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Family life

When I Found a Toddler Fork at the Bottom of My Drawer

The memories hit when you least expect them

When I Found a Toddler Fork at the Bottom of My Drawer

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As I searched my kitchen for a meat thermometer, I found a toddler fork buried beneath the mess. As I shifted spatulas and lifted serving spoons, it was as if it had never been gone. I imagined my babies eating tiny pieces of chicken and buttered macaroni, and suddenly, I was flooded with memories. As I strolled down memory lane, I realized how quickly the scenery around us changed as our children grew.

We bring home a tiny, delicate baby in a car seat that finds a home in the family room. It sits there through the bustling first year, always waiting for the next outing. A diaper changing table takes over the bar at the far end of the living room—Pampers and diaper cream replace vodka and triple sec. Outlets are protected, and gates shelter the stairways because this is now a baby's home. We believe the smell of Dreft, the stain of spit-up, and the deliciousness of a newborn will fill our home forever.

But this little human is loved and nourished, and he grows into a toddler, never to sit still again. The plush toys, the diapers, and the itty-bitty socks are moved to a crate and saved with the hope that another baby will soon join the family. And before you can fill the bin, it's time for these items to move into the new baby's room. The crib that once cradled your firstborn is prepared for another tiny human. The furniture, clothing, and toys run through another cycle of life, thoroughly used and loved to their core.

Toddler necessities fill in the crevices between diapers and tummy-time mats. Potty seats and step stools grace the bathroom floors for little humans destined for big things. Shirts get bigger, and so do the bellies they protect. Snacks progress from Puffs to crackers, and toddler utensils find their way into your drawers, falling into the depths of time as they settle. It all changes so quietly that you barely hear a peep.

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Smiling African mom holding baby SeventyFour / Getty Images

Before you know it, your babies aren't babies anymore

Diaper pails are emptied repeatedly, and boogies are sucked from noses daily until the day that sneaks up behind you when you're not looking—when the changing tables are sent to an expecting friend's home. The nasal aspirator settles to the bottom of the garbage. Your baby becomes a toddler, and your toddler becomes a big boy. School bags increase in size, and feet outgrow shoes faster than the seasons change.

One by one, these puzzle pieces from the early years are removed from your home, but without much thought or regret. The day comes when your final purchase of Pampers is placed on Amazon, and the box arrives on the doorstep one last time, but you're too busy potty training, picking up stray Goldfish from the kitchen floor, and preparing lunch to notice. And as you're folding clothes, you realize the tiny socks aren't so tiny anymore, and the onesies have all been donated. Before you know it, the toddler utensils have disappeared, and the potty seats are no longer needed. Your little kids are now big, and your surroundings show it.

Eventually, the house is filled with clothing that could fit three of those tiny newborns you brought home from the hospital all those years ago. Shoes covered in mud and soccer cleats consumed with grass take over the mudroom. Jackets nearly the size of your own hang on hooks, and school Chromebooks sit on the kitchen counter. Permission slips and tests to be signed arrive home in school folders, taking the counter space where hand wipes once sat. You look up from the stack of papers and see two boys looking back at you—two wonderful kids with so many great years ahead of them, but never to be small again.

young family cooking together in the kitchen iStock

The memories hit when you least expect them

And then, as you're searching your home, one filled with big boy clothing, chapter books, and sporting equipment, you find a toddler fork—the one your boys used when they were little. And you remember everything. You smile when you think of the laughter that used to spill from those tiny mouths as you tickled their bellies. You cry as you recall the inevitable boo-boos and late-night trips to the emergency room. You envision the home your children formed and the house you thought would be covered in toys forever. And you remember the babies you imagined would stay little for eternity. You see that fleeting phase flash before your eyes for the very first time. All because of a fork.

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You consider throwing the fork in the garbage—just like the nasal aspirator, the tiny socks with worn-out elastic, and the half-empty diaper cream that was no longer needed. Instead, you put it back under the spatulas, beneath the serving spoons, and beside the meat thermometer, hoping that one day, you'll stumble upon it again as you read graduation paperwork or sift through college brochures.

Only then will it also trigger images of the years that now lie ahead—the ones you can't yet fathom of teenage dances, moments of advice, permit testing and the handing over of car keys. Whether your home is filled with tiny utensils, Legos, homework sheets or college admission letters, wonderful years lie ahead. Soak them in. Hold onto them with all your might, but know that when it's time to let them go, the memories will remain forever.

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