My son is in the last stages of high school, stands six feet tall, and will qualify to vote in whatever election looms on the horizon next. This fully-grown citizen decided in May that the time had come to get rid of his childhood collection of stuffed animals. I think it caused me a bit more of a pang that it did him, but I bore up. We gathered them all up (okay – not all of them – I kept a few), took a picture, and then set them out on the front step with a big sign: “Free to a good home.” As you might expect, they vanished like snow in summer. My street has a lot of pedestrian traffic, and a lot of contractors at work with their own trucks, so there is a lively economy in all sorts of free goods, large and small, left on the front walk.
While I know this system generally works well, there was one little critter I feared would be left unclaimed, unwanted and unloved. Years ago, my son lost a stuffed toy in the shape of a bird while we were staying at a big hotel. We asked the staff about it, and though they couldn’t find the original, they very kindly sent a substitute up to our room as a gift. I didn’t recognize the slightly strange creature, with its brown furry feathers and long stiff beak. The tag, however, informed us it was a kiwi bird. The kiwi came home with us and took up residence with its stuffed fellows. A decade later, out onto the sidewalk it went.
The day the stuffed animals were sent out into the world, I went on with my day, running errands around the neighbourhood. As I climbed the hill that afternoon, returning home, I looked up to see a man striding down the sidewalk toward me. He was carrying his daughter, a little girl about three years old, on his shoulders. They made an appealing pair, both with curly dark hair and happy smiles. My eyes lingered on them as they drew closer and I realized that the little girl had Kiwi – our Kiwi- in her hand. The bird had his beak in her ear, and the two of them were clearly having a perfectly wonderful conversation. Her eyes were dancing with the joy of the whole thing, and you could almost see the thought bubbles over her head containing the fantastic world of imagination that she and Kiwi had found together. I passed them and continued on my way, and now I was the one wreathed in smiles. It was such a great message from the universe, one I needed to hear pretty badly. “Enjoy your blessings as they come. Don’t hoard them past their time. If there is something you no longer use and don’t need, send it back out into the world to be united with someone who will use it and appreciate it.”
One of the challenges of adult life is that it is not marked off clearly into pieces the way that childhood is. Every year, children start a new grade. Every few years, they get a graduation ceremony and they move on to a new school. Even when we start to work, new jobs and new titles are often more frequent in the early years. Then we may settle down at one level. If we are at home with our kids, there are even fewer markers of our own growth and progress. But time passes all the same and we do move from one age and stage to another. It is so important that we do not hoard – not our material possessions, but also not our ideas about who we are, how we should look, and how others should see us. Instead of simply mourning the drooping of an eyelid or the general losses to the forces of gravity, we need to see that we have moved along to another stage, complete with its own adventures. To embrace the new phase, we need to let go of the last one.
I’m not the mother of a small child any more. I am, among other things, the mother of a wonderful young man. Time to take on some new challenges and let the things of the past flow away, to find their own rightful place somewhere else.