Monday, May 17, 2010

Blog Rewind: An Old Gray Shirt

The following blog was originally posted in May 2008 and still holds powerful memories for me today. Enjoy...

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It still surprises me that I cannot predict which days will hold one of those overwhelming "mommy moments" and which will not. After all, I am not a newbie! Having been at this for over 11 years, you would think that I would know when I was going to be faced with something that ties all those years together and sends me adrift on a wave of nostalgia. And, one would certainly never expect an old t-shirt to do that very thing.

Monday, Josiah started the day by reading his preschool calendar to find that it would be paint day. He was thrilled and I was grateful for a reminder to send my two preschoolers out the door dressed in less than their very best. Off we ran to drop them off and I found my head swimming with many responsibilities and expectations for my free two hours.

It went too quickly and maybe I was tired. I didn't see it coming. I picked up Josiah and Elizabeth and began my usual series of questions about their morning away. Did you read any stories? Did you sing songs? Who did you play with today? And then, it came. From behind my seat, Josiah's voice... "Momma, we get to bring home our paint shirts today." Both Josiah and Elizabeth simultaneously flung their well used paint shirts from inside their preschool backpacks.

I glanced in the rear view mirror and saw my two little ones beaming with t-shirts streaming in circles above their little heads. And then, the memories fell on me like rain and not one part of me was not awash in their power.

It was years ago and Noah was only four. I was getting ready to kiss my first-born good-bye as he skipped his yellow jacketed self off to preschool for the very first time. The list had come from the school and I had dutifully collected the expected items, labeled them and sealed them inside zip-lock bags. My baby needed a paint shirt and the teachers had suggested that we use one of mom or dad's old tees. I rifled through my drawers and pulled out an old gray Hanes that I literally never wore. I wrote Noah's name on the inside collar and packed it into a bag for the beginning of his academic career. : )

Fast forward two years. Noah was in first grade and it was time for Benjamin to begin his preschool year. Same list. Same shirt. With a permanent marker, I wrote Benjamin's name in block letters across the hem on the shirt pocket. Tucked in bag, sent to school. A well-used shirt!

Four years later, Josiah started school. I had to think... no, truth be told... I had to SEARCH to find the shirt. When I did it this time, it was from no nostalgic motive but instead from a point of pure economics. I HAD a paint shirt for a preschooler somewhere and did not want to purchase or sacrifice another shirt for this purpose. It took some time... a lot of time... to figure out where an unwearable, paint stained, double labeled shirt might have landed for four long years. Hours into my reconnaissance mission, I found the shirt! With a permanent marker, I covered over Benjamin's name on the pocket (a move I now regret) and wrote Josiah's name, big and bold, diagonally across the belly of the shirt. Off to preschool it went. Josiah found great joy in adding a bit of paint to the shirt each time he used it at preschool.

This year, for the first time ever, I had TWO preschoolers and had to find another seldom used shirt for my daughter to wear. The old gray tee was joined by a pink striped shirt in the ziplock at the school. I have to be honest though and say, the pink shirt looked so... well... ordinary in comparison to the rainbow painted, thoroughly splattered, name emblazoned gray shirt that had been worn for so many preschool projects.

Preschool ends next week. Josiah "graduates" on Wednesday and the school year is wrapping up. A bit at a time, the supplies from the list are making their way back home. So it came to be that my 4 and 5 year old children were spinning shirts above their sweet little heads in the van on Monday afternoon.

When we got home, it all became so clear to me. Josiah is done. You do not need a paint shirt in Kindergarten and there are no boy babies home with me awaiting their turn for a year in our beloved preschool. Yes, Elizabeth will go off to preschool, one more year, but she will take with her the pink shirt she has fully claimed as her own. The gray shirt is done. Done. How can that really be?

We came home and Josiah and Elizabeth went outside to play. I sat in the family room with the shirt in my hands and shook it out to really take it all in. As the shirt unfolded, the characteristic aroma of powdered temperas filled the air around me and I let my hands fall gently across the preschool masterpiece decorating the front. The names were all there... one does not launder a paint shirt often... and I could see Noah's on the collar, Benjamin's on the pocket (though sadly covered over) and Josiah's beneath two years of dried preschool paint. A history of days gone by and a story told in pictures... in markers... in names on a shirt I never wore. I felt it all right then... the days upon days of raising my kids and the overwhelming reality that my boys are all done with preschool. They are growing into students... growing into teens... growing into men.

How can it be that holding a t-shirt in my hands can bring all the little details of a lifetime of parenting into such clear view. Three blonde boys, three shining faces, three yellow jackets, three sets of stories and questions and experiences all held by one discarded gray shirt. How can it be that the past can be so clear and so PRESENT at the same time as the future feels so close?

It still surprises me that I cannot tell when a "mommy moment" will hit me in the deepest part of my very self. I have been at this a long time already... but today I know that I want to be at it for a long, long time to come. I hold this shirt on my lap and get ready to tuck it gently into my cedar chest, knowing fully that these early years have already gone too fast. But the memories we have are GOOD ones and I am grateful to have proof in tempera on an old gray shirt.

Blessings on your day...

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