On Grief, Growth, and Calico Critters

I put it off for as long as I possibly could—the slimming down and organization of our fourth bedroom. We established it as the playroom when we moved in with our little girls six years ago, but I was finally accepting that, at ages 15 and 12, they were doing far less playing than ever before. Instead, they were spending their rare down time between school and extracurriculars on audio books, art projects, texting with friends, Marvel movies, and (a total given) analyzing Taylor Swift songs. As you do, at 15 and 12.

Each time I walked by the playroom, I felt my heart seize up in pain. It wasn’t heart attack pain; rather, it was heartache pain. Sometimes I wonder how similar these two truly are on a pain scale. While others might see Legos, Playmobil, American Girl dolls, and Calico Critters, I saw thousands of hours of imagination. I saw in-depth stories in make-believe worlds, elaborate constructions, and connections with friends. I heard little voices enacting invitations for adventures among unicorns, resolving tensions between fairies, and making plans amidst miniature animal families. I could feel the tangled doll hair between my fingers as I showed my daughters how to braid, while I sat upon a stray Keva Plank. I replayed treasured memories of long eyelashes atop porcelain cheeks as a little one looked down to saddle a miniature horse; of mismatched clothes selected by budding fashionistas; even of petty squabbles over whose turn it was to use the bigger barn.

For countless months, entering into this needed change had felt like too deep a dive for my sentimental soul. I began to close the door to that room rather than face the reality that it was time to say goodbye to at least one collection: the Calico Critters. Of all the toys in that room, these had been in our midst the longest. Our first set was chosen at the local toy store by our then-two-year-old with some birthday money from her great-grandmother.

Those white bunnies, now well over a decade old, had more bare spots than fuzzy. They were the first family to take up residence in our hand-me-down wooden dollhouse, and their 3-inch stature held more significance to me than almost any other childhood belonging. What would it cost me to pack them away?

One mid-December afternoon as I grieved the rapidly declining health of my 99-and-¾-year-old Grammy, I knew the time had come to say a temporary goodbye to these beloved playthings. As I gathered the menagerie of furry families along with their teensy accessories and home furnishings, I wept.

I wept for what had been, for what was now, for the reality of inevitable endings.

In the midst of my tears, I noticed I also found reasons to smile and even laugh. I remembered one evening when I was heavily pregnant and our home was well lived-in. I put our toddler to bed, came downstairs, and, instead of addressing the clutter everywhere, I meticulously arranged the Calico Critters’ small wooden home. This soothed my nesting instinct while preserving my barely-there energy. (I’ve never felt so accomplished in all my days!) I then recalled how bossy my toddlers would become as they all but scripted my assigned bunny’s every move and word, and how I still seemed to get the scenario all wrong. (Why did my toddlers think they could be the boss of me?)

I thought of the other mamas in my family who had gone before me in these natural transitions, particularly my dying Grammy. She had packed away the childhood treasures of her children, her grandchildren, and her great-grandchildren. I wondered if she, like me, had put off such tasks for as long as she could. Did she, too, close doors, hold back tears, and stifle sobs before she finally allowed the grief of finality to flow? Did she sit and stare at the empty spaces that had once held wriggly bodies lost in faraway places? Did she find some sort of relief in moving through the tears and onto the other side of heartache? Did she, like me in that moment, learn that grief is necessary for growth?

I drew on her courage as I told myself that, while this process of loss and change were indeed painful, they would not pull me under, would not drown me. I believed anew that Jesus would meet me in those depths just as He had Grammy and my own mother before me. I realized that the memories I stored within what felt like a breaking heart could sustain me beyond this temporary sadness of goodbye. And I gave thanks: for grief, for growth, for Calico Critters.

Then I caught up on all the latest deets of Taylor’s Eras Tour.

Lacey Wood is a wife, mother, sister, daughter, and friend who is learning to embrace life’s many changes with open hands rather than white knuckles. Having invested over a decade into full-time mothering and homeschooling her long-awaited daughters, she is re-entering her profession as an Early Childhood Deaf Educator. She endeavors to extend compassion to herself just as she does to those around her and to truly abide in the love of Christ. Connecting with others and their stories in deep ways is a source of joy and growth. In doing so, she grows in her ability to love them and Jesus better. Finding balance between doing and being, getting out of her own head, and welcoming silence before God are just a few of the ways she is intentionally being kind to herself in her current life season.