The costumes in the closet

Once upon a time, I had three little boys.

Once upon a time, I had three little boys.

My house will never win a contest for tidiness or organization. Like, ever. I feel very much like a modern-day, yoga-pantsed Sisyphus when it comes to my domestic duties: I roll my boulder up the hill every day, only to have it roll right back down, and tomorrow, I will start all over again on laundry, dishes, toys, and trash. I spend all my time maintaining something close to basic standards of hygiene, so it is hard to make a true dent in the clutter and mess that four children accumulate when I’m not looking.

Recently, I have been working on the kids’ playroom. It is a graveyard of shattered Lego sets, superhero figures missing limbs or weaponry, and Star Wars figures of every size, shape, and description. We have books — so many books — both of the chapter and picture varieties, and scattered collections of Smurfs, Playmobil, Schleich animals, and Hot Wheels cars. Mostly, the playroom makes me feel secure in the knowledge that my children might pay for their college by opening their own used Lego store. (I challenge anyone to have more Legos than we do. For real.) I know that the moment I get them all organized and put away, the Legos will once again be scattered to the four corners of the house by children who are simply playing with their toys, oblivious to the fact that those toys are somewhat the bane of my existence. I am trying to be okay with that.

I spent some time last week in the playroom closet, organizing and hanging up the children’s Halloween costumes. We still have all of them, from my firstborn’s flannel chili pepper bunting that he wore when he was about four months old in 2002, to the baby (fat) Elvis costume my third son wore when he was 1 in 2008, to the surprisingly elaborate zombie ensemble my 8 year old wore this past October. There are Batmans and Darth Vaders and Red Power Rangers, both Mario and Luigi, firemen and Spider-Men, all in multiples because my second son almost always wanted to be dressed identically to his older brother. In the middle of all that, I have the odd pirate costume, some miniature surgeon scrubs, and even a Captain Hook.

As I hung each costume and carefully stashed the accessories away in a bin on the closet shelf, I suddenly felt the pang of realization that most of these costumes are already too small for even my youngest boy. I held them up and saw exactly how small they are, and I realized then exactly how big the boys who once wore them are now.

It was the first time that I have paused to think about the fact that there are no more baby boys in my house… and there never will be again. For so many years, I had a baby boy. There was always a reason to store the outgrown clothes, always someone to hand down to coming right behind the last boy. But now, my youngest boy is 5, and he has outgrown all the small clothes. Because he is the third boy and infinitely more advanced than his older brothers were at his age, he won’t want to dress up as Darth Vader for Halloween. He doesn’t even know about the Power Rangers, and he would never acquiesce to dressing up as a character so quaint as Captain Hook. This year, he was a Skylander dragon. Next year, who knows? This child knows the “Gangnam Style” dance and makes his brothers read “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” to him for bedtime stories.

It’s no new revelation to me that my children are — rapidly — growing up before my very eyes. But no kidding: one day, I was (over) preparing to have a baby, and now I have a 10 year old. I can’t really tell you how the biggest chunk of his childhood has already happened and is already in the books, but it is. It’s done. I hope it was good.

I cried hanging up those costumes. I pulled a few that my youngest might still squeeze into, but the truth is, my days of leading tiny superheroes out on Halloween night are probably over. I’ll get a few more years of pulling skin-tight, polyester ninja suits onto a little boy’s legs if I am lucky. My oldest might not even want to dress up anymore now that he’s heading to middle school. He may be ready for the half-hearted mask-and-pillowcase combo I have dreaded. Where did the time go? Did I appreciate it while I had these little creatures in my house? Did I take the time to savor the innocence of two tiny, clumsy Darth Vaders holding plastic pumpkins in front of my front door for my camera?

I know a practical person would get rid of the costumes in the playroom closet. They would be donated to charity or sold for pocket change at a garage sale. I am not there yet, though. For a while longer, I need those costumes to hang in the closet, serving as tangible memories of the little bodies they once transformed. Just as I humor my kids by sorting and organizing their billion Legos and their ridiculous collections of small action figures and stuffed animals won out of claw machines far and wide, I am giving myself some leeway with those costumes. I am now acutely aware of how fast the next five years will go, and how little time I have left of my children’s boyhoods. There will be time for empty closets later.


  1. Oh, Allison … weeping, weeping, weeping. I can relate so intensely to this. The outgrown costumes, the outgrown books, the outgrown EVERYTHING. I honestly can’t bear it. xox

  2. I so completely understand this. We were just attempting to clean out our playroom last night too and my husband (who has no problem throwing away things) kept asking what we were going to do with the things that I nixed throwing away. We just need to keep them, more for me than for the kids.

  3. That picture is adorable, as are the boys in it. My children have outgrown having a playroom at all. I usually don’t have much problem getting rid of stuff, but there are definitely exceptions. I cannot part with their favorite picture books or a few of their favorite toys, and I don’t ever intend to. My kids thought it was so neat when they were little to go to Grandma’s house and play with the toys that their Daddy played with when he was little. Some treasures really are timeless.

  4. I love this, Allison. So much.

  5. You will continue to have those moments for the rest of your life. Sweet treasured memories.

  6. Adriene says:

    Yes!!! The costumes may ever leave my house. And what also knocks the wind out of me is that we will look back wistfully on how SMALL they are now!

  7. I began putting away the clothes that the 10 month old can’t wear anymore. I have no more babies in the future to save them for. So heartbreaking. I so get this, Allison.

  8. I’m not a saver. With three girls. there are no hand-me-downs(I know, horrible – but I like new, pretty stuff!). But the one thing I save are the princess dresses and plastic shoes, and the tiaras and wands. Just last week my eight year old told me that she didn’t really fit into any of the princess costumes anymore. So I just bought some size 10/12s and sent the company a thank you note for knowing that some kids like to dress-up for a very, very long time…and their mothers are so grateful. xoxo

  9. Yesterday I was just putting my youngest boy’s clothes away (I have 3 boys, too), and as I placed the folded sweaters that had seen a decade of winters, I knew this would be the last one. The sleeves are now too short for the youngest. So sad. I don’t know how I will ever be able to part with them, much to the chagrin of dad!
    I feel your pain with the Legos, but my nemesis is match box cars – we have hundreds!

  10. Yes! Yes! Yes! Jack and Margaret cracked us up by trying on Jack’s toddler bee costume when they were 10 and 12. Hilarious and so fun. At least the antennae still fit! We have the costumes in a closet still, for remembering, and they’ve also served us well for school projects.

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