When the last of my baby boys grew out of his infant clothes I passed all of the marvelous tiny baby things I’d accumulated to another friend who needed them.
One of the Maker’s tee shirts (also worn by his older brothers when they were newborns) I folded carefully — unwashed — into a little Burt’s Bees bag and stored it, along with the paper tape used to measure the newborn baby, in a small cardboard box under my bathroom sink.
I was careful not to open the bag.
Perhaps twice in the next three to five years did I lock myself in my bathroom for a precious few minutes, away from the craziness of a house with three little boys and the demands of work and motherhood, to pull out the tiny shirt and hold it to my face to breathe in the last of the new baby fragrance. That milky, drooly, nuzzly warm skin smell, with its attendant memories of nursing, patting, cradling, and time spent gazing in astonishment at yet another sleeping, beautiful child.
One day when the Maker was about 6 years old, he came to find me. “Look at this funny little shirt!” he exclaimed, waving it in the air with one dirty hand. My heart sank. No more baby smell, I thought. But then I laughed.
“Can you believe your big brothers used to wear that shirt?” I asked. He squinted at me in frank suspicion.
“It’s true,” I promised, and together we examined the little shirt. He snapped and unsnapped it, turned it inside out, and considered whether it would fit on our cat, Katie, who was making happy figure eights between us.
When I showed him how I had cut off the tags so it wouldn’t irritate the little baby’s skin, he had a sudden revelation. He’s always hated tags in his shirt. “Did I use to wear this?” he asked, astonished.
And I found that my throat had closed up and I couldn’t answer.
So instead I settled for a nod and an enormous hug, one that I knew I could come back to, long after the smell of the very last baby was gone.