What I Wish I Had Saved

If something doesn't add value or beauty to my life, I don't save it.

Simplifying my environment is freeing to me. It brings clarity and inspiration, especially to my writing. It's as if, uninhibited by excess, the muse can sweep through, helping me to put words on the page.

While my three daughters were growing up, I encouraged them to go through their belongings periodically, passing down clothing that no longer fit, donating old toys that were no longer used.

But I protected their play time fiercely. In a time of excessive homework and tests and pressure to be overscheduled, I was determined that my kids were going to have a childhood with time to be creative -- freedom to dream and play. This I would hold on to.

When they were five, seven and nine years old, they each had a beloved Cabbage Patch doll and they found ways to include these dolls in just about all of their play.

Their play included a pretend trip to another country to adopt the babies, complete with a travel itinerary and adoption papers. They would spend hours on the planning, even Googling plane flights to China, where they would pretend to go to pick up their babies. Never mind that these were blond, blue-eyed dolls. Kids don't get hung up on such incongruences.

These dolls had birthday parties, with menus and handmade presents and child-concocted cakes. My youngest daughter learned to write in order to create invitations to her "baby's" birthday party. Who needs Kindergarten, when you have a cabbage patch doll and two older sisters?

During this time, they also had their first interactive computer game, the Oregon Trail and although none of them were very keen on computer games, this one was a hit. They each logged enough time on it to have a pretty good understanding of what the famous Oregon Trail entailed, and then they made it come alive.

So the three sister-pioneers set off in their electric pink Barbie jeep that they called their wagon, adopted babies, in tow. The Oregon Trail, also known as our back yard and the sidewalk that ran along the side yard, and thru out neighborhood was ripe with imaginary danger, and these three little girls were prepared for the worst. Snacks from the kitchen were carefully rationed. Toilet paper became a cast to wrap a doll's arm after she fell out of the wagon. A puddle became a river to cross.

Plastic faces melted in the sun and required emergency treatment to reform their shape. Their babies caught diseases common on the Oregon trail: cholera, small pox, and the measles. But they also caught anthrax. This was 2001 when anthrax was being sent through the mail to poison people, so it leaked into their play).

Sometime after they'd outgrown playing with the dolls, which were then stored away in closets, I suggested they give them away. At the time, the girls did not think much of it, and with barely any prompting at all, tossed them in a Goodwill bag. They had moved on to more sophisticated endeavors and seemed just fine with letting go of the dolls.

But the regret came later.

I had made the mistake of viewing these Cabbage Patch dolls simply as outgrown toys, rather than the precious mementos of their childhoods that they were. They were their most precious toys, a tangible memory of that time of endless playful adventure, a symbol of their imaginations, their sisterly fun. The dolls had ventured across the Oregon Trail with them! These dolls made history. They are the one thing I wish I had saved that I didn't.

Surely if one of my daughters ends up a hoarder in life, it will be me who is to blame. I mean who could fault them if this regretful instance of decluttering leads them to collect everything they can get their hands on? (Isn't that what we do? If we don't like what our parents did, we do the opposite?) This left me wondering if one of them would end up buried alive in stuff, or living with 20 cats or too many kids, Octomom-style.

I was a bystander in their doll games, a witness to it all. I heard the conversations, the planning, and the occasional debates which were usually settled quickly because they were having too much fun to waste time on arguing.

I saw the Oregon Trail from a distance, looking out the kitchen window, glimpses of three pony tailed heads and the pink wheels bumping along through the grass.

I cannot bring the dolls back. But I can call up these memories, clear as a summer day on the prairie.