved: My friend Grace recently shared how she had her son’s lock of hair made into a gorgeous calligraphy brush in Japan. The process is painstaking–artisan craftsmanship carried out by careful human hands (see here). I thought of what a perfect way that was to immortalize this little bit of baby that would otherwise just be put into an envelope & stuffed into a box somewhere. That it would also be functional & perhaps be used to write poetry or paint still lifes or landscapes just seems to perfectly symbolize the hope & dreams & infinite potential of our children to be forces of creativity in the world. In that brush lies all possibility…
My friend Rebekah recently told me that when they relocated, her husband threw out the lock of her son’s hair she had been keeping. He also refused to keep the baby teeth. What for? He probably couldn’t imagine. Rebekah & I laughed that, as moms, those little things just are important. They just are! I told her about my daughter’s first hair cut, which didn’t happen until the age of five (“Cutting the Cord…Again: Zoë’s First Hair Cut,” here on my photo blog). I wanted to tell her too that I have kept the little stub that fell off from Zoë’s umbilical cord. It’s somewhere; I don’t know where. But every time I clean & come across it, I don’t throw it away. Seems sacrilegious not to do something special with it at least–like bury it in a plant, so it will become a flower one day. Am I really just going to toss that out with the dirty tissues & wrappers & compost cuttings? Even medical waste has that separate, special, red trashcan at the doctor’s office. My midwife, Sue, also preserved (dehydrated) my son’s umbilical cord into the shape of a heart when she took my placenta for encapsulation, so of course I have that too.
The word souvenir that we use to mean “memento” or “keepsake” comes from French for “memory” or “to recall.” I think in keeping all these little things, we hope for remembrance of a time in our children’s lives that passes all too quickly. Let me remember this peach fuzz on my newborn, these feathery wisps on my one-year-old. Let me remember this first tooth lost, just as I remember the first tooth that pushed itself through those pink baby gums. Let me remember these changes–& who my children were, before they change yet again…