Before my oldest daughter, Maddie, was born, I remember spending what seemed like hours washing, folding, and refolding her little outfits before placing them in her tiny laundry basket. I remember holding them close to my face, breathing in their baby-powdered scent. I would then carefully place each of them neatly in her dresser drawer, anxiously awaiting her arrival.
After she was born, I remember diligently working to get the spit-up and then baby-food stains out of those same outfits. As she got older, the source of the stains changedÑfood, mud, bloodÑbut the process did not: wash, fold, place in her laundry basket, repeat. Late-night washes of bedsheets morphed into last-minute washes of school uniforms, which transitioned into my husband, Mark, asking, “Is this yours or Maddie’s? “
So I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised that it was a laundry basket that undid me when Maddie recently moved out. No, it wasn’t her bed missing. It wasn’t the bare room that just a few days ago had been filled with all of her stuff. No, it was a white, plastic laundry basket with her name written on the handle in red marker that reduced me to tears.
I should have known it would be something so nondescript that would bring the reality home. I quickly learned after my mom died that it was always the little things in lifeÑnot the big, predictable momentsÑthat seem to hit closest to home and evoke the most emotion. In fact, this would have been a good time to have her around.
It was just an average day when it happened. I was downstairs in our laundry room helping my youngest daughter, Kacey, look for her gym clothes. As I reached for Kacey’s basket, I looked at the shelves where our family’s laundry baskets are kept, and I froze. Suddenly, I was face-to-face with the empty space where Maddie’s basket had, until just recently, resided. Five laundry baskets sat on the shelves where just a few days ago there had been six. An overwhelming rush of emotion came over me.
Really? I thought. It wasn’t as if I didn’t realize it was gone. After all, I had helped her do the last loads of laundry before she left and piled her basket high with clothes for the move. In fact, I think I might have even carried it into her new apartment. But now, seeing that empty space made the reality of her absence crystal clear.
And it wasn’t as if her moving out came as a complete surprise. You see, Maddie is fiercely independent. She has been ever since she was little. She had made it very clear to Mark and me that she planned to head out on her own as soon as she was able. Apparently, that time was now.
And so we packed up her car with her belongings and helped her take that next step into adulthood. After all, that’s what we’re supposed to do as parents, isn’t it? It is the moment we work toward from the time we fold and refold those baby clothes to the time they take one more step away from us and into their own lives. We hold their hands, teach them, support them, and then, at some point, we help them pack up and move onÑunfortunately, with their laundry basket in hand.