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Lab Rats

The dinosaur shirt

Itinerant scientists must part with their pasts

Manju George 22 February 2011

Roots come in many forms

His world is now populated by people who will move on with their lives, who will go to faraway lands and erase their memories of him

Today I gave away a lot of Addu's clothes.

I gave them to Lin, as Addu had grown out of them. I decided to give them away when I tried to hang up Addu's new clothes last weekend, and found there was no space for them in his closet. So I had asked Lei and Lin at the lab if either of them wanted the clothes for their sons who are younger than Addu. Lei said he had to ask his wife, but Lin wanted them.

Yesterday, I had picked through and sorted the clothes and put them aside. My husband put them in an Old Navy paper bag and brought them over to the lab today.

I told Lin at lunch that the clothes were here. After lunch we went through them and Lin took all shirts that had wide necks. There they were, Addu's clothes, filled with memories of wonderful and not so wonderful times with my son – and gone the next instant, to be part of wonderful and not so wonderful times of another family.

It makes me sad to think of them. Those are clothes people closest to us in India have never seen. Not my parents, not my sister, not a single member of my husband's family has never seen Addu in his orange Spiderman shirt. Nor have they seen him in his favorite dinosaur shirt.

True, like other four-year-old boys, Addu didn't care so much about what he wore. But to me, those clothes represented a time, a season that nobody important (other than us and a few friends here in US) knew about or missed. They were reminders of an unrecorded part of our life.

That makes me think: I owe these notes to my son. When he grows up and learns to read, through them he can learn about his life during these years. There won't be any cousins or aunts reminding him of this incident or that. His world is now populated by people who will move on with their lives, who will go to faraway lands and erase their memories of him, just like he would erase his memories of them. In this long migration that is our life, will we be able to plant roots for him, so that later in life he has a place to go back to, to call his own, whatever? In this world that is currently ours, what can we do to give him a place to call home?

Maybe it is this present rootlessness that makes me want to cling to such small things like clothes Addu has outgrown. I wanted to take a picture of him wearing each one of them. Of course, I do have pictures of him wearing some of them, but it’s not the same as the real thing.

Addu didn't want me to give away his dinosaur shirt. Should I get it back and keep it so that later it will be a symbol of how much mommy listened to him and acted according to his wishes? If I don't get it back will the shirt be erased from his memory forever? I think I've already lost it, because Lin is on his way to pick up his son from day care.

The dinosaur shirt is gone forever.