The last day of Spring Break arrived. In the late afternoon, I entered the room our kids were playing in and said, “Kids! It’s time for a sorting party!” Groans and eye rolls greeted me. The seven-year-old knew what was in store. The four-year-old had pleasantly been previously left out of these family experiences, much to his delight. But not this time.
His mom had an experience for him.
We gathered all the piles of paper from all over the house. We included school paperwork, art projects, scraps, well-intentioned to do lists, work projects and scribbled notes. The puppy got cozy in her kennel and we dumped everything on the living room floor. For some reason, our son had put on his Monster’s Inc costume from Halloween so it made the whole experience extra comical.
I explained to our son how it typically works. “Make a pile for things you love so much that you want to keep them. Make a pile of things you loved making but you’re okay to let go. We’ll recycle them.” He jumped in while his big sister, a pro at sorting, set to work.
Ten minutes later, I glanced up from my piles to see his was growing precariously tall. “Is that you’re keep or recycling pile?” He proudly grinned from under his Monster’s head, “It’s my keep pile!”
We talked more about how hard it can be to let go of things but that we can be thankful for the opportunity to create and learn. I encouraged him to look through that pile again and try to recycle some more things. He did and took his first pile to his dad who walked out with him to the recycling bin in the garage. I wanted him to see the whole process instead of me throwing things away when he wasn’t looking (which is something I also do quietly throughout the school year!).
All was well until I went back to get the rest of the recycle pile and he frantically kept looking for things he wanted to keep. His quivering lip told the whole story. “How can we throw all of this away?”
He pulled out a few more favorite things and then we walked it all to the recycling bin. We opened the lid and threw it all in. I knelt down to celebrate and high-five him but was met with crocodile tears rolling down hot monster cheeks. “It’s SO hard to let that stuff go, Mom!”
Yeah, buddy, it is. I hear you.
We walked inside and climbed into a rocking chair and I held that little monster why he quietly sobbed. On one level, I knew this was a teachable life moment for a variety of reasons. It was worth the tears for the moment. But the one that mattered the most to me was the opportunity to practice letting go. It could have been a dressed up preschool monster with markers on his fingers who was recycling artwork or his 13-year-old self learning it’s okay to walk away from an unhealthy situation. It could have been his tentatively courageous young adult self who’s ready to jump into new independence or his whole-hearted self who’s ready to become a father. I could even take it way too far and imagine these little childhood moments of throwing a beloved piece of artwork into the bin and realizing everything will be okay even prepares him for a day when he has to let go of a loved one.
It’s a little silly. But if the rhythm of death and resurrection is built into the fabric of our lives together, then maybe every little loss is a letting go that strengthens our muscles to believe that something new is on the horizon. Resurrection. The more I practice noticing this rhythm, the deeper my trust grows. It makes it somehow a tiny bit easier to trust the dying.
By the way, that little monster cried for 24 minutes straight. It hurts to let go. Or maybe he kept crying because he wanted a reason to climb into his mom’s lap. I’m okay with either one. Love can hold it all. And here’s to hoping only cute little monsters show up to your next sorting party!
P.S. A few minutes after writing this, that little monster cried out, “I want some of the things back that we put in the recycling bin!” After talking it out, I decided to let him rescue a few things if he remembered to do it before the trash got picked up Monday morning. It’s now Sunday night at 8pm and he just remembered. So if you happened to drive by our house this evening and saw two parents holding a 4-year-old over an open recycling bin while he pointed and rescued beloved creations, you’re welcome for the entertainment. At least he wasn’t wearing the costume this time.