03/21/2013 11:31 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

The Costumes in the Closet

My house will never win a contest for tidiness or organization. Like, ever. I feel very much like a modern-day, yoga-pantsed Sisyphus when it comes to my domestic duties: I roll my boulder up the hill every day, only to have it roll right back down, and tomorrow, I will start all over again on laundry, dishes, toys and trash. I spend all my time maintaining something close to basic standards of hygiene, so it is hard to make a true dent in the clutter and mess that four children accumulate when I'm not looking.

Recently, I have been working on the kids' playroom. It is a graveyard of shattered LEGO sets, superhero figures missing limbs or weaponry and Star Wars figures of every size, shape and description. We have books -- so many books -- of both the chapter and picture varieties, and scattered collections of Smurfs, Playmobil, Schleich animals and Hot Wheels cars. The playroom makes me feel secure in the knowledge that my children might pay for college by opening their own used LEGO store. (I challenge anyone to have more LEGOs than we do. For real.) I know that the moment I get them all organized and put away, the LEGOs will once again be scattered to the four corners of the house by children who are simply playing with their toys, oblivious to the fact that those toys are somewhat the bane of my existence. I am trying to be OK with that.

I spent some time last week in the playroom closet, organizing and hanging up the children's Halloween costumes. We still have all of them -- from my firstborn's flannel chili pepper bunting that he wore when he was about 4 months old in 2002, to the baby (fat) Elvis costume my third son wore when he was 1 in 2008, to the surprisingly elaborate zombie ensemble my 8-year-old wore this past October. There are Batmans and Darth Vaders and Red Power Rangers, both Mario and Luigi, firemen and Spider-Men, all in multiples, because my second son almost always wanted to be dressed identically to his older brother. In the middle of all that, I have the odd pirate costume, some miniature surgeon scrubs and even a Captain Hook.

As I hung each costume and carefully stashed the accessories away in a bin on the closet shelf, I suddenly felt a pang of realization that most of these costumes are already too small for even my youngest boy. I held them up and saw exactly how small they are, and I realized then exactly how big the boys who once wore them are now.

It was the first time that I have paused to think about the fact that there are no more baby boys in my house... and there never will be again. For so many years, you see, there was a baby boy. There was always a reason to store the outgrown clothes, always someone to hand down to coming right behind the last boy. But now, my youngest boy is 5, and he has outgrown all the small clothes. Because he is the third boy and infinitely more advanced than his older brothers were at his age, he won't want to dress up as Darth Vader for Halloween. He doesn't even know about the Power Rangers, and he would never acquiesce to dressing up as a character so quaint as Captain Hook. This year, he was a Skylander dragon. Next year, who knows? This child knows the "Gangnam Style" dance and makes his brothers read Diary of a Wimpy Kid to him for bedtime stories. I do admit to secretly hoping that he will let me dress him as Harry Potter at some point, since his older brothers never let me.

It's no new revelation to me that my children are -- rapidly -- growing up before my very eyes. But, no kidding: One day, I was (over) preparing to have a baby, and now I have a 10-year-old. I can't really tell you how the biggest chunk of his childhood has already happened and is already in the books, but it is. It's done. I hope it was good.

I cried hanging up those costumes. I pulled a few that my youngest might still squeeze into, but the truth is, my days of leading tiny superheroes out on Halloween night are probably over. I'll get a few more years of pulling skin-tight, polyester ninja suits onto a little boy's legs if I am lucky. My oldest might not even want to dress up anymore now that he's heading to middle school. He may be ready for the half-hearted mask and pillowcase combo I have dreaded. Where did the time go? Did I appreciate it while I had these little creatures in my house? Did I take the time to savor the innocence of two tiny, clumsy Darth Vaders holding plastic pumpkins in front of my front door for my camera?

I know a practical person would get rid of the costumes in the playroom closet. They would be donated to charity or sold for pocket change at a garage sale. I am not there yet, though. For a while longer, I need those costumes to hang in the closet, serving as tangible memories of the little bodies they once transformed. Just as I humor my kids by sorting and organizing their billion LEGOs and their ridiculous collections of small action figures and stuffed animals won out of claw machines far and wide, I am giving myself some leeway with those costumes. I am now acutely aware of how fast the next five years will go, and how little time I have left of my children's boyhoods. There will be time for empty closets later.

tatecloset not for reuse