I am practicing the spiritual discipline of sorting out the too-small clothes this week. Oh, friends, it’s killer. My babies were small, and now they’re bigger, and the big ones will never be little again—same song, next verse. You know.
We have pants in the closet so tiny that my big kids could not fit their hands through the leg holes. Looking in there, you might think we spend a lot of time dressing up a pet poodle or something, because surely those little things did not ever fit these giant children. “Did you once have a chihuahua?” you might ask, politely.
Those clothes are not relevant to our lives, today. If I try to store every tee shirt and pair of shorts for the next kid, the elastic will dissolve into dust. (Ask me how I know.) A very few favorites, yes. Everything they’ve ever owned, no.
And it’s STILL hard to pack them up and send them away, because doing that means admitting that the past is the past. It means admitting that we all have to live in the present.
It means that no matter how many more chances you have to experience the awe of little-ness, the particular three-year-old who stomped in the mud wearing those shorts is now ten, and time isn’t turning back.
I can tell myself that I’m only remembering the sparkling moments, not the hundred nights of trying to brush clenched baby teeth, or the tears (mine) an hour past bedtime, or the bleary-eyed breakfast-making because someone woke up before the sun rose.
I can tell myself that whatever those clothes once meant for us—the easy thrill of the playground slide, the joy of discovering bubbles and sprinklers and scooters, the way your whole day can be redeemed with a rocking chair and a bedtime story and the smell of toddler hair—those are not in the fibers of the cloth. They’re woven into our hearts and our minds. They’re not going anywhere.
Telling myself this helps less than you would think.
As far as I can see, I have three choices:
1. Keep all the clothes the children ever wear, until I am slowly crushed to death under a mountain of striped cotton;
2. Pretend I am not inappropriately attached and give the clothes away;
3. Don’t pretend. Show up anyway. Give the clothes away. Sob a little.
I want to tell you something else.
I have six children, and they were all born into this family. They’ve been here every minute of their lives. But my siblings, you know, have other stories. Some of my brothers and sisters are related to me by birth, and others are ours by adoption, and foster care continues to play a part in our extended family.
From my tangential view of the process, I’ve learned a couple of things. One is that children in foster care often arrive in their new homes with nothing but the clothes they’re wearing. Maybe a lovey. Not a sweater. Not pajamas. Not a backpack to take to the new school they’ll be enrolled in tomorrow.
They need a few things, is what I am saying.
We have some of those things, you and I.
I can’t make my preteens turn back into preschoolers for just one afternoon, to wear the tiny overalls one more time.
I can’t fix the world that makes foster care a reality.
I can’t fix the system, either. (It’s kind of a mess.)
But I have elastic-waist toddler jeans and teensy little swim trunks.
When packing them up gets hard and I start to think I should just save all the clothes—when I start to think that the tiny clothes keep the memories of tiny people a little closer—I breathe the clothes in deeply, I do. Sometimes I kiss them goodbye. Because I am a goofball.
When I get really grabby, I take a big old breath and I pray: OH GOD, this one—this tiny dress, these floral booties, this little old-man sweater, this beanie that wouldn’t fit over my fist—make sure this one finds its way to just the right child.
And then I will tuck them into a shopping bag and deliver them to our local Foster Family Resource Center.
I can’t sit here holding a pair of tiny swim trunks and waiting until I’m not a goofball anymore. If I don’t show up with my one pair of swim trunks, someone else doesn’t get to have swim trunks, and that’s more important than bolstering my hazy memory.
I’m folding the clothes and MAYBE I WILL CRY but I will also lay them down and offer them up.
I can do this one small thing. One small thing is better than zero things.
Our past can serve someone else’s present. And our right-now needs us all to be present.
If you are a parent whose kids outgrow stuff, would you do something for me?
Would you take just a minute to Google “foster family association” and your city or county’s name? It might be “foster parent association” in your area, or “foster family resource center.”
See if they would like your gently used clothes, backpacks, changing table, rain boots.
If you’re in San Diego county, you can donate here.
Be yourself. (Even if you’re a goofball.) Do what you can. Love your babies along the way—the ones in your house and the ones out in the world who need something today. We’ll do it together, okay?