Friday, April 4, 2014

your box

My mother is doing a bit of house cleaning.  And I was recently gifted a box filled with an assortment of items from my childhood -- items that had somehow escaped the many clean outs we had already completed over the years when we emptied my childhood room and closet and organized the basement.  

This box.  My box.  With its musty smell.  It's a good one.

First out of the box were these.

Oh, yes.  Some of my first cassette tapes, purchased for me at Christmas to go along with the rockin' cassette player that had been carefully selected for me at the nearby Sears.  I was a girl with interesting taste.  My friend and I may have had a choreographed workout routine, complete with leg warmers and sweat bands, to Olivia's Let's Get Physical.  But I will never admit it.  Given that these were the only cassettes in the box, I clearly weeded my collection at some point, but saved these.  Interesting.

Next out of the box, the 70's version of audiobooks.  

The puzzle of my childhood interests continues.

Then layer on these.  In this old home, where we are raising our children, we have become used to finding old treasures.  But few, if any, have been covered in sequins, tassels, or gold spray paint.

Wow.  In case it isn't immediately obvious, these are three of my awesome jazz dance recital costumes from middle school.  They were truly spectacular, especially when I fancied them all up with my bubble gum flavored lip balm, the one that came in the fat twisty tube.  

Imagine this.  I was tall.  Very tall.  And, to put it kindly, lanky.  And not at all coordinated.  I was in the back row.  Always.  And I was extremely self-conscious.

Yup.  It wasn't pretty.

Looking at these costumes, I remembered something about the orange and red outfit, the one we wore for our dance to The Eye of the Tiger.  Yes, I am aware that I am probably hurting you with this knowledge.  Just try not to visualize it.  This costume was given to me on the famed Costume Hand Out Day at my dance studio.  We were sent home with specific instructions about how to complete the outfit prior to the next dance class, which involved spray painting our ballet shoes to match our costumes.  And we were told that we would be required to arrive in full costume since, obviously, it might take a little time to get used to the asymmetrical off-shoulder fringe that we would need to learn to shimmy in, without getting it caught in our neighbor's braces.  Just for example.

What I remember is that somehow, my mother and I, standing in the row of spray paint in our small town's hardware store, didn't get the color quite right.  And that the next week, when I arrived at class, this became immediately clear.  Though my error was not as bad as the procrastinating slackers who had not painted their shoes far enough in advance for the paint to actually dry, and who were leaving a trail of orange on the dance floor as they punched the air to the opening lines of The Eye of the Tiger, my orange was decidedly more red than orange.  The horror.

I was sooooo embarassed.  And quite angry at my mother.  

My poor mother.  I am sure no one else noticed.

Digging deeper into my box, I found this.  My Trapper Keeper from my first year of middle school.  Completely intact and stuffed with my work from that year.  Moldy.  But a time capsule containing all my middle school work.  

Inside, I found my book report on Jane Eyre, complete with the handmade felt hand puppets of Jane and Mr. Rochester.  I know.  This level of cool and the dance costumes?  I was so 80's awesome.  I remember that I was incredibly nervous about giving this book report in front of my classmates, most of them new classmates.  And that I had decided that props were my best bet for getting through the report without turning purple and collapsing.

Then there were my booklets of Historically Significant People, significant at least by the accepted norms at my very small town in New Hampshire's public school.  There are some interesting choices in there.  I remember some of my friends, the more naughty ones, used to test to see if our social studies teacher actually read these (he usually didn't) by lapsing into Mary Had a Little Lamb recitations mid-description of Booker T. Washington.  Despite what I may have been wearing under my clothing, say, a pink leotard with a silver lightening bolt on it, I was never so bold.  

I took French.  Languages, particularly when asked to speak them, were not my strength.

And apparently, I had a class in computer science.  There are some deep thoughts in this folder.

I particularly like: Computers definately will be in everyone's future.

And so, with my trip to uncomfortable self-conscious nerdy middle school fabulous self revelation complete, I put the box back together and tucked it away again.  And tried to pick my ego up off the barn floor.

Then, this morning, I happened upon Nicholas' school binder, the only required purchase for his first year of middle school.  

I realized something in that moment.  This is his Trapper Keeper, 2014 style:

It is a window into his school year. The work he does.  The unusual details he knows about the blue sea slug, his Latin declensions, book reports, and notes from classes.  Even the doodles and notes to friends in the margins.  Unlike my childhood, much of his school work exists digitally as Google Docs, and his conversations about school projects occur by email or texts instead of over the phone.  His music choices exist in the Cloud, and he Instagrams pictures of himself lip-synching with friends, instead of dancing in a friend's basement with color coordinated workout accessories.  Not that that ever happened.  

This digital footprint they are leaving behind is so different from what we left as children, and it will certainly change what is in the box I create for him.  It probably even changes whether there is a box at all, or at least how we define it.  His box is somehow less easily contained, a bit more difficult to tuck away secretly in a barn.  However, both of our boxes, they are still filled with the same bits of ourselves and with the typical developments of this stage of childhood, just packaged differently.  But both entirely as telling of who we were and how we saw our world.

Someday this bright purple binder?  It will probably be in a box.  Hopefully a moisture proof bin actually.  When he pulls it out, what remains in there will be outdated, like my computer science essays, with their underestimations and naive predictions.  What will be in the bin with this binder, what will he put together when he cleans out his closet when home some weekend from college?  What will his time capsule contain, and how well will it remind him of his childhood?  Not just the items, the clothing, the schoolwork, and the accessories of his hobbies, but more importantly, the feelings and associations, the re-lived insecurities and the humor with which we can look back at our young awkwardness.

Finding this box during our annual Spring cleanout.  My mother kept it for me.  And, unintentionally, chose just the right moment to pass it on to me.   My dance costumes remind me of just what it feels like to be on stage, just as upcoming Spring and end of year performances begin to take place for our children.  My visual aids and strategies for dealing with worries about public speaking came just as long term research projects and writing are being completed at school.  And a binder of work and all it reminds me of, foretells, and keeps for me, demonstrating just how much can happen in a year and how important it all feels as it is happening.  It is changing for me how I think about what we keep, and why we keep what we keep.  And when it will be time to pass it on, and let it go.

Finding my slightly wrongly hued ballet shoes, I remember my moment of realization, of feeling obviously different, be-footed in what felt like a glaringly wrong hue, and of the extreme self consciousness this created.  I do not remember the dance performance...and that is probably for the best.  Luckily back then, my parents did not own a video recorder.  But now, I am going to better understand the next similar moment for our children, having recently held these shoes in my hands once again.


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