A few months ago I completed a task very impressive by my standards, something every parent means to do “one of these days”. I organized my kids’ old school work. All of it.

Maybe you have to have a kid who has graduated to grasp the magnitude and scope of this job. Imagine every single report card and drawing, the assignments and crafts that every mother puts aside on the computer desk downstairs “to keep”. Though I tried to be pretty discriminating over the years and not hold onto an excessive amount, thirteen years of even carefully screened papers still accumulates quite impressively.

Now this collection is a pillar of organizational workmanship: every single piece of paper is housed in a neatly-labeled expanding file, separated by grade, from school work to report cards, with that grade’s school picture on the front of each compartment. And I made one for both kids; one is completely finished since he graduated, the other’s is empty beyond the grade 7 compartment. They will both be able to basically view highlights of their entire academic career like looking through a photo album. It took me almost three full days and it’s my proudest organizational accomplishment to date.

Everyone has special box of stuff from their youth, don’t they? It’d be a shame if they didn’t.

It’s an outdated custom by most modern-day standards, but when I was young I had a box filled with things that were extremely important to me. It wasn’t a hope chest in the traditional sense, in that it wasn’t given to me to store all of the things a woman is “meant to use once she’s married”. It was just a little hinged trunk that my grandfather built, that I’m sure once held blankets or vacuum cleaner attachments or something, that made its way into my room at some point and stayed there.

The contents of this trunk have mostly stayed intact over the years, despite changing houses and apartments countless times and even moving around the country. Nothing in it is valuable except to me. At the bottom of the box are trophies and plaques I won over the years, tiaras and banners from the princess pageants I was in, some old report cards, my high school yearbook, and my graduation cap. The layers on top have more recent items: souvenirs from the first vacation I ever took to Cuba, the guest book from my wedding, the kids’ baby books, some concert ticket stubs, and other mementos.

If my house was ever on fire and I could only grab one thing, my trunk would be it. None of things can ever be replaced.

The folders of my kids’ school work have made their way to the chest-sized plastic containers I have compiled for both of my boys. In each there are a few special pieces of baby clothes for them to pass on, souvenirs from their childhood and vacations we’ve taken, and when they get older and their rooms are packed up, I will put in their medals and signed baseballs and all the other things they will want to look back on. Clutter? I’m sure some would say so, but I disagree. I know mine isn’t.

Maybe I’ll never use my grade 4 report card, but if I don’t keep it I won’t be able to show my grandchildren how smart their grandmother was when she was young. I may not ever use a magazine picture of the Interview with a Vampire movie poster art framed in a cheap dollar store frame, but if I throw it away I might not remember what it was like to be a poor student with no money for décor for her first apartment. I will probably never unfold that First Air boarding pass from 2003, but if I don’t have it to look at every few years I might not remember that feeling of how happy I was to leave Iqaluit and return to Cape Breton.

That chest is a repository of what my life has been, year by year, decade by decade. The entire thing is off the charts in sentimental value, and I look forward to passing my son’s boxes along to them when they’re settled into adult life. That way in 20 years, my son and future daughter-in-law can sit on the floor of her basement and look through a similar collection of mementos of another life well lived.

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Gina MacDonald is a freelance columnist, mother and wife who lives outside Port Hawkesbury.