Elizabeth’s room is in a state of disaster. It’s small, true, but she’s gotten to the point of not having anywhere to put the things she’s got. We’ve been fussing at her for weeks to “Clean up your room” until last night, in a flood of tears, she said “Mommy, there’s no where to PUT anything!”. I looked around and realized she was right. Boxes were piled on top of Barbie planes next to the dirty clothes basket next to a pile of shoes. “Take out everything from my closet, Mommy,” she said. “I’m too big for that stuff anyways and I don’t play with it.”
So, today, I hauled out three of my big black trash bags- the ones that mean business. One for trash, one for Goodwill, and one for the garage to store. And I waded in.
Some thing were easy- the old math workbooks, stashed in the closet so I wouldn’t remember them? Trash. The stashed peanut butter crackers where she then forgot them? Petrified now? Ewww, trash. I even recovered some things of mine- the pink purse that I got in Greece. The Spanish mantilla. The random baby dolls acountremonts- bottles and brushes and food dishes? Goodwill. The pink princess doll that our kind landlords gave her as a going away present when we had to leave unexpectedly because James’ contract wasn’t renewed? That went into Goodwill, with a thought for past hurts and past kindnesses.
But the rest- the rest is where I find that it isn’t Elizabeth who’s been unwilling to get rid of things- it’s me. The old Disney Belle dress-up dress, that Elizabeth wore to a rag because it was really too small for her when she discovered the joy of dressing up- Goodwill, where I’m sure that they will throw it away. And how on earth can we give away the giant Nahla and Simba lions, the ones that our friend Dennis gave her when she was 2 and Ray was 1, the ones that she and Ray used to race each other on? The ones that I didn’t take pictures of them with, because they invariably chose dinner time to ride around on the backs of the lions? The lions that they haven’t sat on for about 2 years now. The lions that have been relegated to the back of the closet. They went into the Goodwill bag. Hopefully, some other children will ride on them, too. Of course, “Lion King” isn’t “cool” anymore, but, but… I can recommend them for racing around the savannahs of Africa. Nahla is a little bit faster.
And the baby dolls. The tons and tons, ok, ten, naked baby dolls that Elizabeth has been fixated on for years and years, until it was way past time, developmentally, for her to be playing with baby dolls. The ones that are symbolic of her autism and how she deals with it. The big one with dark hair that she carried around since she was 3- didn’t play with, didn’t know what to do with, but carried. She would watch other little girls and she would mimic their actions- and so, the dark-haired doll, intermingled with other countless nameless blonde babies, was brought with us everywhere, because that’s what you do. Later, the baby doll got pushed in strollers- an endless stream of strollers because Elizabeth loved the action of pushing. The baby doll with no name because Elizabeth didn’t know that you were supposed to name them. The baby doll that she started to dress when she was 6- and we bought “real” baby clothes for from the grocery story- faded pajamas that were already in the bag. The baby doll that just last year she started to play games with- the one who Elizabeth finally found a voice for and who “cried” while Elizabeth lavished her 7-year-old love on her. The one we bought “real” diapers for so that Elizabeth could care for her. Naked now, she sat under a jumble of too-small clothing, with her filthy face (4 years of being carried around takes its toll on you) and her ratted hair.
Tears slipped down my cheeks this morning as I put Dark-Haired Baby Doll, still nameless and only identifiable by its hair, in the Garage bag. No one from Goodwill would love her or track a child’s development like she did. So much of my worries, my sadness, as I watched my girl grow, true, but hit developmental points later than other little girls, were bound up in that doll. Grief and amusement and a lot of love are in that bag in the garage. Goodwill doesn’t get that- yet.
And now, Elizabeth has announced that she plays with Barbies. She’s 9 now, so she’s a bit late to love Barbies, but apparently, Barbies are a developmental step after baby dolls. Of course, this step was precipitated by her receiving a bunch of Barbie dolls from Emily, who is outgrowing them and making room in her own closet, but can still play with them if they’re housed at Elizabeth’s. What amuses me is that none of the Barbies have names either, and how she pushes them around in the Barbie Corvette. How it is the little ones, the Barbie “baby dolls” that she’s lavishing her attention on. They may not be her baby dolls, but they’re Barbie’s and that makes it ok to still play with baby dolls. And so, now I get to be amused at Elizabeth’s antics with the Barbies, and I get to grieve and marvel- again- at how she is just a step behind, how her play is changing, how she is growing.
And so I bag up my baby’s past, and I replace it with her present. Because babies grow up, even dark-haired ones.