On Thursday my husband looked up at me from his breakfast. "Oh," he said, "I meant to tell you. Look outside, by the curb. You're going to find this a little upsetting." His little upsetting often means my big upsetting, so obligingly I went outside. The garbage and recycling was sitting by the street. But what was this? At attention in the grass, two rows, six car seats, all types: for infants, toddlers, and older children. First I imagined Madeline (of picture book fame) and her schoolmates all in a line, neat and pretty. Then Hemingway's six-word story came to mind: For sale: baby shoes, never worn.
There in the full May sun, a car seat graveyard fashioned by my husband. I was moved to photograph the scene. My neighbor, taking out his own garbage, looked puzzled to see me standing in the street holding my iPhone in front of my face. I explained. He laughed, mystified but perceptibly sympathetic.
Yet this is not a tale of the car seat graveyard, although it might have been. There is history in each one of those seats, but it is my children's history, no longer mine to tell. No, this is a story about what came next.
I posted the photo on Facebook. You know I did. And to caption it I wrote something both breezy and dramatic, the way one does. I can't quite remember, but my words went something like this: Saddest thing I've ever seen? The question mark provided levity.
And in came the comments. Some people understood what I'd meant: mourning for the childhoods both gone and oddly encapsulated in objects as prosaic (milk- and poop-stained) as car seats, which would soon enough be buried among other people's trash, everyone's debris mixed up into a noxious stew.
Others found the picture disturbing in a way I hadn't anticipated. The waste! The landfills!
Yes. But I'd known that no one would take a used car seat. The instructions accompanying the seats long ago lost; most of them dinosaurs in the history of car seats; one or two damaged during passage in cars involved in accidents. In fact I'd read that it is downright irresponsible to offer a new parent a used car seat. We'd also been told that our recycling company would refuse the seats.
Were they glaring, all six of them, to those worried about the precarious state of our environment? I hold on to my children's things too long. If we'd gotten rid of them in timelier fashion, one here, another there, the waste wouldn't have been as noticeable.
I fret about all the garbage, and I always have. But not, I suppose, when I'm busy lamenting the flash of time containing the entirety of my sons' childhoods. It goes to show this: words and pictures are only ever imprecise in conveying meaning and intent.
Still, everyone did agree that the image of our car seat graveyard was terribly, awfully sad, sad in the most straightforward, least complicated way, sad as if the word itself had been stamped (red, all caps) into the photograph.