One of my favorite books for the kiddos is called Not a Box by Antoinette Portis.
It is a great celebration and exploration of a child’s imagination, how a child can take a cardboard box and transform it into a race car or a rocket ship just by thinking it. I love the pride of the featured bunny rabbit as he stands his ground with the naysayers who insist the bunny is merely sitting in a cardboard box.
Bunny knows better and I empathize with him.
I have a box, too, that a lot of people would look at and see just a box. I know better, though.
In July I wrote about the need to clear out my daughter’s closet to make room for the new baby boy we were hoping to adopt. Well, it turns out that writing about clearing out the closet was more of a psychological step than an actual declaration of my actions. I actually didn’t get around to clearing out Donna’s closet until mid-October, after a month of pulling baby clothing out of a hamper left on the dining room floor, and four years exactly to the week of her death.
That was no way to welcome Mary Tyler Baby into our family. It was time, and so I got about the hard work of going through every stitch of clothing Donna every wore, from birth to death. Most of it I packed up and gave to three separate friends, each with a little girl of their own who could use Donna’s clothing. I made very conscious choices and while I can’t say it felt right, per se, it did feel necessary. And oddly hopeful.
What I couldn’t bear to part with remains in the box pictured above. A very few treasured pieces that most recall Donna to me. Her dance recital costume, her sailor suit, the pajamas she was wearing when she died in our bed.
Donna had tremendous style, which is a really odd thing to say about such a little girl, but it’s true. When I think of her, my memories are often attached to certain things she was wearing. A red beret on Thanksgiving day, pink sequin mary jane gym shoes for school, a black t-shirt with dandelion seeds blowing across it that were paired with leopard velour pants Donna wore the first time she sat upright and played on our bed, toppling over every few minutes with giggles loud and clear.
All of those treasured things now rest in this box. All that is left of Donna’s time here on this earth of ours now rest in this box. The last few scraps of fabric that I am able to justify keeping for those moments I really need to indulge my grief now rest in this box. So, you can see, this is not a box. It is more — much, much more.
This is not a box, but an avenue for me on the road to Donna.
This is not a box, but a time traveling system that transports me back to those very few moments I mothered a daughter.
This is not a box, but the warm embrace of a joyful, sweet little girl who loved so much about this world of ours.
This is not a box, but my ticket to a less complicated time where things made more sense and sadness wasn’t so heavy.
This is not a box, but a key to the best parts of myself that Donna helps me nurture every day.
This is not a box, but evidence that once upon a time there was a girl named Donna and she was amazing.
So you see, my friends, imagination is a wonderful, wonderful thing. It can allow me to transform a box full of fabric into a rocket ship made out of hope that carries me back in time to be with the most extraordinary girl I ever met. And the naysayers amongst you can’t tell me anything different, because I know better.
This is not a box. Clearly.
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