Monday, July 9, 2012

The things we leave behind

The summer of 2012 will go down in history as the one where my sisters and I said goodbye to our childhood home, one tchotchke at a time. See, my mom passed away last fall, my father preceded her in death by about 23 years, but the home we grew up in remained her home until the day she died. Like many families, we put off cleaning out mom's things (and when I say mom's things, I mean all of her accumulated things, her mother's things, my father's things, my father's parents' and brothers' things: in short, lots and lots of things) until this summer when my three sisters and I could do it all together.

My parent's bought this house new in 1967. It was never a dream home, but it is solid and comfortable. We've never been the type of family to accrue museum-quality furniture and I highly doubt even most of our finest pieces would be eligible for a review on Antiques Roadshow, but they are still heirlooms, and then there is a ton of things that have no value except for our sentimental connection. As we go through the family heirlooms, it's overwhelming. There are so many items that our sisterly caucus agrees should stay in the family, but then with the sheer amount of things, we're all mentally finding space in our cupboards for them, or not. And while I'm desperately attached to certain things, I can't pretend that I'm not overjoyed that I "won" the family dining table and china hutch from my sisters, I'm also so overwhelmed by the thought that these things, these heirlooms, are not my family's legacy. My sisters and I are. Our children are. Our regard for each other: that is what our parents gave us that will outlive even the finest crystal.

I can't even begin to tell you how my parents created such a close-knit family, except that they were both exceptionally kind people who loved each other and their daughters very much. In that this is a special needs parenting blog, though, I can give you one example of how my parents taught us by example that doing anything you can for family is the most important job.

In the early seventies, pre-IDEA, my cousin was diagnosed with mental retardation (his presentation, if he were a little one today, would most probably be on the autism spectrum). They lived in a large town in a rural area, and the schools there were not yet able to accommodate his needs. I have no idea how it all went down, but in what I can only imagine was a heavy, heart wrenching decision, my aunt and uncle decided to send my cousin to live with my family, in our big city, where he could attend a special school for kids with disabilities. My mom, with me in diapers, my sisters busy with the frenzy of elementary school (brownies, girl scouts, soccer), became more than just Aunt Lucy to my cousin, taking him to and from school (a 30 minute drive each way) and being a mom for him when he missed his so much; all the while, she served on the PTA, keeping us active with church and community events. One of these days we'll find her calendar from those years... Last time I saw it my kiddo was just starting school and I marveled at how each and every day of the week she had appointments and events and get togethers scheduled. She was a super mom.

Today is my cousin's birthday, which is why he is also at the top of my mind. I hope that his time with my family, although I can't remember it (I was 2), was a positive time for him. I think about his time here and try to imagine being in the position my aunt was in, having to send her son away for three years just so he could be educated. I also completely understand the trust and love that our family has in each other, and I know that I am part of a legacy of love and caring that goes all the way down to our DNA.

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Molly is a mom, sister, cousin, niece, auntie and friend to a really wonderful family and an Occupational Therapy student living in Colorado.