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I Hope You Like This Present Even If I Look Ugly

Why spring cleaning is emotionally draining

Anna I. Smith
Jul 22, 2020 · 4 min read

Today I cleaned the study. Before being a study it belonged to my son. Which explains why it took so long. Memories are made to stop the world. If only for a little while.

Hidden behind the stacks of paper were some of my son’s poetry assignments. A few of his drawings were there as well. But not enough. He hated art and threw most of his projects in the trash before I got a chance to save them.

Once he gave me a Christmas ornament. It was a photo of him in a candy cane frame. Attached was a note: “I hope you like this present even if I look ugly”.

With each closet and each drawer I go through, little pieces of who he was as a child are found. Yet with him being the youngest of three (and him throwing so much away before it even made it home) his mementos take up less room.

Still, boxes and boxes fill my garage. And I still find lingering thoughts, images, and snapshots of young ones between these walls.

There’s an essay by my oldest daughter: “I wish my grandpa would stop using drugs.” She used to hide his chewing tobacco whenever we visited, convinced he would end up homeless and living under a bridge if he continued to use that stuff.

And an English assignment by my middle child: “I call our house the love shack. There’s so much love there.”

I find yearbooks with messages from my son’s friends. “You’re so funny. Have a great summer.” Or HAGS for short. No periods separating the letters. Periods are time stealers when summer days beckon.

I find school pictures. My children leaning up against fake tree trunks or standing in front of backdrops of spring scenes or neon-colored books. Their smiles nothing but u-shaped lines and their eyes expressionless. Oh, those school pictures. Low on personality. High on performance anxiety.

Hours go by. Hours with me sitting in the middle of the floor surrounded by what used to be. And I miss the three of them. I miss them as children. I miss the laughter. The kind of laughter that made them fall to the floor in a heap of arms and legs. I miss the dinner conversations, the hugs, and the sticky fingers on my face, and in my hair.

A few days prior I received packages from two of my children. Salty licorice from my son. He knows what I like. Face masks my daughter made for me. The patterns are gorgeous. She knows what I need.

Now when they’re adults there has been a role reversal of sorts. My husband and I are retired. We’re carefree. We do crazy shit. We watch Stephen Colbert late. Eat late. Sleep in late. Drink wine on a Wednesday night.

And our children lecture. “Turn down the music. You’ll go deaf. Don’t expect me to care for you when you do” my daughter warns. “Whaaaat? I can’t hear you”, I yell back.

“Don’t be so trusting” my son urges. He’s convinced the lady who asked if she could have some furniture for free to help the fire victims in a city far away was in fact a scammer. She probably was.

Yes, I’m too trusting. But please let me stay that way. Better scammed one time too many than living the rest of my life constantly guarded and suspicious.

Besides, I spent so many years guarding, protecting, and warning my children. Now I just want to do less of what used to matter and more of what didn’t.

Sure, I still worry about them. But that time between placing my head on the pillow and falling asleep is now filled with thoughts of what tomorrow will bring rather than worries for those I love. But sure, I still worry.

My father’s friend is 94. He says he’ll stop worrying about his children when they’re all enrolled in a good assisted living facility. So not much longer now.

A few more traces of my son’s childhood is carefully stored in yet another box.

No, I don’t put his things away because I want to forget. I put things away because I want to preserve what was. And because I want to let my children know that I treasure and respect the adults they’ve now become.

I’ve seen far too many childhood shrines created by mothers with the inability to move on. Shrines there as if to say: “I valued you so much more when you belonged fully to me.”

I don’t want to become one of those parents who can’t let go. That kind of claim to another person’s life can be suffocating. Suffocating for everyone. Including the mother sitting there with baby blankets and toys still out, baby teeth in a metal box, and yearly school pictures displayed throughout the house.

I close the last box. All that’s left is the message on the blackboard above the desk. It’s a message my son wrote before he moved out: “I love you mom.”

I love you, too, son. More than words can say. Which for me is much more than a lot.

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Anna I. Smith

Written by

M.S. Psychology| I write about life, relationships, things that make me laugh, cry, or all of the above in one piece. Reach me at annaismithwrites@gmail.com

Crow’s Feet

“The longer I live, the more beautiful life becomes.” (Frank Lloyd Wright) Non-fiction pieces, personal essays, occasional poems and short fiction that explore how we feel about how we age and offer tips for getting the most out of life.

Anna I. Smith

Written by

M.S. Psychology| I write about life, relationships, things that make me laugh, cry, or all of the above in one piece. Reach me at annaismithwrites@gmail.com

Crow’s Feet

“The longer I live, the more beautiful life becomes.” (Frank Lloyd Wright) Non-fiction pieces, personal essays, occasional poems and short fiction that explore how we feel about how we age and offer tips for getting the most out of life.

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