Russian doll

It would simply have been a passing thought had I not grabbed it by the tail. But I did.

And so here I sit, surrounded by beach towels on the floor of my closet. My intention was good—clean out a closet that escaped my Kondo-like spring purge a few months ago. But now the towels sit neglected as I rush to write this blog before my Muse flees. She is an impatient sort, after all.

I need you to know: these beach towels are lovely. Just the right amount of worn, in huge boyish stripes—big and soft and reminiscent of adventures.

They are from a previous era, one in which I drove a minivan, stayed home with my kids, cooked gourmet meals. One in which we were picnicking midday, at my son’s baseball and lacrosse games in the evening. Where trips to the library resulted in stacks of books carried by little hands. A time when I made hot chocolate in July because why not, and refereed arguments in the driveway about whether or not the basketball was really out of bounds.

These towels were always in the wash, as I recall. Used when the slip-and-slide became a mudslide, when swimming lessons began each hot June day, when visits to a friend’s lake house or cottage meant tubing—and of course, sand everywhere.

I always kept a few of these sturdy striped beauties in the back of the van. You never knew when you’d be driving a gaggle of boys to the water park. And somebody always forgot his towel.

At the moment, these sturdy soldiers are strewn on the floor underneath a glam black silk dress. And that little number is from another era completely. One in which I attended black-tie fetes with regularity, with no premonition I’d become a chauffeur for my own tiny humans before I could blink. That dress saw me through a decade when holding a glass of champagne in one hand and a canape in the other felt as natural as breathing. When I was master of the doe-eyed gaze, and no stranger to walking under the stars with my heels in my hand.

I could keep going, ‘round my closet clockwise, but you get the picture. In this tiny room, my former lives are lined up like planes waiting for an O’Hare takeoff. But perhaps that is not the right analogy. It presumes each takes off and at some point returns. That is not the case; I’ll never go back to being a mother of young children, or a 20-something on the party circuit.

No. I see my lives—through these mementos—like a Russian nesting doll. Each fitting into one another, complete in its own way. Each a small life within my big Life.

The name for these dolls is Matryoshka. The largest splits in half at her middle, opening to reveal another smaller doll within. And so on, usually in sets of seven. Traditionally, each Matryoshka was handmade. They say you could find no two alike. I find this fitting, as no two lives are alike.

The biggest doll represents a strong female matriarch. I guess that’s also fitting as it appears that is what I’ve become. The apple does not fall far from the tree.

If we go back to where I began this story, Ms. Kondo has inspired me to shed more of my things. To lighten up. But purging the mementos of an era is hard. If each life fits into another, as dolls into Matryoshka, then each must remain intact for the whole. It feels like I’m eliminating some of my “lives” as I cast off the accoutrements they contained. And then I remember, each life sits within my mind, my heart, my memories—I think my very cells. They cannot be eliminated. Not really.

It is said the timber used to make Russian dolls is kept in the open air for several years until it reaches the right condition for carving. Only an experienced master can determine when it’s ready. And when it is, each doll can undergo up to 15 turns by its creator before it becomes a Matryoshka.

I am sure our creator is no less choosy when forming us. So I’m paying homage to each life as I decide what should remain in my current one.

Getting rid of these beach towels, which belong to a life I no longer live, makes me a bit sad. They are a reminder of what was, symbols of a former happy life. But as I lighten my load, preparing for another life I feel is waiting to emerge, I have to remember that I am building a happy Life. The big one, the one that holds all others. And to do that I have to be willing to jettison what was for what is, while welcoming what will be.

I hope at the end of it all, each fits into the other as beautifully as they were crafted to do.



46 Comments Add yours

  1. From the title I thought you were going to talk about Russian Doll the TV series. I was like, she never posts about tv shows.

    1. candidkay says:

      I love that show!! Eagerly awaiting season 2.

    1. candidkay says:

      Thank you! Glad this one struck a chord.

  2. Amy says:

    This piece is pure gold. You are a brilliant writer, my friend. xoxo

    1. candidkay says:

      Hugs to you! I so appreciate you reading, commenting and being so kind.

  3. Downsizing can be an emotional experience. Beautiful writing Kristine! I love it. xo

    1. candidkay says:

      Thanks, Jennifer! I appreciate it:).

  4. George says:

    What can I say. Beautifully written. and expressed. A journey of life at its core. I’ll think about this for a while.

    1. candidkay says:

      Oh, I love it when I’ve given you something to chew on😊. Thank you, George.

  5. Su Leslie says:

    I’d like to write a response that does justice to how deeply I’m moved by these words, but You’ve touched a chord that I am really going to have to process.
    Thank you.

    1. candidkay says:

      Oh, thank you. For the kind words and for your honesty. Hugs to you.

  6. mydangblog says:

    Oh, this is just beautiful. It reminds me of earlier this spring when I was also cleaning out the linen cupboard to make room for some things I’d brought back from Toronto. Tristan saw all the towels on the floor and insisted on taking some back with him to uni because he had “good beach memories”. As for me, I kept a couple of his “bin-bans”–what he called the flannel receiving blankets that he like to snuggle with:-)

    1. candidkay says:

      Oh, I love that he wanted to keep them because of the beach memories! I may offer some to my oldest to to see if he wants to do the same :-). Thanks for the idea.

  7. marlene frankel says:

    This blog reminded me of a book I just finished reading. Anne Tyler’s book, Back When We Were Grownups made me think of a lot of the what ifs in life.

    1. candidkay says:

      I read that book also, but it’s been an awfully long time since I did. But I do remember that it was a bit poignant that way. Did you enjoy it?

  8. Masha says:

    Brilliant anology. As we grow out of one life and make room to grow into a new one, how and where do we hold the old one that no longer fits us? Can we easily give it up? Love this.

    1. candidkay says:

      Thank you, Marsha! Glad this one hit you. I appreciate you reading and commenting, as always :-).

      1. pirootb says:

        Enjoyed reading your post. The best parts of our early lives are already inside us. The memories we made, pleasant ones and difficult ones (which taught us what we know now) are deep inside us and can never be taken away. Our experience has shaped our outlook and what we are today. Go right ahead and make space in the closet. I always believe the best is yet to come.

      2. candidkay says:

        I love that outlook! Clearing space for even better memories.

  9. What are the odds we both write a blog about towels on the same day? Yours, of course, is less frivolous and silly and more beautiful and wise. Like different nesting dolls perhaps.

    1. candidkay says:

      Nothing wrong with silly on a day when we all probably need a laugh :-).

    2. Cindy Frank says:

      While the best memories linger, no matter what prompts we keep, I like thinking of your strong and confident self as the centerpiece as you build your new Russian Doll outward into the future. Wonderful post.

      1. candidkay says:

        Thank you—I’m trying to hold on to that vision also.🙏🏻

  10. KDKH says:

    Lovely analogy. I have done a bit of spring cleaning this year, too. I’m not too sentimental, but I’ve held onto some of the kids things, thinking that I may need the some day for grandkids. I’m beginning to wonder if that is misguided. My 4 kids seem disinterested in making traditional families. My matriarch doll is strong and empowered, but yes, inside is the frightened child, the painfully introverted young adult, the single mother working to hold it all together. Thanks for the beautiful imagery.

    1. candidkay says:

      I think many kids are also disinterested in holding onto things. They seem to be an experience generation. Maybe not it’s not such a bad thing. I have many of the same selves you do in my stacking dolls :-).

  11. nimslake says:

    Hi been awhile.
    Love the Russian Dolls analogy. I am mentally looking at my closet now…I know I have 1 to 2 decades to decide on. Because of this I know that most of it needs to go into ‘donate’ pile. (scratching head) I know it needs to be done…lol!
    Always enjoy your posts!

    1. candidkay says:

      Welcome back! One to two decades is an ambitious undertaking! Caffeinate for sure ☕️.

      1. nimslake says:

        Ha! Caffeine yes will need that energy and strong will!! 😁

  12. Hi. Although our circumstances change, to a pretty large extent I think that, inside, most of us remain pretty much the same. Not exactly the same, but fairly constant. And also, hopefully, improved!

    Neil Scheinin

    1. candidkay says:

      I agree. I think our essence spans all of our eras. And that’s somehow comforting.

  13. Sigh, ‘What to keep and what to throw’, I’ve the theory there is NO clear-cut definitive answer. (I enjoyed this post 🙂 )

    1. candidkay says:

      Thank you 🙏🏻. And you’re right. No real answer. But light feels better than heavy!

  14. Dale says:

    You know. It is uncanny how often our lives seem to be in synch. Of course, with my move into this new house, I have loads of stuff that I must get rid of, if I want to be able to breathe. And stop tripping. there are so many memories tied to things and others have been given more importance than they deserve. Methinks it shall be a long process.

    1. candidkay says:

      Oh, Dale, I’ve been thinking of you of late. I think I’m anticipating needing to do what you’re doing, at some point. And I’m hugging you, applauding you, cheering you on, from afar. Because it isn’t easy to take a house full of memories and start fresh in a new place. And while lighter feels good, I’m sure it can also be scary.

      1. Dale says:

        Lordy…the stuff is one thing. the memories attached to them is a whole ‘nother. And, of course, it’s not just me. The boys have theirs, too. My youngest had the biggest conniption fit when I threw out a birdhouse he built with his father. I thought it was abandoned in the back of the shed. When he pulled it out of the garbage he basically verbally attacked his poor brother, who was innocent of the crime. So now, I have to make sure stuff is not just stuff!
        I am looking forward to feeling lighter, though.

      2. candidkay says:

        I bet you are! And yes, many of the things that I struggle with-things I have kept for sentimental reasons-I am keeping for my children. But when you begin to look at truly downsizing, that becomes almost impossible. I am sure Kondo has some words of wisdom on this.

      3. Dale says:

        And you know what I have discovered? A lot of what I was keeping for them, they want nothing to do with! They are not “thing” men!

      4. candidkay says:

        Mine aren’t either. I think we should wear that as a badge of honor. Good job 👍🏻

  15. Judy says:

    I find it easier to give things away if I know they’re going someplace they’ll be needed. I took all my old stuffies to a child crisis center. I knew they’d throw away the more worn ones, but I didn’t have to make that decision. An animal shelter would love those towels and consider them a great blessing. 🙂

    1. candidkay says:

      Oh, what a wonderful idea! An animal shelter. That would make giving them away a bit more joyful. If only I can escape without adopting another dog, though:). I have my hands full!

      1. Judy says:

        Have a friend drop them off or do it anonymously. Good luck. 🙂

  16. Interesting post and perspective Kristine. I like the idea of a series of selves, each bigger that holds the prior selves we’ve outgrown.

    1. candidkay says:

      I watched the series “Russian Doll” recently, which is about parallel lives/universes versus selves in one lifetime. I just love the analogy, either way . . .

      1. That sounds interesting too!

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