Once again, there’s stray school playground pebbles in our hallway. I’m sweeping them into the dustpan when the broom bristles catch on a navy strap hanging down from the backpack wall hooks. I untangle the two from each other and realize what that navy strap belongs to.
My toddler carrier has been stored among my four kids’ backpacks and my purse for well over a year—and I cannot bring myself to sell, donate, or store it. And this isn’t a one-baby-item problem. I haven’t been able to get rid of any baby item.
I absolutely have my hands full with four children–all of whom we adopted. My oldest is a tween, and my second oldest is about to become a tween too. My son is turning seven in a few months—a first grader. And my daughter—the baby of our family—just turned three and started preschool. My family is big, loud, chaotic, and fun.
As a family by adoption, there were no “oops” babies either. Each bundle of joy we added to our family was brought to us through an intentional plan. Our first three kids all came to us within a four-year span—which meant we had three young children at once—an infant, a toddler, and a preschooler.
Any parent knows, when you have children, you suddenly find your home packed with kid crap. Baby gear is so bulky, including an exersaucer, swing or glider, bouncy seat, and more. Then once they hit toddlerhood, the toys start creeping into every corner and onto every shelf. Well, let’s be real. They’re mostly just dumped all over the floor despite every intention to store them in a cube system with cute canvas bins.
Children accumulate more and more, everywhere they go. The cashier offers stickers, the bank teller offers suckers, birthday kids hand out party favors. And somehow, those trinkets and cheap pieces of candy become our children’s most prized processions—or so they tell us when we try to quietly toss them into the garbage can.
It only gets worse with subsequent kids—to the point where our house looks like a ransacked toy store. But it’s not just the toys. Blankets, pillows, used tissues, random articles of clothing—they take over. Most of my friends have living rooms that look like a tornado hit them—until we get pissed enough and rage clean. That purging-organizing-donating session is great for about two days. Then the mess takes over again.
Despite having four kids and all of their stuff, the baby items that are sprinkled throughout my home are painful reminders that we are probably done adding to our family. So instead of accepting this fact, I keep the baby items where they were when each child used them—clinging to the past and refusing to acknowledge the future.
In our guest bedroom on top of our toilet is a candle, a roll of extra toilet paper, and five children’s books we kept there when my kids were toilet training. Three of these are board books, with chunky pages for little hands. Each book has the word “potty” in the title and they are all about cartoon animals who—yay!—learn to be big kids.
In our hallway, along with the aforementioned baby carrier, there’s a small shoe closet. And yes, you guessed it. Stuffed inside there are tiny shoes and winter weather apparel that look like they’re made for dolls compared to the height of my four kids.
I should donate them, but then I remember that the teeny black and pink mitten set was worn by all four of my children. I flashback to throwing snowballs, making snow angels, and scooping up snow to make homemade ice cream. Every other winter, one of my kids was toddling awkwardly through the white fluffy powder, having just mastered the skill of walking.
My youngest daughter just had her third birthday. Looking around her bedroom, there are remnants of her babyhood that I cannot put into a storage bin. I love that she’s embracing her big girl status these days—as many three-year-olds do—but I also yearn for the moments when I swaddled her, put a pacifier in her mouth, and rocked her to sleep. I don’t want to toss the pacifiers, pass on the baby toys, or give my younger sister the keepsakes for her own little kids.
I know. I’m in denial. At least I acknowledge my problem, right?
I’ve been processing how I’m the old mom at preschool pick up now. Among the pregnant moms, with a toddler in a stroller, while they wait for their oldest—a peer of my three-year-old’s—to come out of the school doors, there’s me. Mom of four, waiting for my youngest child to exit with all the other moms’ oldests.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m so glad I no longer have to tote around a loaded diaper bag, worry about bottles or diapers, wipe spit-up off my shirt, or fumble with the gears on the stroller. There’s something freeing about not having an infant.
My daughter can climb into the minivan and into her car seat, then adamantly announce that she can absolutely buckle herself. She has strong opinions on what clothes she will and won’t wear—and is especially fond of a strawberry-colored hair bow that she wants to wear every single day. She can take herself potty—and she flushes, washes her hands, and turns off the light. But, of course, there are those potty books–just in case.
You’d think I’d be singing some sort of victory song, but I’m bluesy about the inevitable. So I keep the baby bathtub, the tiny washcloths, the nursery art. I don’t put away the books, store the carrier, or donate the too-small clothes. I know this sounds selfish—but I’m just not there yet.
I know I’m not alone in my struggle. Many of my mom friends are questioning if they are done having kids. Maybe just one more? But then again, the thought of starting over isn’t very appealing at this stage of our lives.
What’s the secret to being satisfied with the size of your family? I don’t know. I’m not there yet. But what I do know is that I’m not packing up the baby stuff just yet.