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Family politics and garage sales

So, yesterday I had a garage sale.

I haven't blogged much all week because I've been tagging and cleaning and sorting, preparing for it.  I was cranky for most of that, overwhelmed by the sheer volume of stuff, alarmed, frankly, at how much time it was taking because I had a lot of other things I'd needed to do last week, and most didn't get done.  Mid-way through the preparation process I realized I should not have done it now, that it had been a horrible mistake, and yet there I was anyway.  No turning back.

It was interesting how much some of that cranky was actually just the anxiety of Stuff.  The fury of it existing at all, the tenderness over the memories of it.  The worry that maybe I should save that?  Then wondering what I would do with it, and so off it would go.  But that kept happening, box after box after box, room after room.  It felt good to purge, but it was so much work, and it seemed it would never end.  And as Saturday drew closer, I started to worry that I would even be ready.  But once again, I'm blessed in friends, because Friday night Caryle came up, intending to stay through Saturday, and Kathy came up for the evening, bearing tons of snack foods  and a smile.  Caryle helped me sort, and Kathy entertained Anna.  (Poor Dan did a lot of fetch-and-carry.)  Suddenly the last grisly bits were fun and lighthearted.

Saturday itself had a rocky start.  It's funny, because in one of my horoscopes somewhere I'd read a warning for Saturday about needing to hustle, and I dismissed it, thinking, "Yes, garage sale, I know."  But I think that was reference to Saturday morning, where I felt no need to rush, had this sense that it would all work out and made breakfast, then started hauling things out, setting up tables, getting ready for when Dan's parents would show up with tables at 8.  Well, except there's a lot of stuff.  A LOT of it.  We hauled and hauled and hauled, and it kept coming, and there was a misunderstanding with Dan's parents on the time, and so 8AM came and went, no tables, but we did have very early birds for customers.  Long story short, the offical opening time--9AM--saw us standing in the sweltering humidity overseeing a phenomenally disorganized sea of bins and boxes and not nearly enough space to put them all.  Even with the tables we'd have been screwed, but without them it was hopeless.  It was the baby clothes that broke my heart, because I'd wanted to put them out in piles organized by size, and I had them priced to go by the handful.  Well, what I had was bins of disorganization.  People would say, "Do you have X size?"  And I said yes, but I don't know where.   So for hours it was just chaos.  We didn't even get the books out until 10 or later.

In the end it was a good lesson.  There was a part of me angry and frustrated, mostly at myself for not planning better, and there was a lot of guilt.  I should have sorted more the night before, or woken earlier, or done this or that or the other thing.  I could feel the generations of iron-organized women filling with shame inside me, and especially I could feel my grandmother, whose yearly garage sale was amazing and successful and always neat as a pin--oh, man, was I a failure.  And then, I decided, no.  I decided what I was, in fact, was tired, and very stressed about upcoming travel, and tired from two weeks of work on this project, and in general, human. 

So I just watched the chaos, and rode it out.  Caryle was a rock, fetching and carrying things.  The only calculator I could find did not function, so Dan became the calculator.  The tags fell off, some never got marked at all, and we just punted.  Yes, it was a very poorly run garage sale for several hours.  Well, now I know I shouldn't make a career of it, I suppose.  But by noon we were straightened out, by and large, and in the end, me made a very good haul.  So, a success?  Yes.

My favorite moments of the sale were watching the people who came.  The one thing I was looking forward to was all the energy you get from something like that.  Total strangers come up and rifle through your things, and give you money, and then they go, taking your stuff with them.  They make judgments on your stuff.  They accept some things and reject others.  On the one hand you acknowledge this isn't stuff you need, and yet you hope someone will need it instead, and like it, and take it and give it a new home.  And they come in families--kids and grandparents and those wonderful Mexican families who pile out of vans and work the place like a well-oiled machine, making music of language over the top of the tables. 

I loved the husband who grilled me for ten minutes over the used breast pump, making me plug it in so he could examine the suction (against his finger!) before he'd purchase it.   I loved the family from Boone who bought the curtain/crib set I'd made and gathered up all my onesies and bought my first stereo I'd ever had, loved them so much we gave them a rocking cow just because we loved them all.  I loved the old man who bought an old walkman for himself and them picked up a plastic orange juice pitcher for his wife "because he hated to go home without something for her."  I loved the women who saw my piles of good girl clothes and scooped them up by the armful, and listened to my stories about that sweater or that dress and then ended up buying them . I loved the ones who got me talking about my things and then got me into nervous babble and then found out I was going to England next week, even got out why and for what, and instead of telling me I was insane thought I was charming and wonderful and wished me luck.

The books were probably the most fun.  We had great heaping piles of them, and I knew they'd be hell to move so we didn't price them.  We were roughly ten cents each, but we told people if they came up with armloads we'd make deals.  I loved watching people's eyes when we told them that, and they came up with the most amazing collections of things.  They loved our expanse of subject matter, which made me love them.  And in the end, we had at least half the books gone.

I have one regret, and it isn't that I'd been more organized.  In fact, I think if I'd have been even sloppier but paid more attention to the things I know that matter, I'd have no regrets at all.  But I do regret the piano.

My daughter is a sentimental creature, with a beautiful and tender heart.  She feels very deeply, and she has a long elephantine memory, and this week I learned that this memory goes all the way back to babyhood.  There were toys which had been precious then, and when I found them in the bins I showed them to her, and I let her play with them.  I told her they had to go on the sale, but she could play with them all week.  But even in my distraction, I noticed how she played with them the same way as she did then the same repeating of the buttons, the same, same, same.  She asked me questions about how she had been when she was a baby--had she liked the cat sound this button made then, too?  And she had.

Anna wanted to keep them.  Two electronic toys, and she really wanted them.  I said no, they were baby toys.  I thought, I have been soft on so many things, and I want to get rid of the junk, and I want the money--no.  She'll forget them, I thought.  Part of me was already sensing trouble, but I pushed it aside.  No!  I would not always be the soft mother!  I would move stuff!  No!

Then on Friday night I found the piano.  We'd bought it for Anna's first real Christmas--she was one, and she already loved music, and we bought her a piano she could sit at which would play music if you pressed the keys.  You could play songs, play call and answer with the computer, or play your own music.  Anna loved it as a baby, and when I reproduced it Friday, she loved it all over again.  She played it all day.  She hardly stopped.  She played it the same, too--I remember, I remember everything, and even in my weariness and distraction, I remembered.

At 3PM, it sold.  And Anna sobbed.

To be honest, I'm sobbing now, too, as I'm writing this.  I'd almost pulled it.  All day I'd almost pulled the sacred trinity of favorite toys, toys which together would make $15 in sale but in my daughter's heart were huge.  But I was being strong and organized, and the last of those iron ancestors were having their sway, and I left the toys out.  And when the mother picked up the piano and Anna turned to me, I saw the baby, I saw the girl who had loved her baby toys all over again all week, I saw the sensitive soul who hadn't had enough time, hadn't been able to ask her questions, hadn't really loved that toy like she wanted, and I saw my mistake.  All around us were people--the mother buying the toy, Dan, Dan's parents, Caryle--we were all there, and all the adults smiled sadly and thought, "Oh, she'll get over it," but I know my girl, and I know that heart, but I hadn't been listening to mine, and by the time it all swam inside me it was too late.  I didn't know the way out of that one, didn't realize fully until an hour ago what a horrid mistake that had been, what a betrayal of my own parenting code that was.  Fuck the garage sale and the organization.  I was so caught up in how it should be that I missed the piano. 

I could have kept it two more months.  I could have donated the sacred toys later to a church nursery or given them to a shelter or just let them rot with her forever.  I did keep the other two--they didn't sell.  But for  I sold the piano, because I wasn't paying attention.  Oh, yes, she'll be fine.  Yes, it's just a piano.  Except it is not about the piano.  I was worried about space and money, and I was trying to have a good garage sale.  Now the garage sale is done, $500 will come and go, but when I am grey and old, you can bet Anna will remember that piano.  What the hell did I sell for $5?

Though, to be very, very honest, I'm glad.  Not for the piano, but for the regret, because out of all that work and my daughter's tears I learned again what is important and what is not.   In a few hours Anna will be up, and I'm going to tell her that I'm sorry about the piano, and that she gets to keep the others as long as she needs to.  And you know, I know her well enough to know that will mean a lot to her and while it won't make up for the piano, it will be better than thinking her mother doesn't understand what's important to her.  And to be honest I would rather sell the baby piano and learn to listen a little better than stay iron and miss something huge later in her life.

I think in the end I won, too.  I had a garage sale, just like the iron women would have wanted.  I worked myself to exhaustion to have it, I tried for organization.  But I did it my own way, messy and all, and what I got in the end were lessons in people, a reminder of what was important,  a loss of some stuff, and $500.

It's funny.  The money's why I did it, and in the end, it seems the least important part.

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Comments

( 12 comments — Leave a comment )
griffen
Jul. 29th, 2007 01:41 pm (UTC)
This is beautiful and made me cry a little bit.

May I have your permission to repost it to readers_list?
heidicullinan
Jul. 29th, 2007 02:20 pm (UTC)
Aww! Yes, you may. :)
griffen
Jul. 29th, 2007 02:34 pm (UTC)
It's posted here; as per the community standards, all who wish to comment will be redirected here to your LJ. :)
heidicullinan
Jul. 29th, 2007 09:57 pm (UTC)
Cool. Thanks!
inkgrrl
Jul. 29th, 2007 06:08 pm (UTC)
Aww sweetie... yes on the one hand it's just stuff and oh my we have the same iron women screaming in the backs of our heads but on the other hand it's memories and not just passive pictures in our brain-shadow-boxes but real things we can feel and listen to and touch again and again. Anna will be fine - not fine in the blow-off how she feels way so we adults don't have to pay attention to it, but fine because her mother gets her and cares.
heidicullinan
Jul. 29th, 2007 09:58 pm (UTC)
smooches at you.
dancpharmd
Jul. 29th, 2007 08:41 pm (UTC)
I know we talked about this today, but it's posts like these and thoughts like these that make me love you more every day. And make me more convinced that even though some days it doesn't feel like it, you're the best mom for Anna, bar none.
heidicullinan
Jul. 29th, 2007 09:58 pm (UTC)
And you are the best dad. And husband.
apocalypticbob
Jul. 30th, 2007 03:30 am (UTC)
Here via readers_list. This broke my heart (I'm a mom, too, and I know this feeling, so now I'm here sobbing!)) and at the same time made me think Anna is an extremely blessed young lady to have such a compassionate Mom.

One of these days, when she's old enough to grasp it, I hope you share this post with her...perhaps on one of those teenage days when she has said something hateful and you've said something harsh in return. It won't be possible for her to avoid seeing the love shining through in this post, this brief moment in time. Then, I think, the loss of the piano may be worth it.
heidicullinan
Jul. 30th, 2007 07:23 am (UTC)
Oh, that's such a good idea. Thank you.

And thanks for stopping by. :)
supremegoddess1
Jul. 30th, 2007 08:45 am (UTC)
i dunno...she probably will forget, but it will take awhile...
heidicullinan
Jul. 30th, 2007 09:00 am (UTC)
You know, we had a dog for a week two years ago--I thought she'd forget because she was only three. She still talks about her.

I did have a talk with her when she woke up, and she told me why she'd wanted to keep it, and what made it special, and I apologized again, and we seem to be fine. So, here's to the future.
( 12 comments — Leave a comment )