My Daughter Left For College And All I Got Was This Lousy Gecko

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My daughter is slowly unloading.

Today she presented me with a pile of pilled sweatshirts dug out from the back of her closet. Yesterday I was gifted the Swarovski crystal animal figurines I’d assumed had found their forever home atop her dresser. I recently acquired three of her drooping spider plants, apparently in need of a little more TLC than they’d been receiving of late.

And now she has given me her gecko.

His glass terrarium sits on my kitchen counter, out of place next to the chrome-plated wire banana stand and the utilitarian coffee maker. He is mine to feed three times a week and mist daily with distilled water. He must periodically be hand-fed live insects. I watch him as I drink my morning coffee. He surveils me while I cook dinner.

And he is a constant reminder that my daughter will soon be leaving.

This is, as they say, not our first rodeo. Her brother left for college and went through this same process of unloading, of winnowing down his possessions until they fit into eight bulging blue IKEA bags and one set of flimsy plastic drawers.

So now as my daughter prepares to also leave for college, she is beginning that familiar process of deciding what is so important that it must go with her. For a mom it is not a process that gets any easier with practice.

And I am becoming all too familiar with a different and equally jarring kind of process. A polar opposite process. What is so important that it must be left behind?

As my parents and my in-laws grow older and their health becomes more precarious, they too are beginning to unload. With each visit to their homes I find myself acquiring more of their stuff. Delicate china, jewelry tarnished black with time, nicked mahogany furniture, and tchotchkes of every sort.

These are the things they have treasured, the things that have made their house a home. And they want to ensure these beloved possessions are left behind with someone who knows their history, who can relate their stories: This is the pin my father saved for years to buy my mom on their twenty-fifth wedding anniversary. This is the dining table my great grandfather crafted with his own hands for his daughter, my grandmother, so her family could come together for decades of shared meals.

Any member of the “Sandwich Generation” in possession of older children can tell you a similar tale. We are caught between our children coming and going, and our parents just going. We are more the crust than the sandwich—the part that gets left behind.

Sometimes all this receiving feels more like losing.

Yet as I sit here sipping my morning coffee, and watch my new gecko lick his own eyeballs, I feel in many ways I have been given a gift. These sweatshirts, crystal figurines, and antique baubles are treasures left in my care to be held for an uncertain future. I am the keeper of the things left behind; and these things are well-worn, well-used and, in their own way, much loved.

And I think this gecko and I are going to get along just fine.


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