I have a cedar chest that sits on the floor of my office. My grandfather made it for me when I was a kid, and my mom and I stained it to match the desk I sit at now – also from my childhood bedroom. Until recently, the chest was in a closet, and I’d sort of forgotten about it, but, in a recent bout of rearranging furniture, I decided to move it downstairs. (Jason is both exasperated and patient with my penchant for moving heavy furniture up and down the stairs periodically.)
It didn’t even occur to me to open it until the kids asked me, “Mom, what’s in there?” So, we sat down on the floor and started pulling things out. Some of the things I remembered: my white, satin flag corps jacket with my name and “Captain” embroidered in green on the front, a story my mom had written about two little girls named April and Bonnie (me and my sister) at the beach, and various trinkets from my years as a Girl Scout. And there were things I had forgotten: photos from high school, sticking to each other with tape residue, because I had taped my favorites to my closet and mirror, a doll from the 1950’s that was my mom’s. I saw the marks on her face (the doll’s, not my mom’s) and smiled as I remembered Mom telling me their dog, Tippy, had gotten a hold of the doll. Tippy is long gone, but those teeth marks persevere.
The kids lost interest, but I sat on the floor of my office for a long time, looking at photos and items I had at some point deemed significant enough for the cedar chest. Most of the objects sparked a visit to the past: view-finder-style photos of my childhood best friend, Kim, and me at Great America. I had been visiting her in Chicago where her family had moved. Children of the ’80’s, in the photo, we’re all poofy bangs, big earrings and NKOTB/George Michael t-shirts. Some of the things, a greeting card with a cow on it and absolutely nothing written inside, I stared at quizzically. Why the hell did I keep this?
It’s been a long time since I allowed myself to revel in the past so thoroughly. In my adult years, I’d begun to see it as a self-indulgent waste of time. But, as I’ve thought about my childhood and adolescence as a result of those cherished cedar chest items, I realized there is more there than just fond (and some not-so-fond) memories; I started to remember how I felt as a child. Before puberty, before I became self-conscious about how I looked, before I was assaulted with social pressures and hormones, I was free. I played joyfully naked in the sprinkler in the front yard. I put on eclectic outfits from my dress-up box and danced in the living room, sometimes with no music but what was in my head. I did headstands just because I liked to. I played with other kids when I felt like it and went home to my room when I was ready. And I read a line in the story my mother wrote, “April was an imaginative child,” and I realized I’d forgotten that. I didn’t remember that I was always full of imagination, much like my youngest child now.
I’m rediscovering a little of this freedom. Through a little reading and a lot of contemplation, I am remembering that un-selfconscious feeling of childhood – living in this moment, free from worry of being judged. It’s an even better feeling as an adult, because I have an appreciation for it. I see it in contrast to the times I feel anxious, awakening at 3am, suddenly worried by my pesky adult brain: Did I remember to call that contributor back? Am I supposed to send snacks to school today? When I said that thing to that person, did she take it the wrong way? And what about that horrible thing I did twenty years ago…
Those worries still happen, but now, more and more, I have reclaimed that unabashed sense of self I had as a child. I am just me, April – not a writer, not Mom, not an introvert. I mean, yes, all that, but simpler, boiled down I am just me. It was always there, that comfortable, confident sense of self. I didn’t lose it, but like the trinkets in my treasure chest of the past, I just forgot I had it.