Throat lumpy and thick, eyes all a-prickle, I stood at Baby Kate’s dresser when she was about six months old, and for the first time, sorted out all of her “small” clothes. I remember thinking, “I will never get used to this.” And indeed I have not. Each onesie, each gown, each soft baby sock beckons to a long gone time, a time when she will never be that small again. They are reminders of seconds, minutes, hours passed by with my baby. Did I savor them enough? Did I hold her close enough? Kiss her newborn fingers enough times? Really smell her baby scent?

I know I did, but I wonder also. Even now, cleaning out her 2T and 3T clothes, I find myself in the same state of shock and awe.

My friend Marguerite said it best as we were waiting for Steve’s wedding to begin almost four years ago. She described the longing we have as mothers to have our children in the past, present, and future all at once. We love who they are right now, we long to hold them as they once were, and we long to see what they will become and know that they will be happy adults.

We want it all, even as time drips like bubbly bath water through our fingers as we wash the silly rice cereal grins and the fingerpainted arms.

Standing at her dresser when she was six months old, I consoled myself that perhaps I would see, touch, smell, and use these clothes again. We didn’t know back then if we were committed to a second child, but Eric was already a blossoming thought. Our children always are part of us, even when we’re barely aware of it. This same consolation carried me through other difficult clean-outs. I’ve never been able to deal with giving any of it up, not even the very worn clothes. I put them all in boxes, bins, and bags and promised myself: later.

When Eric was growing inside of me, I gleefully returned to those clothes and picked out anything gender neutral to put in Eric’s closet. Just hanging them up felt like having part of newborn Kate again, too. Later became a joyful now.

Then Eric outgrew those first-year clothes, too, and he has his own wardrobe these days. Back into the boxes, back into the garage, back into holding.

Yet with Eric, with our two kiddos now, has come the moment of having to face a truth. Bill and I have always said that two children would be our maximum. On some days, this makes perfect sense; on others, it is a truth I hesitate to say above a whisper in my own mind, one I have wrestled with in October of this year. I know that if, by some outlandish chance, we got pregnant with our third or our fourth, I would want them all. Part of me will never be ready to accept not having more children, and part of me knows I need to accept it.

This past Thanksgiving, the Matics-Lambert-Horne family (my dad’s side of our family) received the most longed-for news in our recent history as a family. My cousin Bethany, after years of hoping, praying, working, and waiting to become pregnant, is now well into her second trimester of her first pregnancy. For most of our family, we have felt deeply every second of standing in hopeful wait with our Beth. It has been emotional for so many of us, and her little baby is so wanted in our family, so very wanted. I have known for a long time that, if Beth were to have a little girl, I would find it beautiful indeed to pass along some of those baby clothes that represent so much longing in me.

Well, Beth is having a little girl, as our family learned last week.

It just so happened that Beth and her husband Marshall were stopping by my parents’ house this week for something. I decided that it might be  good time to give Beth some of Katie’s clothes. It is still far enough away from the shower, so that Beth can see what she still wants/needs in the way of registering for clothing.

Katie helped me open all the bins/boxes one afternoon. There were some items I could not part with—some that even made me wonder how I could ever part with them. And then there were the pieces that felt achey but right, the ones that made my heart leap up just a little. So many were memories: the pink and brown onesie Katie wore the first time I ever put clips in her hair, the romper she wore on our trip to the park when we first went on swings together, her first Easter dress, the little outfit she wore to the Pancake House with Nana, the sweatshirt and pants she had on when my best friend Rosa met her… and on and on. For me, clothing (as well as music and scent) is a huge memory device. I have an almost flawless (well, okay, maybe not “flawless” but certainly “very very good”) visual memory when it comes to what people were wearing and on what days and what happened on those days. Kind of weird that this ability is tied into clothes, but it is, and it is strong… So nearly every piece of clothing that we boxed up to give away has a story, a picture, a moment, and a sentiment threaded through it.

Beyond these memories, it is an admission to myself that I consider it highly improbable that I will have the joy of a third child. I am far too practical to give away anything I might find truly useful in the future. Several times, I wanted to stop in the middle and bawl…but I also know and intuit a rightness to giving these clothes to our new little girl cousin. It is more right than it is sad. I have to honor that intuition and the symbolism that goes with it.

I see the radiance in Beth for her new and growing daughter, and I am excited even to be a small part of those joyful preparations for this new life that has been given to our family. I think of her sorting through those clothes and imagining her own baby girl and dreaming of everything they will do together, just like I used to do when my children were still in my womb.