By Sharon Holbrook
We bought my son’s dresser when I was pregnant with him, my eldest. The blond-wood dresser matched the crib, and it used to have a changing pad attached to its top. My son does not know this, nor do I plan to tell him, because 10-year-old tweens do not want to think about their diapered past. But I remember. Not so very long ago, the dresser’s six drawers used to hold tiny onesies, diapers, and piles of carefully folded receiving blankets.
On his 4th birthday, my son entered his Lego phase headlong, catapulted by a construction vehicle Lego set from Grandpa. He insisted on keeping that first instruction booklet, and every one of many that came after, and I relented. We found a place in the dresser that had been vacated by the diapers and blankets that my big preschool boy no longer needed, and that became the Lego instruction drawer. His t-shirts and shorts and socks, still tiny, did not require the use of every drawer.
Now my son is almost as tall as I am. We wear the same size shoe. Sometimes, I do a double-take at the laundry basket – is it my husband’s, or my son’s? His clothing, like him, is getting bigger and bulkier. It spills out of his drawers or sits on the top of his dresser, where I place the folded clothes for him to (eventually, hopefully) put away.
He needs that dresser drawer now. Now and then I’d ask, “Can you let these Lego instruction booklets go? You never use them.” Invariably, the answer had always been an adamant “No!” Until now.
His room, to my eyes, is a mess. It’s a different sort of mess than it used to be. There’s that dresser that barely closes. There are books haphazardly spilled on the floor near his bed, and lone socks are always sprinkled around the room. Rainbow Loom bracelet and art supplies are scattered and piled this way and that. Earbuds peek out from under the bed. But where there used to be Bey Blades and cars and light sabers, there are now no toys.
Every week, it’s the same dance. “Clear your floor, buddy. We have to vacuum.” He has dust allergies, and I use this to bolster my fight for sanitation. “But Mom. I don’t have room on my bookshelves. I need a bigger bookshelf.” Maybe, I say. But first we need to stand the books up straight and perhaps let some of those books move on to someone else. Then we’ll decide. To my surprise, he says yes. He wants my help going through them, too, which I am happy to give.
We pull out the A to Z Mysteries and Magic Treehouse to pass on to his second-grade sister. The tundra and desert and all the other biome books that he loved when he was 5 (and that I still love) get set aside for his kindergartner sister. My packrat is suddenly ruthless. “I just don’t like that one.” And, “that science book is outdated.” He should know better than me, I guess, since he now reads about the periodic table for fun. Into the out pile they go. On the bottom shelf lies a big colorful hardcover, The Lego Ideas Book. It was a Christmas gift when he was 6, and he pored over it for many hours over the years. “I’m done with that, Mom,” my 10-year-old says. “I’m think I’m done with Legos.”
Just like that. “OK.” We’re done with the bookshelf now, and I stack the castaways neatly. “What do you think you want to do with them?” He shrugged noncommittally, with a bit of melancholy about him. Or was that me with the melancholy? I had guessed my 10-year-old was heading this way. Years of single-minded devotion had gradually faded into increasing detachment. The giant bin of Lego in the playroom had been gathering dust like a lonely, outgrown lovey. Sometimes I catch a whiff of restlessness about my son. He’s abandoned the kind of all-in imaginative play that his sisters still adore, and longs to replace it with the things of teens – screens, social media, video games, freedom. He is only 10, I think. I am almost 11, he thinks. I try to hold him in this middle zone, and he strains against me.
I tread carefully. “Do you want to let the Lego instructions go? Should I get a recycling bag?” He surprises me with his certainty. We begin. The recent ones are on top. They are less familiar to me, because for the last few years of Lego, my son assembled them on his own. “Oh, I loved this one!” I barely remember the Star Wars set he’s talking about. He’d tear open the box and work doggedly at the dining room table from start to finish with a kind of focus that is now reserved for Minecraft.
We get a little deeper in the dresser drawer, a few years back, and I become part of the journey. “Mom, do you remember this castle?” he asks me, and I do. “Didn’t we build this one in the basement in the old house?” I answer, and the memory of that place and time floods back, right down to the annoyingly dim lighting in the corner where we’d set up a plastic folding table so my Lego-obsessed boy could have a place of his own to build.
Now he’s found a Lego Atlantis booklet. “Oh, Nana got me this one! I wanted it so much that Christmas!” I remember building it side by side. It was a big one, and it took a long time. We had great fun doing it.
My 8-year-old pops into her brother’s room now, and seeing what we are doing, chirps, “Aw! Old memories are the best!” Before I can savor the truth of that, or the charm of her young wisdom, my son has answered quickly and evenly. “But they have to go.” They do, right? I’ve been suggesting it for years, after all. But emptying the drawer is going fast, like a fast-forwarded reel of film through the last six years, and suddenly my son seems more ready than I am. I swallow this, though, and I echo his readiness. “Yup, I guess it’s time.”
“And, oh, this fire truck! You had to superglue the ladder on, Mom, because it wouldn’t stay on.” I remember this, too. “You were so frustrated that it kept falling off! Remember,” I reminisce with him, “we were in the dining room at the old house, and Grandma was there, because Daddy and I were leaving the next day for our anniversary trip?” He does. That was when he was 4 ½. We are almost to the bottom of the pile, and he is unmoved by the fattening Trader Joe’s bag of recycling. I cannot say the same for me.
At last, on the bottom, is the very first booklet. It’s that 4th birthday construction vehicle set, the one that started it all. We both gasp with excitement. We really did it together back then, my early-30s mama hands showing his chubby preschool fingers how to snap together the bricks for the first time. “Oh, Mom, I loved this set! Can I keep just this one for the memories?”
Oh, yes. Yes, you can, my boy. And when you outgrow even that, because you will in the finger-snap of a few years, I’ll take it and I’ll tuck it away.
I’ll keep it for the memories, too.
Sharon Holbrook is a contributing blogger for Brain, Child. Her work also appears in The New York Times Motherlode blog, Washington Post, and other publications, as well as in the forthcoming HerStories anthology, So Glad They Told Me. You can find her at sharonholbrook.com and on Twitter @sharon_holbrook. Sharon lives with her family in Cleveland, Ohio.