My (almost) 8-year-old daughter came in from tidying the yard and readying it for play to hand me the plastic, toy lawn mower, “Another piece broke off. I think it’s time we got rid of this.”
I nodded, scheduled a recycling pick-up, and took the decade-old toy to the backyard before it hit me.
First, that my daughter had willingly handed over a broken toy (she’s been known to dive into the trash after toy purge). Second, after 10 years, three of our own kids, and countless friends and neighbors, the play life of the toy lawn mower had expired.
My (almost) 11-year-old received the lawnmower for his first birthday, and it was an instant hit. The toy arrived, shining and bright green, when our own parenting was still unstable. How do we budget for a mortgage and daycare? When should we try for a second baby? How can we balance the competing demands of our careers, our little family, and our extended family? We were still asking so many questions when that lawn mower entered the backyard play experience.
The popular toy has been in nearly constant use since then. My own kids span seven-and-a-half years from oldest to youngest—a lot of toys have spanned the years. When we moved a few years ago, it was already six years old. My husband and I debated bringing it, but when I told him I’d just buy a new one to accommodate our then-newborn, he acquiesced, and along it came. Three years later, it’s helped our third child learn to walk and served as an early tool for helping with yard work.
I’m not sad, exactly, to see it go. It’s clunky and adds to the mess of a backyard play with three kids. We have ride-ons and toy tractors. There’s a slide and at least six soccer balls. Maybe it won’t be missed when the bounce house is up or the soccer goals are in use.
But, as with so many moments in parenting, it feels like a milestone to let it go. Almost exactly a decade after my oldest opened it, we are a different family. We have added the siblings we didn’t yet know my son would have. We have grown both more confident in our careers and less afraid to say no. We also fully understand that our own little family comes first, and we will do our best when it comes to extended family.
Ten years changes a lot. Ten years have brought the loss of cherished family members, changes in friendships, a new home, different responsibilities. The challenges of parenting a 1-year-old have expanded to the challenges of parenting a pre-teen, a second grader, and a preschooler. And questions? Of course, we still have questions, but they are different and often feel much bigger than when we were young(ish) parents of a 1-year-old. Can we put off the home improvements we want to make until after our youngest is done with preschool? Are we saving enough for college? Retirement? Do our parents have what they need as they too get older?
Sure, it’s a faded green plastic lawn mower with steadily expanding cracks and holes.
But for a moment, it’s a time machine back to the backyard of our first home, celebrating the first birthday of our first child, surrounded by a lot of the first people we met when we moved to this town, many of whom will be here when my oldest celebrates his 11th birthday.
Our family has moved beyond the plastic lawn mower, but I haven’t moved beyond feeling nostalgia or gratitude for where we are now.