As I was packing, culling through all of our things again, deciding what to keep, what to donate, what to let go of, I came across this:
It's a nightshirt that's just a little too small for my baby boy now, since somewhere in my children's genes there seems to be some tendency toward gigantism. I can't explain this tendency. Father Bird and I are normal sized people. Our little boys look like the offspring of football players.
At any rate, the baby was the fourth child to have worn this nightshirt, which is astonishing all by itself, since it's sized for the destroy-everything-2-year-old set. And as you can see, it's seen a lot of better days. So, holding this nightshirt in my hand, I had to submit it to the same scrutiny that every item in my house will have to undergo before it can be packed and taken along. Does it belong to us or someone else? Is it worth keeping? Is it too expensive/precious/fraught with memory to throw away and replace at the other end of the move? Have we ruined it beyond recognition? Will another family love it more than we do? Does anybody want it?
As I go around my house, along my beaten path in life, doing the things I do, I often look back at myself in earlier times. I remember, as I'm doing laundry, the first few times I did our "family" laundry after we were married, how I separated our one basket of clothing into colors, whites, darks, and put each load in the apartment washing machine where it made a tiny mound. I open the door to my laundry room now, where the 6-person-family-laundry monster lurks, and smile about those simple days. When I look back at the girl I used to be, usually I see her bent over some task, doing something, absorbed in the present, unaware that someone's watching. But when I picked up this nightshirt the other day, and looked back at the time I made it, she was looking straight at me.
7 years ago, when my oldest son was a nightshirt-sized toddler, I was a mother newly bound to the rigors of two children. One child and I had been able to explore the whole world. A new baby, a child, and I seemed unable to leave the house. Add to it the fact that Father Bird was working for a failing company that had cut our pay, and you begin to see how things stood for me. I was housebound, broke, and sleepless, trying to keep from going crazy in the void where money, sleep, and adventure should have been.
During that time, I picked up a little piece of white broadcloth, an embroidery hoop, a needle, and a skein of purple embroidery floss. I sat down in the camp chair that stood in the bay window (we were too poor to buy any furniture) and I began to embroider the initial of our family name on the chest of my son's pajamas. My children played on the floor as I sewed the outline stitches. Then I began to lay the padding stitches, one by one, each so close to the last. Watching the letter take shape was mesmerizing, the rhythm of the stitches soothing.
And that's when I looked up. First I thought about the seeming absurdity of a dirt-poor family like ours having monogrammed pajamas. I wondered if there were something better I ought to be doing with my time. I knew then that someday I wouldn't have this kind of time, that the two little children on the floor would probably be joined by more, and that their demands on my time would become more pressing than would allow for hand-embroidered pajamas.
And then I saw myself, for just a second, yesterday, holding this little message from the past, wondering about a time when I had enough time to do something like this. I watched as I traced the scrolled letter with my finger, remembering the uncertainty of those days, and the peace that this little task gave me. It was something to focus on, something I could control, and create, when I had control over little else. I remembered cutting the last thread, pressing the letter, and sewing it up into the nightshirt I put on my toddler a moment before he ran, laughing, away. My dirt-poor toddler, in crisp monogrammed pajamas.
Now the nightshirt is what you see above. Beat-up, well used, certainly not worth giving away. I doubt the thrift store would even take it. Besides, it has our family initial on it in so many ways. I was surprised, really, by the clarity of the moment of understanding between the two women who have loved this little shirt. How can I throw away something that she labored over, something that anchored her, something that allowed her to look up and see me looking, startled, back?
So I folded it, and tucked it in the corner of a box. I think I'd better keep this one.