September 12, 2010

Cleaning The Empty Nest

The Boy's bedroom is almost empty, everything piled in a rental van going east to college several weeks ago. Time to clean out the extra feathers and twigs.

We are finally replacing the carpet. Nothing remains except empty furniture and what's on the walls -- a framed Newyorkerstan cover, a Three Stooges poster, a Toledo Mud Hens pennant, a Draw-By-Number picture of R2 D2, ribbons and certificates from contests, Scouts, Sunday School.

And the welcoming sign near the door, "Violators will be shot, and survivors will be shot again."

My husband, a librarian, is a neatnik. I'm, well, I'm not. We had hope for our son. Couldn't he take after dad and learn the fine arts of alphabetizing, filing, organizing, putting away?

We moved into our present house when The Boy was six, and instituted a rule "No eating in any room but kitchen and family room." That rule worked pretty well, except for the summer he left his half-eaten school lunch in the Lego lunchbox under his bed. I kept smelling something, then...well, I'll spare you all the gory details.

In middle school, The Boy complained about how I did his laundry so I turned it over to him. He was a Life Scout at that time, for gawd's sake. If he could hike ten miles in a forest, he could sort his whites and darks and throw some Tide with them in the washer.

The Boy is halfway through undergraduate school now, and able to take care of himself.

I decided recently it was time to re-do his bedroom, rid it of the fire-engine red blinds, baseball caps wallpaper border, and original 1977 carpet. (Yeah, I know. 1977. We had other priorities, ya know?)

I've chosen a new Berber, with the lovely color name of champagne. I am taking a risk here -- believing it will be awhile before Hawaiian Punch or grape juice ruins its purity. I'm a risk-taker.

Before the carpet can be installed, everything must go out of his room. The installers will move the furniture, but I'm taking this time to sift through the treasures of his childhood, what he left behind. I'm sure he's getting tired of text messages like "Can I throw away all of your National Geographics?"

(When Grandma and Grandpa moved to the retirement home, they decided #1 grandson should have thirty years worth of NG. I'm not sure he ever looked at one.) Out they go.

I bought bins from Staples and am piling the papers in them. I think we can safely throw away all the letters from Reed College and the Illinois Institute of Technology.

I've moved all his books to the living room where they will stay until the carpet is put in (the installers were supposed to come yesterday, but unrolling the carpet they found a two-foot flaw.)

I have tremendous difficulty moving books. I want to sit down and read them all. Like his parents, The Boy loves words. He has a huge collection of CS Lewis, I did pull out Mere Christianity and will read it again. Most of his books from when he was very small are in bookshelves in the basement. Why did he keep Goodnight, Moon, and When We Are Six up in his room?

What joy to remember reading to him in this room. Soon after we moved here, he was able to read to us. Of all the miracles of childhood, this is the one I treasure most.

He has Asbarger's Syndrome, a form of autism, and didn't even talk until he was four. Now we know he was reading before he could talk, a trait from his librarian father who knew all the presidents when he was about that age. (Of course I could make the requisite joke that we were only up to James K. Polk, but I won't.)

The cat is so confused with all the clutter and chaos. The living room couch is piled with The Boy's red, white, and blue bedding and Indianapolis Colts pillows. There's a non-working XM satellite radio the size of a Victrola, boxes of cassettes and CDs (pre-I-Pod), and a box with his childhood memorabilia. I can't even bear to open that one. His kids will enjoy it.

The installers cancelled as I was finishing the closet. For some unknown reason, The Boy kept every pair of tennis shoes he's ever owned. Who would want them? They aren't good enough to give to Goodwill. They are caked with the dirt of a hundred Boy Scout camp outs and hikes, and rich with memories.

The Boy's best friend lived across the road. Both of them worked hard to become Eagle Scouts. They also belonged to a society within Scouting that requires a beautiful white silken sash as part of the uniform. One night they came home from a society meeting and disappeared into Best Friend's yard. The Boy came home covered with mud on his pants, white sash grimy and wet, and shoes completely ruined.

What were you doing, I asked.

His best friend needed a tadpole for Biology the next morning. They had to go down to the lake, and my Boy needed to hold the flashlight.

Made perfect sense to me, trapping frogs on a November night.

And there in the bottom of this closet rest those dirty shoes.

At least I didn't find a half-eaten mummified ham sandwich under the bed.