Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Architecture and other determinisms

I'm reading a book of theory right now, addressing the nature of space: is space an empty container, a naked stage on which we array ourselves and the objects and institutions that comprise our lived reality? Or is space imaginary, with identical bland furnished rooms understood to be intrinsically terrifying or exhilarating when they represent to us the pain of a visit to the dentist or the coming freedom of claiming a lottery prize? Is space some combination of material and experiential, as when Munchkin and I inhabit daycare differently, me from a vantage point some three feet higher than hers, oriented towards symbols and objects of hygiene and pedagogy and to adult faces, while she knows intimately the geography of the undersides of tables, of tiny chairs, of the quality of light when the shades are drawn and she 'lie down tummy' on her cot at naptime?

What I do know is this: my sense of my family and my home and my future have been shaken this week, much more than I expected, by simple things, material things: objects and space.

Tuesday, I gave away all the baby gear, to a massively pregnant, but definitely glowing, grad student in my department. We are decluttering our house this month, and it galled me to think that our attic was filled entirely with baby gear and Christmas decorations. That's it. So I thought, seeing as we'd decided to be a family of three, that I'd pass along the baby gear.

The student was enthusiastic, and grateful. I sent her an email enumerating the collection: deluxe pack'n'play playpen, baby gym, front carrier, sling, Bumbo chair, exersaucer, diaper genie, infant toys, car mobile. We set a date and time for the pickup. Immediately, I became regretful and anxious: what if, by giving away all this stuff, I foreclosed the possibility of another baby? No matter I still don't want another baby. It was the stuff that did me in--touching the toys, smelling the residual milky-with-hint-of-Ivory-Snow smell of the laundered sling, hearing the distinctive clatter of the exersaucer's array of toys. Tactile memory. Now, I remember that I found those times very hard, and I didn't much like that period of then-Miss Baby's infancy. She didn't sleep, she yelled all the time, I was weepy and scared. But the stuff! I agonized for days, by which I mean I agonized during sleepless nights. Should I give it away? How could I not? Finally, it occured to me that I might demand right of first refusal, and so I did. Before you pass this along to someone else, I asked, could you check if we might need it back?

Discussing this with Pynchon, we got to talking about the new house, seeing as it's the move that's prompting my wild giveaways and possession purges. We started to imagine ourselves in the space, and Pynchon described his vision of the renovated third floor loft, a possible large-scale master bedroom for us, complete with full bath and deep closets. I started to freak out: the second floor has three bedrooms already! The main floor has a formal living room, a formal dining room, a den, a kitchen, a bathroom! We couldn't move up to a loft while Munchkin was still small: who wants to leave their kid on a different floor to sleep? But then when she was older it would be so much nearer to the time when she might move out, why would we need yet another bedroom? We were going to be all alone, maybe in sixteen short years! All alone in what seemed to be such a giant house, with a renovated basement! A renovated loft! All these rooms and sad pitiful empty-nested me and Pynchon a testament to loneliness, rattling around in the huge quiet. Shouldn't we have more kids just to fill the house? Wouldn't we be awful failures, figures of pity, if we didn't?

?? !! ??

Clearly, I am insane, but it's worth noting that the castles I build in my mind are so easily demolished when they bump up against the green plastic of the exersaucer, against the 7 foot ceilings of a 102 year old basement. At worst, I give away all the baby gear in my certainty that Munchkin is to be an only child--and then it becomes a funny story about my hubris having to repurchase everything later. And I love a good story. As for the house, who can say how big or how small, how full or how empty it will feel to us in three months, let alone three years, or ten, or twenty? I am not usually so misguided as to think, in daylight hours, that how I feel right now will be how I feel much later. After all, my parents upsized in retirement, and my mom finds her empty-nest life more vital and busy than any other time she can remember. Life moves on the way that it will. We fill the spaces with our lives and they change with us as we change them.

Neither my new house nor my now-absent diaper genie can determine me. I'm glad we sorted that out.


Claire said...

Let me tell ya a little story:

My friend, Jan, had two girls, two years apart. She was D-O-N-E. Got rid of all the baby stuff. Moved on with her life...

Flash forward 8 years. She had a "whoops" baby...and had a full-blown shower, since no one expected that she would still have all that baby stuff!

Consider the party, replete with gifts and joy, that will occur if a second baby does come along...

kittenpie said...

You can always make the third floor into a nice study or den! That's what ours will be.

And I know, I totally got teary when sifting through some baby stuff in the same bin as my maternity clothes - how can I not be using the girl stuff again? For one insane moment, my brain thought, "maybe I need a third so I can have another little girl again!" But wait, brain, what if that's boy, too? Stop being silly, brain. yes, I know just how you feel.

nomotherearth said...

I must say, I'm afraid to get rid of the baby gear, because I know if I do, we'll have a third. Right now, two's plenty for me. :-)

cinnamon gurl said...

We still have our baby stuff, though it seems as time passes so does my interest in having a second. Still, I'll hold onto the stuff for a good long while I think.

Omaha Mama said...

We're done too (on purpose, anyways), but somehow when I purged baby stuff - it seemed like I was jinxing myself for number three. Something like Murphy's Law? Silly, I know.

We are crazy. I like how you call it tactile memory, that sounds much more balanced. :0)

Jenifer said...

I just gave our exersaucer to my best friend who needed it for number three. The sound of the toys stopped me in my tracks...it was so powerful and I felt so foolish, but hearing those familiar noises was unnerving. I have no idea if number three is in the cards for me and my mind constantly wanders all around the subject, sometimes I am sad because I won't hold a newborn again and other days I am fine with it.

I try not to dwell on it too much. This will make a good story for you one day perhaps and perhaps it just means you are making room for other wonderful opportunities.

Beck said...

We have loaned out all of our baby stuff SEVERAL times, but my husband insists that they always come home to our attic again - if not, he is CERTAIN that I'll get pregnant right away, possibly with quadruplets.
Wanna know how many times I've loaned out my whole (and rather impressive) maternity wardrobe? AT LEAST NINE TIMES. Isn't that weird?

Assertagirl said...

What a wonderful post.

A third floor loft master suite sounds AMAZING, even if you don't live in it until Munchkin is a bit older.

It's so generous of you to give those things to someone who will make use of the gratefully.

Think of all of the wonderful gatherings of friends you'll be able to have, and everyone will be able to crash in a spare room!

Bea said...

For me the transition from one phase of my children's infancy to another was very much marked in space. To be honest, it felt mostly like an act of reclamation: first the house was invaded by all the paraphernalia - bassinet, pack'n'play, swing, high chair, etc. One by one, I packed these things away, always gleeful at the lovely little vista of space opening up in my house/life. It always felt like an accomplishment, a graduation of sorts.

But. I still haven't been able to get rid of all the baby stuff. A lot of it was borrowed, and that's been given back. Some of it has been lended out (on purely a loaner basis). The rest is currently in my parents' basement while I try to sell the house.

It's not that I'm ambivalent about being done - it's actually the opposite: I worry that getting rid of this stuff is just like tempting fate to knock me up again. I'm definitely done - but I've still got boxes and boxes of neatly folded baby clothes stacked side by side in my basement.

Kyla said...

I love your train of thought. Mine often careens wildly like that, but I can usually get it back on track eventually.

Jennifer (ponderosa) said...

I gave all my baby stuff away when we moved last month -- either to my sister, who's pregnant, or to my daughter's daycare. At first I sorted & organized but I had to stop. It made me so sad for the days when my children were tiny. Like you I enjoy them more now that they're older; but looking at the physical evidence that they've grown tremendously is like staring death in the face. That sounds gruesome but it's true, you know? Motherhood has made me face mortality, and I'd been avoiding it!

Anonymous said...

I SOBBED when I gave away the baby bucket carseat. That is waaaaaay out of charcter for me. Most everything else I was cool with. Especially the damn high chair upon which I broke my toe. But I do love my livingroom, once again devoid of kid toys and furniture. Now if only I could purge the ugly dog bed.

Anonymous said...

I remember giving away my baby stuff, it felt like I was losing a part of myself. And I was. The baby making part of my life was over and that baby making part of my life is what changed me the most.

crazymumma said...

You suck me in with scifi academic thinking. Then you get all musing about baby gear. It has been a good walk thru your mind. I don't think you are insane at all. And, if you are it is a good kind of insane. Do androids dream of electric sheep? Hell I know you are talking about space but it just made my brain think of that.

Cheryl said...

I gave away a lot of baby stuff before moving last year and it was hard. Although my heart ached, I thought about how helpful it was when someone gave me their old baby gear and how appreciative I was...that's what helped me along with purging a lot of the little baby stuff. Now, my baby is 20 months and I have all of last year's things to give away. I'm having a tough time because this part of my life is coming to an end, no more babies...?? So, like you, it's a little tough to let go. I totally get what you're going through.

Lisa b said...

I swore so many times in my last hellish pregnancy that I was never doing it again. I had to bite my tongue in my first pregnancy as I knew I'd do it a second time. Little did I know what fate had in store for me. Instead of joyfully getting rid of the baby and maternity stuff I am quietly weighing if I could possibly manage to do it again.
however it turns out for you I know it will be a good story.

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