Monday, September 12, 2005

Like Sands Through the Hourglass

The Demigoddesses and I spent most of the weekend sorting through their old playroom. Their interests over the past couple of years have migrated to other parts of the house, to the rooms where the computer and the TV and the telephone reside. Earrings and lip gloss and portable CD players have become more interesting to them than Legos and Beanie Babies, so that particular area hasn’t seen much action in a while. But Demigoddess the Younger is planning to have a belated sleepover birthday party in there in a couple of weeks, so we needed to clear some floor space.

Demigoddess the Younger had been placed in charge of cleaning up before her party, but after spending a hour a day for the past week and a half working on it, she hadn't made much progress, and I knew that if it was going to get done, I was going to have to step in. Assuming that the job would take me all weekend, and probably part of the next one as well, I dug in alone on Saturday morning. After a little while, Demigoddess the younger joined me, and Demigoddess the Elder followed a little while after that.

Although it had been a while since I spent much time in there, cleaning and organizing that playroom is a task I have performed hundreds, if not thousands, of times in the past. Again and again, I’d spend hours sorting the same toys into buckets and plastic boxes, only to find a day or two later that it had all been returned to its former post-nuclear-explosion chaos, six inches deep from wall to wall. This time through, though, as I once more picked through the Barbie shoes and the Polly Pocket clothes, separating the Betty Spaghetti pieces from the PowerPuff Girls accessories, it occurred to me that it could very well be for the last time.

Together, the three of us filled garbage bag after garbage bag with old school papers, Happy Meal toys and dried out markers. I threw out little hair clips and plastic necklaces, two broken Barbie cars (one of which no longer had wheels), and the remnants of countless half-finished craft projects (the beads… my God the BEADS). Our chore was a bittersweet archeological expedition, as I unearthed a little pair of battered Reeboks, white with purple trim, that still showed evidence of having been chewed by our first puppy. I think Demigoddess the Younger wore them in the first grade. We found a photo of Demigoddess the Elder, posed with her kindergarten teacher, and we found the doll she took with her to the hospital when she was three. Even though the doll’s hair is now a ratted mess, and her dress and cloth body are stained beyond help, I couldn’t bring myself to throw that one out.

In the past, the younger Demi would weep and wail over every item I put into a garbage bag. But she cheerfully tossed out her old playthings, or volunteered to set them aside for Maggie, my niece. The elder Demi, who could be counted on to become distracted and start playing with every third item she touched, moved efficiently through her side of the room, putting things on shelves and filling her own garbage bag. There was no yelling, there was no drama. For the millionth time, I realized wistfully that the children who had once treasured this voluminous accumulation of stuff no longer live in my house. They disappeared right out from under my nose, and I didn’t even appreciate it while it was happening.

We had already cleared a large portion of the room when I came across a little pair of satiny pink dolly underpants.

“Look,” I said, holding them up. “Somebody’s dolly has lost her undies.”

“Not mine,” answered Demigoddess the Younger. “My dolly doesn’t wear undies.”

“Well,” I said, “Your dolly is a ho.”

Demigoddess the Elder added, “Yeah, your dolly doesn’t even know who her baby daddy is.”

It’s been a long time since anybody made me laugh to the point of tears. As I sat surrounded by their old toys, wiping my eyes and trying to breathe, it occurred to me that back in the days when I cleaned this room on a regular basis, those are words I never would have imagined I’d hear coming out of my daughter’s mouth. It also occurred to me that it’s a darn good thing they are back in school, because they have obviously been watching way too much daytime TV.

Together we plowed through the clutter in record time. By late Saturday afternoon, we had cleared ample space for the sleepover. We still needed to vacuum the carpet and clean the adjacent bathroom, but we had done enough for one day. As a reward for all their hard work, I treated the Demigoddesses to a PG-13 movie and dinner at Chipotle.

I’ll always miss my messy little girls. I’ll even miss their piles of childhood crap. But these two young women I live with now, they get more perplexing and challenging and funny, more generally marvelous, every day.

I know many of my readers are parents of young children. My best advice? Don't blink.


As Bjorn said...

I have a 35 year old son, a 17 year old daughter, and a two year old. I've been telling people for decades now that the key advice for the new parent is: "Pay attention." It all gets over way too fast. They don't go back and repeat anything. You'll miss every burp, diaper, story, song, videotape, whine, temper tantrum. It all becomes part of our past. A sweet memory, no matter how dark or pissed off it was at the moment it happened. Your children become these people who you love, but their childhood dissipates for them, and for you it becomes that amazing memory. You will muse on it for many hours in the rest of your life. Pay Attention!

Nice piece.

Meghan said...

Oh Julie I just love this one.
I love how you were able to clean it all up without tears. It actually sounded like fun.

I looked at Katie last weekend and saw hardly a trace lf that little person we all used to clamor to hold. Man. It was wild for me, I can imagine how it must be for you.

Lin said...

A two year old AND a 35 year old??? I have a 35 year old and a four year old GRANDDAUGHTER. More power to you Bjorn...I don't think I could be around a little one 24/7.

Great post Julie. You perfectly captured those years that follow being a young child, but not yet an adult. Your life is still filled with Barbie shoes and dried up markers and the beautiful detritus of being little. As I remember, that stuff even smells sweet.

Enjoy the next stages. I think young teens, in spite of their moods, are such a kick to be around. Trying on adult clothes for size while still trying to squeeze into their little stuff.

Melanie Lynne Hauser said...

Oh, that's so funny! I've always tried not to look back, and instead, enjoy where my guys are, no matter what stage. There are so many good things about raising young adults. I wouldn't trade this moment in their lives for all the lovey toddler moments in the world.

Molly said...

That is so sweet! I look at them and can't believe they are suddenly teenagers. They are turning into such wonderful grown ups. Both so smart, funny and interesting. I truly enjoy talking and listening to them. You have done a wonderful job with them.

Meghan said...

Dude, Julie, Supermom just left a comment on your blog! SUPERMOM!