I moved back to the United States seven years ago after more than a decade living in other countries. My transition home was not smooth. So much was left behind, so many possessions and so many pieces of my identity that I felt could not exist on American soil. I, the great wanderer, who delighted in life abroad, had abruptly abandoned my adventures and returned to a dull reality in the country of my birth. (Melodramatic, I know! Bear with me.)
As I unpacked eventually in my new kitchen, after months of living with minimal stuff, I clung to the physical objects that represented who I was: the Austrian can opener, the umbrella decorated with my favorite Montreal painter’s work, the worn scores from years of shows and concerts, the heavy and now unattractive sheepskin coat that saw me through so many frigid Canadian winters. I could touch these objects and remember them in different contexts; they confirmed that I’d been adventurous and had made bold decisions in life. They reaffirmed that I was not ordinary; because as I left my life as an ex-pat singer, I felt like an ordinary failure – which is somehow worse than an extraordinary failure. As these routine objects wore out, my reaction to the end of their life was supersized. (It perplexed Dave to no end when I almost burst into tears over the broken can opener!)
As I moved from grieving over a closed life chapter to reveling in the new one, the profound value of these items diminished greatly. I still have the umbrella, and will be sad when it’s gone, but it’s an umbrella. My kids are bilingual French-English, and nothing is more Montreal than that.
These days, I feel the supersized reaction over packing up baby clothes the Littles are growing out of. Either one or the other or both sets will never come out of storage again, except to be given away to someone else’s future child. The prickling of tears over a favorite onesie feels bizarre and ridiculous in a house full of diapers and little shoes. But we’ve moved from the beginning of building our family to the end. Whether there’s one more Oplinger coming or whether we are done, the chapter of “Building a family” will not last forever. The tidy storage of tiny sweaters won’t excuse the presence of baby clothes in our house if we’re done having the babies.
Our babysitters tease me over my militant organizational and stocking patterns. My Amazon subscription list is comprehensive and delivery is well-timed. I do look forward to the diaper era coming to a close. No one will miss those! Yet I foresee sadness as I pack up those tiny G pants that confuse everyone who uses them. (Although I think we converted the pediatrician.) The bottles and burp cloths, booties and infant snowsuits, packing up the baby bouncer and pacifiers – all will lead to a cleaner house, which I crave. But once the baby things are gone, they’re gone. And my magic ball shows me a heavy heart as I take the matching Tupperware bins to their next home.
This ridiculous melancholy was inspired by the rapid growth of the Littles and the Bigs. Tess’ vocabulary is growing like a weed; Remy uses full sentences and is starting to reason. Lilou loves to run, and is starting to sing our favorite songs in her husky little voice. And Griffin, with his luxuriant fro, can put his own Binky in and can almost hold his bottle while he eats. What happened to the babies?
I had a house full of babies, and suddenly they’ve all grown and leapt into the next stage of development. I know that’s going to keep happening until the boys tower over me and the girls give me exasperated eye rolls over my fuddy-duddy advice. I’m starting to fear the march of time, as I watch their development speed up and lead them to new heights, even as I marvel at their development despite our limitations as parents. The Tupperware full of baby gear will leave someday, and we will survive. It’s possible we will even breathe a sigh of relief as we fill the empty shelves with school projects and sports gear that had gathered in various corners of the house. But today, as I watch the kids do puzzles while we drink coffee, I only see the closing of the next chapter looming over their little heads.
(This post brought to you by my favorite muslin baby blanket now full of holes, which we threw away this morning. As I tossed some coffee grounds over it, my emotional mama heart had a moment.)
Drama communicated, the gratitude I feel on Thanksgiving this year is beyond epic. I work with wonderful people and then organization dedicated to music and community, doing a job I could not love more. I come home to a house full of laughter, good food, books, and love. And most of all, I talk my four beautiful children into bed every night with my incredible husband, who continues to surpass my expectations and dreams.
What I’ve learned most from a lifetime of change, loss, and growth is that nothing has more impact on a life than love and reaching for dreams that seem completely beyond reach. Thank you to all of you reading this, for being my digital support system! Thank you to all of the families who have allowed Dave and I to be parents. I say families because we are constantly delighted and surprised by the kindness of everyone who’s touched our children’s lives. For example, Tess’s birth family in Austria recently wrote us a note on this blog welcoming all of our children to meet them down the road, reminding them that people near and far love ALL of them in immeasurable ways.
Gratitude is not a big enough word for what I feel about life this Thanksgiving. The least I can do is take a moment and celebrate everything that we have and everything that we will be as a family and as individuals. Happy Thanksgiving!