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Two weeks after my daughter was born, my dad drove from Pennsylvania to our home in Florida to stay with me for the week. I was nursing my daughter on the couch when my dad drug in four humongous plastic storage bins and staged them next to the Pack ‘N Play in the living room.

The bins were full of my baby clothes, baby shower cards, a silver spoon, plastic and probably lead-infused rattles, and two cellophane balloons neatly folded. A time capsule of my babyhood. I thought of my mom’s hands being the last to touch these items. Had she saved them in case she had another girl? Or for me to give to my kids one day? Did she pack them away with the same bittersweetness I experienced as my children transitioned from baby clothes and footed pajamas to toddler clothes? Their growth is both the bane and joy of my existence.

Those plastic bins moved with us from that home to an apartment, to a guest bedroom, to a barn, and ultimately to a shelving unit my husband built in the garage. The truth was that the clothes were old, stretched, stained and they didn’t fit like Carter’s. They took up a lot of space.

One day I knew I had to do something with themthey were never meant to be a burden. I selected a few of my favorite pieces and the box of cards and the balloons and set them aside. I loaded the bins in the back of my minivan. I pulled up to the side of Goodwill and stood in front of the giant bin the associate had wheeled over. I told the associate it was going to be hard for me, that these were my baby clothes. I held up a smocked dress. I told him I was going to have to touch each thing one by one. He didn’t mind. I cried as I went one by one through for four bins.

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I went home and wrote an essay titled, “A Not-So-Minimalist Ode to my Baby Clothing: Because I want to explain and share the joy I found in them but why I did not save them for you.” I liked it. 500 words took up far less space, yet translated to just as much sentiment. Sure, I could have made a quilt out of them. But I didn’t. I have my essay.

So, last year when my dad showed up in our driveway with two green storage bins, I paused. Dad, what are you doing? It was the camping gear from our childhood camping adventures. We never went camping after mom passed away. I did the math. 24 years.

The bins sat in my garage for a year. Until yesterday. We are taking our four children camping at Fort De Soto park in Tampa. It will be our first time camping—s’mores and hot dogs for Thanksgiving dinner.

We’ve had a tough year and, instead of an Amazon or Target order, I pulled out the bins. There four green mattress pads were folded into little rolls. I remember they sucked as a kid. I pulled out the tent. Would the zippers still work? Would it be threadbare? I pulled the fabric, and a little stick fell out. From Yogi on the River or Raystown Lake? I spread it out in the backyard. I remembered my parents bickering trying to thread the four poles. I bickered to no one as I attempted to assemble it with three of four kids running around inside pulling on 24-year-old zippers.

The second bin held the cooking supplies. Waxy plastic cups that don’t exist anymore. I wonder if they’re toxic? We’ll find out. The griddle. The memories of bacon wafted through my mind. My mom’s calves as we stood next to the end of the picnic table washing dishes in a plastic bin. The weird memory of my parents and their friends singing “Puff the Magic Dragon” around the campfire and being confused, thinking the adults were acting . . . ”sus” . . . as my kids would say. Is that short for suspect or suspicious, anyway?

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And the time I was roasting marshmallows and my dad’s friend asked me how much I weighed and how I proudly replied, “70 pounds,” which I guess was heavier than his daughter. I still don’t know where to file that memory.

With the baby clothes, I had determined that the joy was in the first opening. The first time I opened the bins I was overwhelmed with a sense of knowing I was loved and adored.

Today my husband and I will set up the tent that my whole family once camped in. Before cancer. We will, no doubt, bicker. My kids will complain about the mattress pads. I’ll use my mom’s griddle and wash her spatula in the plastic binmost likely with four children hovering by my side to help.

It will be a lot of work. We’re taking bets on how long we’ll last. I heard there are a lot of nice hotels in Tampa. At the bottom of the bin is an old McDonald’s sugar packet. Something about it soothes my soul. Maybe it was from a coffee run or maybe it got dropped in the bin when they were storing the camping gear in our basement.

Thanks, Mom. Thanks, Dad.

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Amanda Harding

Amanda Harding lives in Ocala, FL. When she is not tip-toeing out of the house at the crack of dawn to write in her favorite coffee shops, Amanda spends her time with her husband and four kiddos, doing laundry, poolside, paddle-boarding, and wandering the aisles of Target. She has never said no to a road trip! Amanda received her Masters in Business Administration from the University of Miami. She is a birth doula and a permit coordinator and has written a memoir and several children’s books. She is currently working on a new book titled Tolerating Discomfort: The Doula’s Guide to Crisis. Agents…email [email protected] !

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