This post will be very self-indulgently nostalgic, and that is important.
My Mum’s an empty nester. But she’s an empty nester with 3 ambitious, big-thinking kids that she’s brought up to think about the world as being far bigger than the boundaries of their hometown.
Subsequently, her garage is full of crap.
Plastic storage boxes of books from my old classroom. My brother & sister’s bikes. My brother’s thesis, across 5 lever-arch files in a storage crate. Heirloom furniture from generations gone by, waiting for one of us to have the right room in our house to do it justice. Boxes of precious things from our childhood, like handmade Christmas decorations, school art projects (I really have to hand it to my primary art teachers – some of that ceramic stuff was actually awesome) & tiny schoolbags & uniforms. Letters & cards in my late Papa’s handwriting.
Bulk rubbish collection is coming up in her neighbourhood, and I’m the only one of her kids that lives in Perth now. First-bornly duty. Plus, Mum said she’d buy me lunch.
Despite the heat, the dust (so much dust), the grisly discovery of a craftily concealed cat turd (thanks Caspar, no really.) and finding a single tiny dried up dead mouse behind the storeroom door (sad way to go, but probably better than getting crapped out behind a stack of cardboard on a rainy night. Caspar, again, you esteemed modern gentleman.), it was a really nice day – real sense of family storytelling to it.
The parts of the stories that centred around the little bits of childhood furniture that were lying around were the most awkward to deal with. The little table my brother and I used to sit at to draw, build, make, play, and eat. My little tricycle that accompanies my earliest conscious memory of sitting on the concrete in the courtyard of our unit in Carnegie, dripping water from the hose onto the porous concrete. To this day when I hear or smell water crackling through concrete, I’m taken right back to that tiny, fuzzy, absorbing, curious moment. I also probably had an ice cream container on my head, but it sounds way less poetic when I drop that in.
The strangest one to deal with was the baby changing table. All 3 of us had our nappies changed on that thing. It followed us around from house to house, probably came to Hong Kong and back with us in the 80’s, earned its keep again in the 90s when my sister was born, and has patiently sat in garages ever since.
Which brought us yesterday to that uncomfortable point between the past that gave us all these stories, and the future I look to. Do we keep the old changing table? Do we put it out on the verge for collection, hoping someone comes & grabs it? We both struggled with the decision. In the end, Mum made the call to put it out. Neither of us said anything, but it didn’t sit right with either of us.
Now, I’m pretty noisy about not wanting kids. To outsiders it always looks like that’s a decision that’s all about me, and to be fair, for the first few years, that’s pretty accurate. But the first 5 years I reckon I’d have in hand. Little kids are fun, they’re funny, they learn from everything. They make a hell of a mess and never sleep and cost a fortune, but as long as you’re paying attention, they themselves pretty much can’t help but go from strength to strength. Beyond that? My reasons for not wanting kids shift toward that child, that future adult. Tomorrow’s not looking like a nice place to grow up into. I’m doing my best to change that, but I’m well aware how outnumbered I am by the entrenched. It’s not fair for me to see fault in the world, and then pass it on to someone who’s had no say in whether they participate or not.
Those boxes of precious childhood stories are part of my bigger narrative. They’re part of my body of work and that of my family as it exists so far. I can’t question that, and nor should I. But the part yet to be written? Those are my decisions to make, and they’re decisions I make consciously and independently of each other. It wouldn’t feel right (which would ultimately feel really wrong for the people around me) to accept a narrative hobbled together over who-knows-how-many decades and generations. Surnames are just surnames, I plan to look after myself when I’m old and I already do fun things with my backyard. Thinking about my own stories, it is sad to see happy little pieces of my childhood lie fallow, but should I gamble my own potential children today for an inhospitable future on the grounds of something as trivial as my own sense of warm fuzzy memory?
Anyway, the garage looks amazing now.
The things we threw out were piled on the lawn, & we had a drink.
Someone came & picked up the changing table. We both froze, not quite sure how to react. Turns out it was the neighbour moving things to one side so he could park his car more easily. It was a relief, but we still knew we’d done what we had to do.
Then the day wound on. I had to go borrow some music gear from a friend & feed my cats & water my garden. Normal stuff. As I left my friend’s place, his neighbour’s sprinklers had just finished. I could hear it, and smell it.
The fuzzy, absorbing smell of water crackling through concrete.
So now I’ve got a changing table in my shed.
My nostalgia is by nature, self-indulgent. My tiny, fuzzy, absorbing memories have no place in the decisions I make for others, but they’re mine, and they’re pieces of my story. Pieces that deserve better than landfill.