It’s not first place.,,,

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I don’t write to “vague book” or to air dirty laundry. I write because it’s the only thing I can do. There is a story and it’s not a pretty one. It’s not something I am ready to tell yet. The effects of the story are another matter. I am living in the middle of the ‘effects’. These stories are mine to tell and I won’t apologize for doing so.

Tonight I came home with more boxes. They aren’t large but at this point a box is a box. My big girl saw them and said, “When do I get my box to pack Mama? Are you going to tell us a number of boxes we can take?” I stopped what I was doing and turned to her. “I am not going to give you a certain number but it’s going to be important that we only take things that are beautiful or special.” She seemed to understand. I turned and started to follow her upstairs to her room. That caused a panic attack until I assured her I wouldn’t judge the state of her room and that I was just going to help get her started. She made me promise. And repeat my promise once more.

I found a tub and emptied it out making sure it was large and deep. My girl, like her Mama, loves her stuff. Once in her room I understood her panic. I swallowed to urge to ‘freak out’ on her and bite my tongue as I wadded thru the disaster that was her living space. I set the tote on top of the piles of stuff on the bed. It tilted precariously so I reached down, swiped off a clean spot and put the tote onto more stable ground. Keeping my eyes above the floor helped. Way above the floor was necessary to avoid the urge I had to rant and rave about her being a slob. ‘I promised, I promised, I promised’ I reminded myself. I eyed the highest shelf on the tallest wall and decided to start there.

“Like these…are these important to you,” I indicated her Madame Alexander dolls sitting high in a shelf. I didn’t think much about it…they were novelties to collect when she was younger but I didn’t think there was a tremendous amount of affection for collection. I was wrong. Her eyes welled with tears. “MaMa DeeDee gave those to me.” *&@^ the first attempt at making this a positive experience was an EPIC fail. Sniff-Sniff “…but it’s okay I don’t have to keep them.” Oh my heart. We compromised and packed them away in their pretty little Madame Alexander boxes and left them in the maybe spot.

She stood up and almost tripped over her high-heel, leopard print chair. A pile of something fell to the floor. “I know…” I thought she was going to remind me of my promise to NOT comment on the condition of her room. Instead she said, “…this won’t fit.” That chair was her Christmas present 2 years ago and as ugly as it is, she loves it. She was right, it won’t fit. My voice caught a little as I said, “tell you what–let’s try it at the garage sale and you can keep whatever it sells for.” She nodded. I know it’s because she didn’t trust herself to speak.

I turned to the next wall-mainly because I didn’t trust myself if she were to turn those big, teary eyes to me. The items on this wall—-her beloved bookshelves (plural) and her prized softball shelf. It was too late to turn to another wall. “I can’t keep all the books, can I?” Damn. Double damn. She didn’t wait for my answer, she knew. Her eyes moved slightly and she asked, “Can I take my trophies?” I assured her that she could absolutely take her trophies. I think I heard her sigh in relief. Those trophies and game balls represent so much for her. She’s earned each and every one. Her grandpa made her the shelf. They matter. I found a bag and quickly started packing the treasured game balls reading each one as I put it away….OUTSTANDING PLAY, TEAM LEADER, 2 OUTS AS CATCHER, MOST IMPROVED ROOKIE, HAPPY BIRTHDAY with teammate signatures…they all found room in the bag. Satisfied that they were going she moved on to start on something else.

The bag filled pretty quickly and the last trophy didn’t quite fit. I heard her quietly say, “That’s okay Mom–it’s not a first place one anyway,” the air left my lungs,” I don’t have to keep it but I don’t think it will sell…it’s got my name on it.” My heart literally ached in my chest and I couldn’t stop from welling up. I held the small trophy in one hand, the full bag of larger trophies in the other. She watched. I mumbled that she needed to keep working and left the room. I didn’t want her to see me cry. She’s being brave and I want to be brave for her.

We are moving. We are moving out of our home where everyone has their own room, their own space into a much tinier house where space will be uber limited and there will be little personal or private space for my kiddos. The move is sudden, unexpected and sad. It came without warning. There was no gently preparing for this change. It’s not their fault yet they are paying the price. I am trying to make it an adventure and they are trying to make me believe that they believe me. There is a lot of pretending going on right now.

“I don’t have to take it, it’s not a first place one anyway.”

If she had ranted and raved about the injustice of it all it wouldn’t have hurt as bad as those words. If she were bratty and whining it would be easier to take. Instead she’s trying to make selfless and careful decisions because that’s what I’ve asked her to do. At 11 the most she can do is offer to give up a trophy that isn’t first place in exchange for permission to take the others. That’s what I am having to ask her to do. To give things up. To say goodbye to things that she’s not ready to put away. She’s not finished with her memories but I am taking them away from her. I am asking her to pack her life into square, precise boxes and the boxes I am providing are not big enough to hold all that she holds dear.

I’ve had 43 years to steel myself up for this kind of moment. I’ve weathered this storm before. But this time is different, this time I can see the pain I am feeling echoed in my big girls big brown eyes. I can see her chin quiver as she asks her questions. I watch her not cry even though I know she wants to. I see her patiently and tenderly have a “sleep over” with her baby sister who doesn’t understand what’s going on. I see my beautiful big girl being strong and brave and courageous and my heart breaks…it breaks with pride at her strength but it also breaks in misery that she has to find that strength, that bravado, that spunk. She is 11.

“I don’t have to take it, it’s not a first place one anyway.”

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