So last weekend I found myself digging through my own trashcan. It was the kitchen one, too, so, wet coffee grounds and slimy clementine peels and discarded food from children (which is more disgusting than discarded food from grown people). I assure you, I had a perfectly good reason. You can probably think of a handful of good reasons for a sane adult woman to dig through her own garbage, but I can assure you, you won’t come up with this one.

On Saturday morning I threw away a bunch of Mia’s socks that were paper thin and holey and beyond hand-me-down status, and which I had replaced on my recent Target run. I sat in her floor and sorted through single socks–she does not match them, neither for storage purposes nor for wearing, and so it does not matter to her if only one R2D2 sock makes the cut, because it will go perfectly with a canary yellow footie that sports a dramatic handlebar mustache graphic with “LOL” beneath it–and made a huge pile that would go straight into the garbage.

While I was sock sorting, I found one of Hayden’s tiny socks in her drawer, a little gray anklet with a green alien on one side. We joked about how that one doesn’t fit her, har har, and I placed it…somewhere. I really have no idea. I’m sure I meant to put it away, but I really did not stop to think about that sock, or any of the others, as I went on with my purge. It can take me weeks to work up the courage to get rid of too-small shirts and outgrown pants and jammies that have started to ride up at the ankle and belly, but I tend not to be sentimental about “accessory” clothing–socks, undies, plain white onesies with milk stains on them. Or so I thought.

The next day I was putting away some of Hayden’s laundry and I saw the other sock, and immediately my heart sank. I flashed back to that little gray blip in a sea of Star Wars characters and smiley faces and polka dots, heels and toes worn completely out, falling into the trash on top of some pizza crust and the dregs of last week’s leftovers. Oh no, no, I heard myself say. I think I threw away Hayden’s sock too. Without hesitation I went downstairs and stood in front of the kitchen trash can, bracing myself. I couldn’t verbalize my reasons in that moment, but I knew I had to find that sock.

I was in the garbage up to my elbow when I registered my husband and daughter a few feet away, staring at me in wonder. Just watching. Mia had a slight look of disgust on her face. Trent looked like maybe this was the moment he’d hoped never to see–the one where his wife finally just slid right over the edge and didn’t even fight the fall.

“I think I threw away one of Hayden’s socks,” I explained without making eye contact.

“So…?” he half asked, half stated.

“So I need to find it,” I replied, “because I just found the mate in his drawer.”

“Is it…his only pair of socks?” he asked, knowing full well it was not. I answered him in expression only, and stopped to rake some damp coffee out of my sweater sleeve.

“Babe, c’mon, this is ridiculous,” he implored.

I went a little deeper. I had found the wad of old socks. It was just a matter of picking through them. A wax butter wrapper slid out and stuck to the side of the garbage can.

HEATHER.” I looked up, and then back at my left arm, almost fully submerged in our family’s refuse. There was a greasy paper plate in my right hand. White, like a flag of surrender. I tossed it back in the trash can and slowly backed away. I washed my hands and let my husband hug me.

“But…that was my favorite little pair of his baby socks,” I said into his shoulder. I know what I said earlier about the absence of sentimentality where these things are concerned, but, baby socks. More specifically, baby. My baby, who will soon be unable to wear that or any of the other socks in his drawer, because in no time he will be 8 and I will be giving away his Darth Vader pajamas and too short jeans and tossing out his sock casualties and too-small Spiderman briefs and, and as it turns out, I am a bit sentimental about “accessory clothing” after all.

About all the clothing, apparently, but really, it’s not the clothing, as if that needs explaining. It’s the little hands pushing through shirt sleeves, the little feet kicking off those socks to free their genetically freakishly long toes. It has always been, and always will be, about the kids in those clothes.They grow so fast, right out of their shorts and sweaters and coats and up into small people with big personalities and huge opinions and very important feelings. It’s easy to miss sometimes, because life is so full of itself, and without warning you find yourself up to your shoulders in a week’s worth of garbage looking for a moment you think you can get back. Let me tell you something. You can’t. But take heart, there are more, and you should back away from what you think you’ve wasted and look head on at what’s happening right this second: that funny little boy “walking” across the kitchen in downward-facing-dog pose, that two-different-sock clad girl putting down her 500 page book so she can play with her brother, music playing, cats scurrying, dinner unfixed on the counter, laundry that will be too small in no time tumbling in the dryer. Don’t throw away this moment. It’s still right here.

I didn’t find that other sock–in the trashcan. I found it in Hayden’s drawer later that night, having put it there before throwing away Mia’s sock discards, I guess, but apparently forgetting that I did so. I immediately put them on his feet and pulled them way up, noting that this would probably be their last wear, at least on this baby. He immediately pulled one off and tossed it on the floor. I didn’t retrieve it, and at this moment I’m back where this story started. I have no idea where that sock is now. And I am totally okay with that. Mostly.

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