Sunday, January 26, 2020

Sleeping Bags and Stages of Life

My stage of life is best illustrated by the sleeping bags.

They are rolled up and tightly tied like well-behaved sleeping bags ought to be. Some are sleek, nylon, lightweight, and efficient--perfect for backpacking. Two are big, heavy, old cotton bags that would keep you warm in the Klondike. One or two are "mummy" shaped. Most are rectangular. Some are slipped into swishy nylon bags with drawstrings at the end.

They are piled on top of the two upright freezers in the back pantry and also on a shelf on the north wall. In among the sleeping bags, we have at least four foam mats also rolled up into cylinders.

Those sleeping bags have been everywhere: on the trampoline on lovely summer nights when siblings watched for shooting stars and cats came snuggling in the morning chill, spread all over the inside of a pop-up tent trailer out at the coast, down by the creek on boys' adventures [and washed down the creek inside a tent on one memorable occasion], up in the mountains, on road trips, on airplanes, across the country, and on youth-group camping trips.

And back home again.

Our son Steven moved home recently after living at a local fire station for two years and completing an intense out-of-state paramedic program.

I was happy to have him around again, and not only because he lifts heavy objects and comes up with good puns. Like all our offsprings, he is just a good person to have around.

As adult children do, he brought his things with him. And I felt an ancient panic rising.

Many many years ago, we moved to a 20 x 24 foot cabin on a reservation in Canada. We had three children aged 4, 2, and 8 weeks. We also didn't have running water, which I am saying only so you'll feel sorry for me and not because it is really relevant to this story.

A big challenge was Where to Put Things. I had pared down to the very basics of course, since we had to fly in all our belongings. But still. We had kettles, diapers, a radio, flour, soap, pajamas, and such things. And no dressers.

One weekend, early on, Paul went to Winnipeg for a teachers' meeting and managed to come back with a sack of shelf brackets and a stack of laminated boards. He lined our little restroom with shelves and put up a few more in the children's bedroom. I filled the shelves and put underwear and socks in our suitcases and slid them under our bed. It all fit. I was happy.

However. Whenever we got something new, such as when someone sent us a care package of clothes and gifts, I was happy for the much-needed stuff but a little panicky. Where would I put it?

For the next day or two I would fuss and poke and rearrange, and somehow I'd find a place. There. It had a home and a place to be, and I would feel settled once more.

In the last fifteen years, I've had grownup kids moving in, moving out, leaving for short times and medium times and long times, coming for visits, coming for summers, coming until they graduate, leaving again with a sleeping bag and sandwiches tossed into the back seat, 

Often, I've faced that little panic. Where are we going to put everyone and everything??

Before Steven came home at the end of December, I was nosing around the house like an agitated mouse, sniffing with quivering whiskers. How would we do this? What could I get rid of to make more space?

In the back pantry, I looked at those sleeping bags. Surely the time had come. "Everyone pick out which ones are yours, and we'll get rid of the rest," I said.

"But that one is good for backpacking!" they said. "This one is mine, and that other one is good for camping, and those are handy when we have guests, and you use that one on the couch when Dad snores."

So I kept them all.

That defines my odd and unusual stage of life, I thought, that none of my many adventurers are settled enough to take their backpacks into their own dwelling to stay. [Or maybe Matt has his, I'm not sure. But he is getting married this summer and then he will get whatever sleeping bags he has left here, the box of Calvin and Hobbes books in the attic, and all that.]

So Emily cleaned out her things in the sewing room closet and put them into her little bedroom. My book inventory and packaging supplies went from the guest room into the sewing room closet. The VCR went into Amy's room. Steven moved his duffel bags and gigantic fireman boots into the guest room.

It all fit. 

The panicky insides and the nervous whiskers settled down again. Everything had a home. All was well.

So it's a strange phase of life I'm in, with so many adult kids around. Very few women my age can relate, it feels like. But it is thick with humor, good conversation, and unexpected blessings.

Amy cooks delicious Thai dinners on Thursday nights. Emily clears dead iris stalks and live snails out of the flower beds in preparation for spring. Jenny leaves early and comes home late, full of emphatic hilarious stories. On Saturday, Steven singlehandedly put the old lamb shed on a wagon and hauled it out of the field for me.

We all have a home here, it is a safe place to be, and we even have hot and cold running water.

I am the Keeper of the Sleeping Bags.

Quote of the Day at a Sunday dinner:
Me: Fall-apart tender! That's exactly what a Sunday roast is supposed to be.
Jenny: Fall-apart tender? That's what my emotions are.
Ben: Did you just roast yourself?


  1. Oh my, I can relate! Our five children are all adults, but only one is married. I don't have any of his belongings here any longer. We have one living with us currently while she finishes her BFA in Creative Writing. She's in her last semester. One of our sons recently moved out after a nine month stay to recuperate and get back on his feet financially. One son joined the Navy and moved all his things here while he's in training and going through various schools. Another son still has things here because he's in a shared rental with little storage space. I know that feeling of moving things around to accommodate the comings and goings of unsettled adult children. But I love them all and am always grateful for their visits as they come and go. They are my best friends!

    1. So nice to know I'm not the only one in this stage!

  2. I have a feeling my mother could have related very much to all of this! I am the youngest of six children. The second born got married when I was 12 and then I was the next to be married. I look back and cannot imagine how she survived all those years of children moving in and moving out! But there was always a place for everyone, even though we shuffled people and rooms around so many times that I have the honor of saying that every one of the 5 bedrooms in our house were mine at some point in time!

    1. Wow! This sounds so much like us.
      I'm sure if your mother were still here we could find much in common.

  3. I always wondered at my mother-in-law handing us a bag or two of not-quite-useful but not-quite-garbage stuff each time we leave her house, but maybe I understand it now!

  4. I get it! Thanks for writing, I too love the great conversations & fun times(also the food made by the other cooks in the house)....I think we are blessed because not everyone gets to experience a houseful of adult kids! It's nice to hear from someone who is there too🙂

    1. And I forgot to say.... we've got a few sleeping bags around this place too...

    2. That's a good point, that we get to know our kids in a unique way as adults when they live at home.

  5. I always enjoy your blogs. Always. I don't have adult kids at home, but have some of their stuff in an antique chest in small Canadian town, awaiting Spring to remove from storage. I also have some of their stuff overseas, and it might never come home. Reading your story, I was wishing I was tripping over it all in one place! Blessings for your sharing, always make me smile and drop in for tea!

  6. Twenty years after each child has left home you will still be finding a belonging/s to return! ML