The following story, “ The Kids’ Clothes I’ll Never Give Away (aka, The Keeper's Box)” by Lauren Smith Brody was originally published on Boomdash.
When you live in an apartment, you don’t get to have an attic for storage. You donate things seasonally and wonder if you should sell your coffee table. If you are lucky, you have one “extra” closet that overflows with things like the kids’ scooter helmets and the vacuum cleaner.
But if you are really super extra lucky, you might also have a small locked metal cage in your building’s basement, the holy grail of apartment living with children: The storage bin. The day our name came up on the bin waiting list, I opened a bottle of champagne. Then I ordered from Target six plastic boxes to go inside that fit as snugly as Kim Kardashian’s bodysuits, every millimeter used for maximum results.
Five of the boxes hold size-sorted hand-me-down clothes from my older son, who is 9, to his little brother, who is 6. The sixth box holds my heart: It’s labeled “keepers.”
Over the years of messy, working parenthood, I’ve made some kind of peace with the fact that by the time I get home at night, my brain is more “loving and creative” than “meticulous and organized” (see the overflowing closet, above). My older son’s baby book goes blank on page eight. Our photo albums come to a crashing halt right when my second maternity leave ended. We have a family heirloom, an old Underwood typewriter into which I placed a lone piece of paper and typed: “Brody family special moments” with the intention to write one line–one!–on each birthday or anniversary or visit from the tooth fairy. The ink ribbon died five years ago.
What I do have, in a dark and narrow little padlocked room in our basement, is my “keepers” box, filled with an edited assortment of my children’s most precious outgrown clothing, the things I could never bear to give away. They go all the way back to the beginning, day one of my motherhood. And when I visit them, often at 11 p.m. on a weeknight, with the fluorescent light flickering above, I hold in my hands the tiny onesies with their mysterious stains, and I have evidence. These clothes are so much more than keepsakes. They are all the proof I need that I’ve grown right alongside with my precious sons.
There’s the newborn hospital cap, of course, the thing I saved that very first day. It’s unisex with both blue and pink stripes. And when the nurse stretched it onto my son’s just-born head, I finally believed what I’d been saying to everyone for months: that it didn’t matter if I had a boy or a girl. I had a healthy baby. That was, suddenly, more than enough.
Newborn Hats and Memory Keepers In One
Another lesson: If you want someone to save your baby gift forever, monogram it. I have tie-on white sunhats for both boys in the box, too. ELB’s hat reminds me of how much I learned in the three years after we received WDB’s. For one, newborn babies are so delicate that even UV rays that bounce off the ground can burn their tiny shaded noses. For two, it wasn’t the end of the world.
Then there’s the blue fleece kimono coat that I never liked. Kept it anyway. Because it was practical and made my babies smile with coziness even on a winter stroll to the pediatrician to get vaccines. They loved it, and that’s what counted. So now I love it too.
Soft & Tiny Coats
Another gift: My sister’s best friend went to Ghana and brought home a batiked romper with an elephant embroidered on the middle. It fit in the wrong season and stood out in the otherwise preppy nursery closet. But the romper had been made by another mother halfway around the world, someone whose life was as different from mine as I could imagine. The one thing we had in common was our motherhood. That’s all it takes, I started learning then, to feel a connection.
On one holiday trip home, my mother-in-law must have done a similar appraisal of her own keepers box. She gave me a tiny pair of red gym shorts—very early 80’s sporty—that had belonged to my husband, and I loved them instantly. I took a day off work a few months later when the weather got gorgeous and played hooky in the park with my vintage-clad boy, marveling that he was so much like my husband and so much his own little guy.
And my favorite keeper: a heather gray hoodie made for me by my beloved grandma, hand-washed and saved by my own mom, patiently, hopefully, for the day when she’d be a grandmother herself. Somehow, like a bottomless pot of soup, that sweater kept fitting from 12 months to 3 years for each boy. I’ll take special care of it for their kids one day, too.
The bin, I noticed recently, is getting full. My boys have fewer cute clothes worth saving; it’s mostly comfy pants for the weekend, and school uniforms during the week. My younger guy started kindergarten this fall, actually. A couple of weeks in, we realized he had started wearing his uniform shirt even on his days off.
“Teddy,” I asked him when he rolled into the kitchen for Saturday pancakes, “don’t you want to wear something else? That looks like you’re going to school.”
“Oh no, I’ll wear this, Mom,” he told me, confidently. “I like how it feels.”
“It’s nice and soft, huh?” I replied.
“I like how it makes me feel,” he clarified, and I knew just what he meant. It’s a keeper.