My husband and I decided in late summer that our house needed some love. For several years, we have given the lion’s share of our attention to our two little boys causing, our house to take the proverbial backseat. After all, painting walls and hanging pictures isn’t always possible–or even a concern–when balancing feedings, nap schedules, and temperamental toddlers.

A quick survey of our house showed us that our inadvertent neglect had left its mark. Baby gates cut deep holes into the drywall, toddler spills and messes assaulted our carpeting, and entire rooms stood empty as toys that didn’t belong were cleared out.

So we made a plan, created a very large to-do list, and began. For the past few months, we have plastered holes, cleaned carpeting, painted walls, ordered furniture, and hung pictures. We have gone room-by-room, repairing, decorating, and slowly transforming our house into a home.

Every weekend, we have tackled a new project. With our pens poised, we crossed off another chore only to move quickly onto the next until we realized that we had finally come to the last task on the list–organizing the basement.

After many months of stumbling over a stray toy or looking too long for a light bulb, I happily anticipated a comprehensive clearing out. With each box and bag filled and loaded in the car for donation, I could feel a bit more space to breathe.

Last weekend we were halfway done with our boys’ mountain of toys reduced to a respectable molehill and remaining boxes neatly stacked under the stairs. My husband and I looked around and felt not only satisfied but also happy with our progress.

There was only one glaring but also significant pile remaining, which took up most of a far back wall. The items forming this large mound had been gently bundled and heaped on top of each other and carefully covered with white cloths. The stuff laying beneath had waited five years to be once again uncovered and used just as we had prayed that we would be blessed enough to have reason to do so.

We had ignored this pile for a long time, but considering the space this mass of objects occupied, we knew we had to face it. Tentatively I asked, “Do we donate the baby stuff?” Studying the bumpy heap of things that accounted for a significant part of our lives, my husband answered, “I think we should.” Seeing my downcast look, he added, “It doesn’t mean we couldn’t still have one.”

So after many years of unsuccessfully trying for a third child, we finally pulled out the boxes and bins filled with adorable onsies, little shoes, and rattles–it just wasn’t us who was going to use them.

We quickly tallied the clothes and toys before swiftly packing them into donation bags. I didn’t look at any of the tiny T-shirts or beloved toys. It was easier to just pack them and move forward except that moving forward hasn’t been easy either.

With my boys’ babyhood packed tightly into the car, I drove to the Goodwill. Every time I hit a bump, the familiar whirls, beeps, and squeaks of the toys sounded, setting off a bittersweet memory in my mind. Surrounded by the toys and clothes of my sons’ earliest childhood, I sadly acknowledged that a very sweet time in my life had passed.

Although a bit silly and “Toy Story-esque,” as I neared the Goodwill I thanked the toys and assured them that they would no longer sit idle in a dark corner of a basement. Instead, they would soon have other chubby little beings play with them and love them just as my little ones had. Before opening the door, I whispered a quick good bye. Then I took a deep breath, opened the door, and began unloading the car.

After handing favorite toys, well-worn pajamas, and baby seats to a gangly teenager who pushed the items into the recesses of the store, I climbed into my empty car and drove home. It was the hardest Goodwill donation that I’ve ever made.

The next day I went into the basement and seeing the empty space, I sobbed. I cried for our loss of hope in adding the child we’d always felt was missing. I cried for the loss of a beautiful time in our lives. I cried because I felt as gutted as our basement.

The second day I went into the basement again, and although the area where we stored the baby stuff was still bare, I saw the space differently. I realized that it was best not to view this empty place as an unfilled hole of loss, but rather as a space that had been cleared for something else that God or the universe feels is best for us.

Although I am still sad, I hold onto this belief and try to have faith in a plan that we didn’t make but I hope one day I will see as the best one for us. In the meantime, I will sweep the floor, put down some rugs, and I will wait.

Sherry Parnell

A full-time writer, personal trainer, and professor, I am the author of Let the Willows Weep and Daughter of the Mountain. An alumnus of Dickinson College and West Chester University, I live with my husband and sons in Glenmoore, Pennsylvania. I am currently working on my third novel entitled The Secrets Mother Told.