Shirt Tales….

The oldest of our three daughters, Hanna, is in the process of choosing a University. Yep–one minute she’s denying she cut a sizable chunk of her strawberry blond curls using a dull, Play-Doh pizza cutter, the next, she’s planning her life. Creating a plan that does not involve living in our house for at least the next four years–What. Just. Happened.

Wasn’t it just last week when I struggled to maneuver through the drug store sliding entrance with three little ones pawing my sides for pocket-snacks? One of the girls was wearing a bedazzled, bucket hat, skirt, dress, second dress over top of the first over top of the skirt, plastic pearls and Crocs. Someone was pulling off her own diaper (Chloe) and someone was staying close by, holding my hand as a woman around my age now, approached us. She said, “It goes by so fast.” Well, I sure hope so, I thought–because this is total bullshit. I can’t even get my face cream without planning an afternoon outing involving bags of food-mush bribes in my pants. I hadn’t showered, my tea had gone cold, my brain felt like it was melting into my face, hence the need for some lifting cream. The lady, unable to read the room, went on to tell us that she had three daughters, just like I did and she remembered “as if it was yesterday” when they were young. I nodded and tried to shake her. I wasn’t in the market for a new friend, just the cream and possibly a clean diaper. And now, over a decade has passed in a blink and I want to go back and invite the kind soul over for a glass of juice-water and apologize for not savouring every second life has given us or offering her some of our zip-locked refreshments.

My Mom is making Hanna a quilt out of her t-shirts as a graduation present. Something she can take with her to University, a reminder that she’s hemmed up of so many activities, events and achievements, many of which we have kicking around in 100% cotton.

We agreed, my Mom and I, that the blanket would be a surprise because we get so few surprises in life and also, I didn’t think Hanna would hand over the shirts willingly because she is still wearing them.

I would need to focus on those shirts that held the most meaning but not so close to her heart that she would look at the blanket and hate me for chopping her perfectly good clothes into same-sized, squares. I would be no better than the deceitful, hair-cutter of playrooms past.

I started my recon efforts weeks ago, first in her closet, then rummaging through basement bins filled with old clothes, then her sister’s closets looking for hand-me-downs, then lunch.

I am still in awe of Hanna’s closet. Whenever I hear someone say, “I’ll bet you were a Scandinavian Prince in a past life because you have white blond hair, blue eyes and a fondness for modular furniture,” or, “In a past life, I’m guessing you were a philosopher because you have such a deep way of examining the world and you love to stroke your beard,” I always think, in a past life, Hanna worked at the GAP.

Hanna’s “chore” when she was younger, required her to fold our family’s laundry to earn her….well….food and water—we paid nothing. It started out surprisingly well and I guess the, “Atta girl(s)!” and “Wow, look at that stack!” over the years really motivated her to want to succeed. She may not be able to; put gas in the minivan, back the minivan out of the garage, close the trunk of the minivan or admit to committing a hair-cutting atrocity years ago, but she can fold a pile of towels Oprah would be lucky to have on her Favourite Things list.

I found myself in her closet suddenly overcome with emotion, faced with a sleeve of t-shirts. (I have no idea if a group of shirts is a sleeve, but it should be)

Her elementary school “colour day” orange t-shirt she wore for every colour day from kindergarten through grade 8.

The volleyball camp t-shirt where she learned to play and when I picked her up, suggested how wonderful it was that the coaches played in the scrimmage with the kids at the end of the day and she informed me that those 6 footers were not coaches but other campers, her age.

The shirt that reads, “I MADE IT!” across the back from the first time she made Regionals for swimming.

The open water Provincials t-shirt she received for participating in her first 5km lake race.

The Lifeguard t-shirt she got when she completed her NLS—yep, not only can she fold clothes and cut herself a mean mohawk, she’s a certified lifeguard.

The shirt that reads, “Fish Hoeck, South Africa” where no one in our family has ever been but man, the exotic spelling.

Her high school t-shirt she got the first day of grade 9.

Her Junior Activity camp shirt from when she was 5. I would pick her up and wonder why they would give over 100 similarly-sized humans the exact same uniform and expect you to pick them out of an ever-moving, squealing, kid-scramble.

A t-shirt a boy gave her that had been doused in several bottles of musk that better not stink up this quilt.

I removed one t-shirt and hid it in, well, a top-secret hiding spot and waited to see if she would notice.

A few days passed and I collected a second.

After several weeks, I had a bag of 12 t-shirts for my Mom to start cutting and sewing but we needed more.

The biggest flaws in this plan were of course my impatience, my sticky fingers, but mostly, her perfectly stacked Gap-like closet where if something went missing, the fabric of her world instantly wrinkled.

I snagged a pile and ran out of her room, dodging strategically placed spy-catching hairs while walking swiftly but with purpose as though everything was completely normal had I been winning an egg-on-a-spoon race at a child’s birthday party.

And then it happened.

I heard a commotion in Ellie’s bedroom. It sounded as though the two sisters were having a friendly, patient discussion over clothes (as sisters are known to do) and then it began to escalate.

“Ellie, did you take my purple and gold t-shirt?”

Ellie confused, “Nope.”

Hanna pressed, pulling on a thread Ellie wasn’t privy to, while sliding open her middle dresser drawer. “Ellie! You took my shirt! I know you have it.”

Um, this is probably my fault. But I have 4 Facebook birthdays. How long do I let this go on?

Ellie fired back, “You can look all you want but I don’t have it.” And then, “Hey! Get out of my drawers!” (Obviously, the invitation to look all she wanted was insincere)

Things started to get loud and it was entirely my doing.

I made a quick cup of tea and headed towards what would be the massive unraveling of our secret.

I had to explain to Hanna (while re-folding the contents of Ellie’s dresser) that we had a surprise for her and it involved some of her old shirts.

Her face lit up. She was excited to have something sentimental to take with her to University and even started suggesting shirts we could use. “That one from colour day!” (Great idea! Um, got it) “That bright green one from Life Saving.” (Also, already stolen)

I was more than a little relieved she had blessed the project and the bond between sisters I was responsible for ripping apart had been stitched.

The next morning, Hanna woke up at 4:30am to head out the door for swim practice. I woke up to back the minivan out of the garage for her, to remind her to turn on the lights and to let me know when she arrived at the pool.

I climbed back into bed, my t-shirt cold from the morning trip to the garage, fell completely asleep and woke up to my alarm at 6:30am.

A text from Hanna at 5:25am was all I needed to start my day.

“Hi Mom, I MADE IT.”

You sure did, kid.

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