I can hear the low rumble of the approaching garbage truck as I type this. I have been dreading this moment all week, ever since Serge took the initiative of placing Henry's high chair and changing table at the side of our house, where the garbage cans await their weekly voyage to the curb.
At the same time I moved Henry to a big boy bed, I took his changing table to the garage. It's just as easy to change his diaper on his bed and besides, he's showing signs of wanting to use the potty. The changing table was just taking up space. I exiled it to the garage.
Three days ago, I pulled into the driveway and saw that Serge had moved both the changing table and the high chair Henry no longer uses to the side of the house next to the garbage cans with the obvious intention of taking them to the curb come garbage day. He was right to throw them out, of course. The rickety changing table was on duct tape life support. It was the very first piece of furniture I bought from Craigslist after learning I was pregnant with Violet five years ago. The high chair hadn't fared much better. After four years and two babies, it too had received several duct tape operations. It was time to take them both off life support.
Yet every time I glimpsed the loyal duo sitting sadly in the snow next to the trash cans I'd experience a physical pang of sadness. I tried to understand why I feel so attached to these inanimate objects, how any of us can feel so beholden to tiny onesies, shoes, a toy car, a threadbare stuffed animal. It could be a thousand things: nostalgia for the babies our children used to be, unwillingness to let go of physical tokens that help us maintain a connection to that babyhood, sadness that perhaps our baby days are over forever. Whatever it is that makes it so hard to let go has gripped my heart for days.
When I came home from the gym today and saw that Serge dragged the high chair and changing table out to the curb in anticipation of garbage pick-up, I walked across our front lawn, through fresh, powdery snow, to touch them one last time. I placed my hand on the cold, hard plastic of the high chair that witnessed most of Violet's and Henry's meals and let it linger there in much the same way someone touches the coffin of a loved one before it's lowered to the ground. Dramatic, God yes, but it's how I felt while bidding my final farewell to these things that have served us so well, that have been a staple of my life, our lives, since the dawn of my motherhood. So disturbed was I by the whole ordeal I snapped a last photo of these last vestiges of my children's babyhood, simultaneously feeling it necessary for closure and embarrassed that I was commemorating what amounts to just another garbage day here in our village. Exchanging the real things for a photograph memento, basically. One token for another.
I am here at my desk, which overlooks the street outside, when I hear it. The trash truck. Burping and hissing and spitting exhaust as it slowly makes its way up our street. For several minutes I only hear it; an angry melody to the conversational lyrics the two men who dump the cans into the back of the truck provide while on the job. In suburbia it was all automatic; here, in the country, garbage is collected as it was in the days of my youth. One man driving while two hang on back and jump off at each house to heft big cans of junk into the gaping maws.
Now I see the truck from my window and, for the first time, the name of the company, emblazoned on the sides of the truck, hits home. LOVE DISPOSAL. Written in bold, purple letters.
Yes. Love Disposal.
That's what this is. That's why it's so hard. It feels like I'm throwing away love. And I am. So much love. But not really. All that love is in me, in my children. It just feels like I'm throwing it away because the table and high chair were so much a part of my little family's existence thus far. Silent, stoic witnesses to all the miseries and joys of new motherhood: waking up my babies and placing them on the changing table; taking them down to breakfast in their high chairs; back on the changing table after bath time so I could cream and diaper freshly cleaned little bums. On to the high chair for lunch and another stop at the changing table for a fresh diaper. Now it's dinner in the high chair and then some nuzzles and pretend toe eating on the changing table before bedtime. But the high chair and changing table are just props, they aren't the real love. Even though they're gone the routine will stay the same. Only the props will change.
The Diesel engines rumbles loudly as the truck idles in front of my home. Watery winter sunlight slants into the window and my eyes as I squint down at the curb, watching as they carelessly toss in the high chair and changing table without pause. So reckless with the props of our lives. My heart almost can't bear it. I know, it sounds stupid and silly and overly sentimental, but I can't help it. All those memories of baby food and spaghetti messes and eating little toesies while changing diapers crowd my mind.
If the table wasn't being held together with duct tape, if the high chair didn't feature stuffing popping from between peeling plastic I probably would've kept them until the end of my time or at least passed them on to another mother. There's something beautifully full-circle about passing on baby items. Comforting to know that the little onesie that reminds you so much of your newborn you experience phantom milk coming in every time you smell it is being worn by another sweet baby.
But that isn't the case here. The table, the high chair disappear into the back of the truck and the compacting machine roars to life. I hear crunching and splintering and the men, unaware that my heart is cracking with each splinter, casually jump onto the back bumper as the driver shifts into gear. As the truck grunts forward I see what's left.
The execution is complete.
I can't help it. I cry.
And then the real reason for my sadness hits me like a thunderbolt. It's not that I'm mourning the loss of my children's babyhood, although that's a part of it. It's that throwing away the furniture both my children have used feels so final, a bold period on the end of the babyhood chapter at the Bielankos.
But I'm not done! I realize that now after months of vacillating. I'm not done yet. There's one more.
It's not a period, it's just a comma.