by Sheri McGregor, MA
In the top drawer of my beautiful desk, a plastic wallet sleeve peeks from beneath sticky notes and stamps. When I pull it out, there stares a darling face. A boy I once knew. An innocent smile. Eyes so full of life.
There are two photos. At ages 6 and 7.
My throat tightens. My eyes tingle but don’t quite tear. So long ago. Another life. Still, a flood of memories rolls in. A boy who made cities of paper-covered boxes, rode bicycles over makeshift jumps, and whose jeans were always caked with grass stains or mud.
An old ache stirs. A longing. A wish. A realization of all that was . . . and no longer is.
I close the drawer and more recent pictures come to mind. Those sent from other parents. A father recently shared a photo collage of his daughter through the ages. The most recent were snagged off the internet: his daughter getting married, holding a newborn, and receiving a work award.
Another mom sent me a video link, saying she had read my books. “I believe you’re a lot like me,” she wrote. The pictures, a montage set to music she originally made for one of her son’s achievements, proved she was right: We were a lot alike. Moms of boys, moms of loving brothers who we figured would always be friends. Sweet little boys who were full of innocence and pranks, and who grew into handsome teenagers we imagined one day as admirable men. And then the change, the loss, the heartbreak.
Another mom sent me three photos she’d taken over time. She captioned them:
The boy who loved me.
The teen who wasn’t sure.
The man who doesn’t.
Since moving in 2020, I’ve been hating the desk I used to love. This gorgeous piece of furniture stands on carved legs, has bronzed-brass flower drawer pulls, and delicate, curving sides. But it’s too big for this new space. I’m determined to clear it out and find another that’s more suitable for my new office in my new life in my new locale. That’s why I opened the drawer and came across these unexpected photos. Bits of history that, for all their simplicity, embody so much more: My loss of innocence around my mothering, family, and kids. That’s not something I necessarily want to dwell on. And why I closed the drawer.
The truth is, since moving (a stress all its own), a lot has gone on. Family situations, illness, and let’s not forget the pandemic—which has left most of us craving more human connection, security, and a sense of literal and psychological freedom the pandemic and related lock downs took away.
There have been losses for all of us. Some in connection with associated deaths, long-term Covid effects, or relationships for which the pandemic and its dividing opinion tracks were the nail in the coffin. Others for economic security, dampened optimism, or a naivete over how much control we have over our lives. Tough stuff.
But … this post is less about what we miss or fear as what we can do to get ourselves back on track, or onto a new one.
Some of us have dealt with worry over health concerns by using more hand sanitizer, wearing masks, and beefing up our preventative activities to keep us leaner and stronger, thus less at risk.
Many of us have found new ways to connect—in online classes and video chats. Even with the good as ever old-fashioned telephone call (that starts with a computer we can hold in our hand!).
The coping includes remote work, limiting our screen time–filled with bad news–and focusing on things that bring us meaning and joy. We’re plodding along, moving forward despite the trauma. Making the best—or better—of our lives. What choice do we have.
The swiftly passing month of January motivates me to accomplish my goal of eliminating this desk. So, I pull open another drawer. One I know contains file folders of basic records less laden with emotional traps.
As I sort through old papers, tossing some, shredding others, and thinning down to the most current and necessary ones, my mind wanders. I think of those photographs of my boy and remember the beauty and joy that came before the storms. The sweet smile, the apple cheeks, his bright eyes full of mischief and love.
With the file drawer sorted, I feel complete. One step at a time. I loved this desk. It fit so well in my old office and life.
I ponder the top drawer again and leave it closed. Not today. But soon. I stand back and look at the pretty desk that takes up too much space. Clearing out takes time.
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