It’s just a thing

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When Claire proudly approached me with a handful of little screws and nuts, my first thoughts were that either a) she grabbed them off of a closet shelf, or b) they just disassembled their own beds. I’ve seen enough Blues Clues episodes to know a good mystery when I see one.


When I entered their room, I saw various items from their closet shelves in disarray around their room, all things I try to keep out of reach — parenting books we’ve long outgrown, sticker sets reserved for a rainy day, the fishing game that just begs to have its little fish tossed around the room willy nilly. Their closet shelf system is supposed to be a means of swift organization. In real life though, it’s the place where I put crap that I don’t know what else to do with.


“Oh, girls,” I muttered as I bent down to pick up the crap, urging them to do the same, saving a few other choice words for the silence of my head.


And that’s when I saw it. A shard of painted modeling clay discarded carelessly on the floor, it’s matching pieces strewn nearby.




It’s a memento from the NICU: Rachel’s ever so tiny footprint imprinted on a modeling clay heart, painted and adorned with her name and the date on the back. I have one for each girl, lovingly created by the nurses and hung in the front hall of the unit, released to us along with our babies when they were strong enough to come home.  It’s a token of where our journey began; a reminder of how far we’ve come.


Her little foot, not even two inches in length, was broken into pieces.


And I felt my own heart break into a million pieces.


I couldn’t help it. I bit my quivering lip and squeezed my eyes shut as the tears started falling. I hate crying in front of the girls. I know they need to know I’m human, but it really freaks them out, and right now I didn’t want to have to console them. I needed to be the one who was upset this time.


I gathered the broken heart as quickly as possible and fled to the comfort of my own room, and I prayed they wouldn’t follow. I let the tears fall big and heavy for just a few minutes, maybe even a few seconds — I knew I didn’t have much time. My shoulders shook, and my chest heaved from the emotional pain.


It’s just a thing, I tried to tell myself. Your children are healthy, despite their rough start. 



It’s just a thing.


Oh, but it was a thing that I cherished so much, and why didn’t I take better care of it? Why didn’t I put it safe in a box instead of on the closet shelf, so tempting for explorative four year olds?  I’m still not used to the idea that they grab their chairs to reach things beyond their grasp.


And how was I to explain to them why I was so upset? I tried. The words didn’t come out. I couldn’t think quickly enough, even though I thought I planned out what to say.


What is it? Is it broken?

It’s a footprint. A special footprint.

No! It’s a heart!

Yes, but it has your footprint on it, from when you were a tiny baby in the hospital.

Remember when I  was a baby?

Yes, I do. You lived in the hospital for five weeks before Mommy and Daddy could bring you home.

Do I  have a footprint?

Yes, you have one too.

I’ll be right back! I hafta go get my footprint!



They couldn’t fathom why this thing, this piece of clay with a barely there imprint of a time they couldn’t remember was so special to me. They live in the present. They relish in memories of their last trip to the pool or their birthday party. I’m the one who gazes at these tiny things and allows myself a deep breath, a WOW, and a quick prayer of thanks.


It’s just a thing.


Update: I left the pieces on my dresser for safekeeping, even though there really is no safe surface around here. I came in my room one day to find Rachel messing with the broken heart. I totally lost it and may have yelled at her to leave the damn thing alone. Her face crumbled into huge crocodile tears as she explained, “But I was trying to fix it!” So yeah, I’m an asshole. 


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  1. As someone who has emotional attachments to “things” I can totally feel your pain. I can only imagine all of the emotional turmoil and fear and triumph and relief that little footprint represented for you.

    You’re not an asshole. I hope you don’t beat yourself up too much about losing your temper. Sometimes you have to lose your temper a little so other people understand something is important to you. At least, that is what has to happen in my chaotic house!

  2. I am sure I would have reacted in the same way – we are so hard on ourselves.
    My husband broke a frame last week playing baseball in the house, and I didn’t say a word; hopefully when I break something (or our son does) he’ll react with similar calm… but this was a simple picture frame, not something special like this. I hope that you can at least put it back together enough to keep the memory alive for your special prayers of thanks. 🙂

    1. I’m sure going to try. Or I’ll just keep the broken pieces to guilt her later in life. 🙂

  3. I’m so sorry. I too get very attached to things , especially involving my children. I can only imagine how upset you were and I probably would have reacted the same way. Hopefully you can piece it back together so that you still have the memory along with a new memory of their curiosity. I try to find the positive in a situation, but sometimes it’s hard.

    1. Thanks, Traci. You’re right — sometimes it’s okay to have a “thing” be so important. 🙂

  4. I’m overly sentimental about “things”, so I totally understand why you would react that way. And I bet seeing your reaction lets your girls know just how much you love them.

  5. This is going to sound silly and very much unlike my snarky self, but I have a lump in my throat reading this. I could just so totally empathize with you because I would have been just as upset. I felt your pain – literally. It wasn’t just a “thing,” Leigh Ann. It was a one of a kind, irreplaceable thing. And that makes it priceless. And my own heart aches for you that it’s now broken.

  6. Leigh Ann,

    A couple of months ago I came home to find my beloved teddy bear, Pinky, from my childhood sitting on my bed. He was pinker than he had been in years and damp! To my horror the maid had washed him. She was washing the quilt on my bed and somehow he had gotten tangled up and she didn’t see him. Being as that he is 35 years old he didn’t fair too well. His stuffing, what was left of it, basically disintegrated. He was a gift from my Grandma and Grandaddy who passed long ago and I have always cherished him. I lay on my bed and cried big alligator tears, even while knowing that it was an accident that he got washed, Margo was just trying to do something extra and nice and that he was just a teddy bear. He sits near my bed, almost flat and I must say the pain has lessened considerably. I still have him even though he’s not perfect. You still have your heart, even if it’s broken. But, I know how you feel.


  7. I, too, would’ve been so very upset at the loss of such a memento. I understand you wanting to kick yourself for not putting it somewhere safe but I believe in things happening so look at it this way.
    When your babies were in NICU and things were uncertain, you wanted a sign that it was going to be ok. Then you got to take your babies out of the hospital with a memory of their tiny little bodies strong and ready to go home.
    Now your babies are older and ready to create new memories and mementos. Those you can’t keep all of either. But the memories will never leave you.

  8. Oh, I’m so sorry the heart is broken. Maybe though, if it’s glued back together it can stand as a testament to how healthy they are now. One day, you’ll explain both stories to them, how the heart came to be and what it meant to you, and how it was broken by a growing, healthier version of that tiny baby.

  9. I’m so sorry that happened, those little monkeys. Your story brought tears to my eyes, been there done that. From experience there is no rational reason to be so upset, but you were. It isn’t the clay heart, it’s the memories. I know that you take solace that even though the clay heart is broken the love and feelings you felt during that time will never be taken. It IS just a thing, that ties you to a moment, a special, I can’t get it back, time. I would suggest you make a strong backing to piece it together on, maybe one of Rachel’s new masterpieces (with her signature) and piece it together with her. It may help her feel like the broken object isn’t more important than her and will be a positive going forward. It won’t be a “see it’s all better” but “we can always do our best when we make a mistake” kind of moment. And I love you more than your mistake.
    A friends young daughter had the misfortune of her dog getting out and accidentally getting run over by a car. During the family prayer that night the little girl gave the prayer and asked Heavenly Father to watch over her dog and warned Him “you better get a leash”, needless to say lesson learned….lol Love you.

  10. you aren’t an asshole. You’re human. The heart has real meaning and memories for you. It symbolizes what your babies and you went through to get to where you are now.
    I understand what this feels like and it hurts even more when they don’t get it. They can’t get it because they’re too young but it doesn’t take away the sting and disappointment.
    Let yourself feel sad because it IS sad.

  11. Aw, they just don’t get it so young.

    I’ve cried over many things my boys have broken. Including the big ugly sobs when one accidentally spilled water all over my laptop.

  12. I hate it when stuff like that happens. I try so hard not to get attached to stuff, not buy things that are too expensive and will just get broken. But sometimes you can’t help it. My daughter ripped a photo of me and my dad when I was 2 the other day. They pulled out the album and were going through pictures. It wasn’t in a sleeve, for whatever reason. I wasn’t prepared for that. I HATE it when stuff like that creeps up on you.

    1. Exactly, thanks, Amber. Funny how we tend to forget about and leave unprotected some of the things that matter most.

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