No one warned me that a milestone could break my heart.
By definition, milestones seem to indicate something positive — “an important event”, or “turning point” in one’s life.
Many of us seem to measure our lives in milestones.
First job, first car, first love.
Then you get married and have children. And once you have children there seem to be an endless road of milestones.
The first smile and laugh. The first word. Their first step.
These are some of the things you look for and celebrate. Closely followed by ‘sleeping through the night’, ‘getting rid of nappies’, ‘doing up their own seat belt’ and ‘tying their own shoelaces’.
These milestones involved a ‘happy dance’ for us.
But there have been others that have crept up on me, caught me unawares and tugged at my heart.
Like the first day of school. All of a sudden, they look too little to be out of your care all day long.
Like discussing the dreaded ‘Santa’ question (which we dealt with last month).
And the end of primary school — which is looming before me at the end of this year.
But there has been one milestone that I didn’t expect would break my heart.
The cleaning out of my son’s room.
Don’t get me wrong. I love a good, clean bedroom. And we have cleaned out my son’s room many, many times. But my son is now 11, and entering the pre-teen years. Which meant that many things had to go into storage, simply because he had outgrown them, and we needed the space for other things.
And that meant clearing out a lot of his books.
My son has always been surrounded by books. I read to him the first day he came home from hospital as a baby. I read to him in the morning and in the afternoon. It became a routine which he loved. Snuggled up on the couch, touching pages, repeating words — it was a very special time together.
In the early days of motherhood, when most things would bamboozle me, and I was feeling like a terrible failure, I would take solace in the bookshop. My son would sit or lie in his pram and soak up the atmosphere. We both became calmer versions of ourselves in a place where there were other worlds to discover, new people to meet, new adventures to be had.
By the time we’d bought a book (or a few books), and had a coffee, the world would be a happy place again.
I always wanted to build my own library, rather than borrow from an existing one. So it’s safe to say that we have accumulated many, many books over the years.
As my son grew older, I would ask him to choose several stories. He would excitedly run into his room, search through his books and pull out five or six stories. Some of them would feature every day. But sometimes we would be treated to something different, like the story about “The Little Yellow Digger”, or “The Ocean Star Express”.
Classics like “Guess How Much I Love You”, “Possum Magic” and a variety of “Hairy Maclary” were read over and over. As were books on dinosaurs, dogs and birds.
But this week, they were all moved out and packed away. Sniff sniff.
To be fair, an 11-year old boy really doesn’t have much use for many picture books, particularly now his shelf is bursting with the books most pre-teen boys are reading. And he very rarely picked them up any more.
However I found the whole exercise quite sad.
Sad for the little boy who is gone.
Sad that I will never again, watch my son run down the hallway and emerge triumphantly with a pile of books almost as big as himself.
Sad for the days where a new book and a cappuccino (or bottle in my son’s case) would make the world a better place.
Sad for the warm snuggles and soft pyjamas of our evening reading sessions.
And sad for all the dogs, dinosaurs, possums, birds and other characters that have been shut away for a little while.
As I packed them away, I took the time to remember them and say goodbye — for now. I remember when most of them came to live with us. Some were given as gifts, some bought for the sake of having a new book. All of them had their own special place in my heart.
With each book that went into the box, my heart grew heavier. Finally, it was done.
My husband wanted to move the box into the shed. But I have stored it under my desk, with the excuse that our daughter may want to read some of them.
And while that may be the case, I know deep down, that it was more likely myself who needed to read them and keep them close.
As I survey my son’s bookshelf now, it is a bookshelf of a typical 11-year old boy. Books by Andy Griffiths and Roald Dahl; “The Captain Underpants” series, “Tom Gates”; and “The Famous Five” books now feature in prominent position.
But as I look more closely, I see that some of the childhood favourites are still there, including all the Dr Seuss books, “Mr McGee” stories, and two of my favourites from when I was a little girl — “Harry the Dirty Dog” and “Corduroy”.
Perhaps there is a part of my little boy still living in our house after all.