Saying Goodbye to the Family That Might Have Been

mom walking with daughterWhat if our flight is canceled?

What if the plane runs out of gas?   

What if we walk the opposite way on the moving sidewalk?

The above questions? Just a few of the "What if"s my daughter asked during a lovely, two-hour delay at the airport. Yes, "What if"s are a constant in my world. These inquiries from Kiddo often require a Google search. Sometimes they land in a blog post. Others simmer in that giant vat of Mommy Worry, always bubbling in the back of my mind. Oh, and, yes, the "What if"s also come with us on our annual summer trip to my parents’ house.

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One morning during our visit, my dad pulls out all of Kiddo’s old baby clothes that I had stored in their basement throughout the years. He adds that he was making some trips to Goodwill next week and asks if I (hint, hint) wanted him to take anything there.

Dad and subtlety never did go together.

I rummage through the bins. Memories pour out, covering the floor. There is my daughter’s first Halloween costume (a monkey), her first pair of Converse tennis shoes (black with Velcro), and piles of pants (she wasn’t into dresses).

“Whatcha doin’?” Kiddo skips down the stairs with her best imitation of Isabella from Phineas and Ferb.

“I’m going through some of your old baby clothes,” I mutter, holding up the jeans with the zebra print trim she wore on the first day of preschool.

She scans the many bins around me. “Why did you keep them?”

Why did I keep them? My husband and I knew within her first year that our family was complete. We were to be a trio. Period. When the inevitable questions about having another child popped up, we both spoke the words confidently: we were “one and done.” We just worked this way. It felt -- and still feels -- right.

I examine the tags with “6-12 months” or “3T” stamped on them. What if we had decided to have another baby? I spot Kiddo’s old “Santa’s Little Helper” pajamas while images of some other little one donning them float before me. I think about what Kiddo would have been like as a big sister. She would have been an amazing teacher, the funniest companion, and the strongest protector.

I wipe a tear on my sleeve. What is this? I’m crying? Why am I sad now? I realize, with each shove of clothes into a garbage bag, I’m saying goodbye to the possibility of another type of family.

I am not good with goodbyes.

“What if, when you finish this, we play Clue again?” Kiddo waves her old baby socks, now acting as hand puppets, at me. I look at her. I know our family is just as it should be.

“Sure. Give me five minutes, OK?” I agree, and she skips back up the stairs. 

I pull the garbage bags closed. The What if we had had another baby? is buried between the onesies. I’m sad but also content. I’m OK with not knowing the answer. I knot the plastic ties. I have many more "What if"s ahead of me.

When -- and how -- did you know your family was complete?

Heather Chaet documents her mini parenting successes, epic mommy fails, and everything in between for a plethora (love that word!) of publications and websites such as CafeMom, New York Family, and AdWeek. While her online persona is found at heatherchaet.com, Heather lives in New York City with her film director husband and one insanely curious, cat-obsessed daughter.


Image via Luka/cultura/Corbis

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