Samuel Lincoln Thibeault Deffenbaugh

facing, dancing


Born 6795 days ago— but two weeks late. He’s been in a hurry ever since to make up for that lost time. He runs fast, thinks fast, plays his guitar so fast I wonder, “When did that happen?” I also just look at him and wonder, “When did that happen?”


When you bring the baby home, and you can’t stop staring into his face, and smelling his too soft head, and listening for every breath to be strong and clear and regular. When you can’t bear to be parted from him even to claim the sleep you pray for, and so you let him sleep in the safety of your embrace all the while clutching at the luck and grace that brought this bit of forever into your life. When you trace and memorize the nose and ears and, oh my, the ten tiny fingers that define trust with every grasp.

Then, you signal back with your caress, “I will never let you go. I promise.”

But you do. And it’s not a broken promise. You let go to fulfill promise, his promise, to run and think and play, and to find the passion that makes his heart sing songs of joy and sorrow and understanding. You let him go, and you wait. And when he comes back, you know you are not finished waiting.

You will always wait for him.


In music: The relative length or duration of a tone as signified by a note.

 I want Sam’s value, the value and the beauty and the clarity Sam brings to life, to play on forever.

People ask if I can imagine my life without Sam, a life in which he never existed. They ask this laughing, rhetorically, but I answer confidently, “Of course.” I have a great imagination; of course I can imagine a life, a parallel-universe life, without Sam.

It is a life without his music: without The Driving Song, Think, Everybody, Breakthrough, Open Crisis, Coming Down Over, 33. It is a life without wild boxes in the woods or my Box-head boys; without Mrs. Ridley, Mr. Bloch, Yarbs or Schatzy; without Craig; without Paul discovering he really wanted to be a dad. A life without my (“stinky”) little boy taking my face in his small hands, putting his nose to my nose, and looking in my eyes telling me he loves me more than anyone ever; it is a life without the most beautiful green eyes I have ever seen.

 Even without the unimaginable pain of having to say, “Goodbye my Sam, for now,” I don’t want a life without Sam.

Parting pain:

It was Week 36 when I had Paul draw a target on my lower spine and made him promise he would Get. Me. The. Drugs. I never, not once, intended to experience the joy of natural childbirth. “I want my epidural” was my entire birthing plan. And after about 18 hours of mostly epidurally-painless laboring, my body parted with Sam. Now my heart wants an epidural.

In all of the applying and considering, and visiting and rejecting, and waiting and waiting and waiting, the fact that he got to choose, and that he chose this school, this breathtakingly beautiful school, reduces the overwhelming pain of this parting to a scheduled ache.

We have known for 6795 days that This Day would come. The parting is not a surprise. The surprise is how deeply I know it is time.


I love you, Sam


Old School



Urgency Day 1

500 Things Item 499: My Old Cork Bulletin Board

  • History: Purchased for my first dorm room
  • Value: The original changing picture frame, and no batteries req.
  • Parting pain: None
  • Unpossessing: Donated to Sam’s first dorm room

Picture a Venn Diagram: 2 College Packing Lists.

Mine, c. 1980:

  • Iron and ironing board
  • Albums and stereo
  • Black and white TV
  • Coordinating-roommate linens
  • Popcorn popper
  • Quarters for laundry
  • Leotards, tights, ballet slippers

His, August 23, 2011:

  • Laptop computer
  • iPod and cell phone
  • Hard drive from his Xbox
  • Uncoordinated linens
  • Energy bars
  • A loaded V-card for all campus purchases
  • 3 guitars and an amp

And the teeny tiny overlap in the middle?

  • My old cork bulletin board.

Dry erase boards are fine for jotting smudgy notes, and cell phones simplify… well… everything. But you still want a place to hang some tangible mementos— tickets from a concert, a card from home, a scrap of paper on which you and your friends scribbled the most mind-blowing, reality-crushing, paradigm-shifting idea ever. If only you could decipher the handwriting.

An old-school cork bulletin board is a place where those bits of flotsam and jetsam can effortlessly accumulate. By May, it will form a time capsule of a year in a life. It’s the very same surface on which my new life accumulated 30 years ago, but his will certainly hold fewer pictures of Mikhail Baryshnikov and more… who?  More what?

I could guess Muse and Foos and Green Day. I could guess Zelda and Pullman and Vonnegut. Sure, maybe, for awhile. But this is his past. Starting tomorrow, he will be creating a new past.

I know I said I wouldn’t count things Sam takes to college as part of my 500 Things Project. I also said I would never say, “Because I said so,” or “Turn that music down!” or “You’ll thank me later.” Motherhood changes everything. Every. Thing.

There is no other thing of mine that will reside in his new home.

Nothing, and everything.

old school

Fraud Alert


sometimes the pen is mightier than the pixel

Urgency Day 27

500 Things Item 468: Laptop Computer

  • History: This is the same dead laptop that sent me aknockin’ on Sam’s desktop last year
  • Value: It’s still dead; Pixie dust couldn’t rescue this pixelated processor
  • Parting pain: Not at the parting, just the replacing
  • Un-possessing: Conscientious recycling

I am a fraud.

I promise: It was NOT my intention. It just kind of snuck up on me; uncomfortable realization after uncomfortable realization. Then, one day– not at all out of the blue– it smacked me in the head:


That day was April 26th. I downsized a small shelf unit that day, April 26th, the day I announced the winner of the Self-Contained Unit’s college search: Vassar College. Corks popped, fireworks sizzled: Hazzah! Sam is a Brewer (BTW: All-time least ironic college mascot). He had successfully navigated high school’s end game: college admissions. Sweet relief.

Yes, I downsized an item that day, as I had for 375 days prior to that and would (and will) for another 125. But do you know what happens after the college selection is made, the college deposit mailed, the college-admissions-process guard dropped?

College shopping.

Methodical, strategic, predestined accumulating.

Lists, lists, lists of absolutely essential stuff… and oh my, I love a list, but every lovingly descriptive, coupon coordinated, Mapquest-aided list I compile, I feel the smack again:


I write a blog about DOWNSIZING, for goodness sake! I am getting rid of one thing every day for (what will be) 500 days. I giddily proselytize about decluttering my shelves, my drawers, my life. I patiently defuse incredulity about how Less Really Really is More. And in the presence of More is More zealotry, I keep the eye-rolling to an absolute minimum.


I am now re-acquiring, magnificently.

See this list?

  • 41 Kitchen items
  • 58 Decorative items
  • 54 Items of clothing
  • 21 Wardrobe accessories
  • 35 DVDs, CDs and tapes
  • 4 Pieces of furniture
  • 8 Electronics
  • 43 (+ one trunk load) Toys and games
  • 28 Household items such as tools
  • 1 Christmas Wreath
  • 1 Box of Mouse Memorabilia
  • 186 Books

That’s the list I posted on May 17th of the first 400 Downsized Things. Since then, I have downsized an additional 67 items. More books, more household items, more CDs, more toys. Or I should say fewer. We have 67 fewer Things, because of this Project. Except…


College. Requires. Stuff. Apparently.

Yes, some items on the lengthy college-stuff list will come from the family collection. He doesn’t need brand new mugs or utensils. A blanket? Plenty of those to contribute. And we’re tickled to send him off with the trusty corkboard that aided and abetted his four-year dash toward independence.

I just don’t happen to have any extra-long sheets kicking around. A shower caddy? In our home, we encourage him to keep the soap and shampoo in the showering area. And a suitable portable computing device? What a revelation.

I have heard that— and I intend no bias here; I’m simply reporting a pattern— many girls are very interested in the college shopping process. Some even take charge. My boy hasn’t shown a similar level of investment in tracking down sheets and stuff. Except for the suitable portable computing device. Suddenly, the boy was all about the hunt. And the kill.

One down.

And I don’t mean down-sized.

Next post: My thoughts on resolving this conflict of interests.



practice fx

Urgency Day 29

500 Things Item 467: The Broken Guitar

  • History: Broken NOT from practicing Pete Townsend moves; cannibalized for parts
  • Value: None, now
  • Parting pain: None, now
  • Un-possessing: Sadly, trash

The Self-Contained Unit left home today.

Not for good, just for practice.  Still, it’s close enough to his Real Launch Date that it feels like a tune-up. This trip is our family’s Downsizing Dress Rehearsal.

Many pursuits benefit from practice; some, such as music and sports, require daily application for improvement. And I suppose there is some merit to practicing sending your child off to college.

Certainly each of us will be “practicing” different college skills. I will ask the Self-Contained Unit’s aunt and grandmother whether over the next week he practices choosing to eat some vegetables, changing his sheets, or going to bed in time to get up for an 8:00 class.

And what will I practice?

Well, I will not practice wailing and sobbing. I will not practice glancing wistfully at the pictures of Sam cavorting with his cousins, his best friends, his mama. I will not practice missing his breezy “Love you” called toward my office after grabbing another granola bar from the pantry. I will not practice smelling his pillow for the last trace of his baby scent.

I will practice letting him text me first. I will practice patience. I will practice letting him go.

And, I will practice having my sweetie’s undivided attention. I will practice enjoying a clean house (particularly a certain notorious bathroom sink area). I will practice having a car all to myself whenever I want.

And I will practice worrying.




Urgency Day 37

500 Things Items 458-63: 6 Super Soakers (TM Larami Co.)

  • History: From the last fabulous summer visit of the Brothers Bonney
  • Value: $20? And/or priceless
  • Parting pain: Yes, 6 era-ending markers
  • Un-possessing: Gifts

FABULOUS way to wake up: Surrounded by friends at a truly spectacular lake-front home.

NOT FABULOUS way to wake up: Slapped with copyright infringement notices.

  • I am chastened.
  • I am worried.
  • I am ready to scurry back to my hole.

Ah well, the Universe giveth and It taketh away. We had a lovely water-filled weekend, bursting with story-telling, belly laughs, clinking glasses and almost enough big fat still-warm-from-the-sun Michigan blueberries even for me.

And do you live somewhere where you could see That Moon Saturday night? That was the Universe giveth-ing.

If I hadn’t managed to time gasping over That Moon with breaking my clinking glass, well, I guess I wouldn’t be me. Yes, hide the stemware: I’m a glass-breaker.

Why am I the only one worried about this?

The 5 multi-hued Super Soaker water guns (TM Larami Co.) I am downsizing today come from the arsenal of the Self-Contained Unit and are being dispersed with his blessing. There were a total of 8 young men ranging in age from 15-23 at the lake house this weekend. There was not a single water gun battle.

Trademarked or otherwise.

Postscript: In referencing “scurrying back to my hole,” I had a past-life flashback. VERY past. I think I was one of those tiny mouse-like creatures that lived a perilous life; dodging enormous, rampaging dinosaurs by day; and at night, darting out to nibble on plants and tremble.

And worry.

The Party’s Over


You too, Uncle Burt

Urgency Day 70

500 Things Items 412-420:  Assorted Party-Specific Décor

  • History: From the recent revels
  • Value: You’d have to ask the Decorations Committee
  • Parting Pain: Zip
  • Un-possessing: Just ask

The Decorations Committee simply had to have the balloon that said, Way to go, Uncle Burt!

We weren’t celebrating Uncle Burt. We don’t even have an Uncle Burt. We were actually having a high school graduation party for the Self-Contained Unit.

The party store didn’t have any Self-Contained Unit-specific balloons. Go figure.

But the visiting Decorations Committee did a bang-up job, with tons of Way to go, Grad! and Class of 2011 sparkly stuff, and one fantastically random Way to go, Uncle Burt! Mylar balloon. We definitely got some mileage out of that.

Parties and travel have much in common. They each require lots of:

  • Effort
  • Expenditures
  • Lists
  • Willing spirits
  • Spirits…
  • Clean up

I have a theory that it takes as many days to recover from a trip as days you travel. The laundry sorting, the luggage storing, the music facing. Years ago, my darling sister put together a magnificently-detailed  travel-prep checklist which has been cleaved to gratefully ever since. You know that baby is laminated. (And digitally saved and filed in fire-proof storage.) I wish, however, she would prepare an equally methodical travel-recovery checklist.

Ditto, a party-recovery checklist.

So, here are a couple of my own not-ready-for-lamination party-recovery thoughts.

There are certain party accessories it makes sense to sort, store and reuse. For the grad party, I didn’t have to buy a single paper plate, plastic utensil or cocktail napkin. Not one. Of course, this falls more under the heading of reduce than reuse, as in reduce the ridiculous surplus of disposables set aside in my Apocalypse Kit.

Those items were the purview of my committee, the Food Committee. We didn’t feel the urge to theme. The Decorations Committee, on the other hand, saw a grand opportunity to theme AND RAN WITH IT.

But I am pretty sure I won’t be called upon to re-bedazzle my house with Class of 2011 sparkly stuff. One party-recovery thought that is definitely ready for lamination would be, as I go forward in my downsized life, I don’t want to travel with themed-clutter, no matter how sweet the memories. Besides, we’ve got great pictures– digitally saved and filed in fire-proof storage.

I am, therefore, offering up an only slightly used Grad-Party-in-a-Bag! to anyone who still has graduates to celebrate this year.

Way to go, Class of 2011!

You too, Uncle Burt.




suspended time

Urgency Day 80

500 Things Items 407-08: Watches

  • History: Similar to my scarf obsession, I like novelty watches
  • Value: New and working—maybe $40
  • Parting Pain: None until I saw them together looking cute
  • Un-possessing: Donations

I love the idea of traction:

Of feeling a sense of efficiency and commitment as all parts are pulling and adhering in unified coordination even over rough spots: Traction.

Yesterday, I fell off my bike. So much for traction.

That was a very literal instance of traction giving way to friction; I’ve got the bodily scrapes and bruises to prove it. Recently, I have also experienced a more figurative loss of traction. I haven’t posted in over a week. I’ve got the mental scrapes and bruises to prove it.

Every one of us is busy, but busy-ness ebbs and flows. I am just emerging from a very busy stretch which included the Self-Contained Unit’s graduation from high school and the attendant valedictory celebrations– obviously lifetime milestones– which I consciously prioritized over a simultaneously appearing opportunity to increase my Project’s traction. But hey, we all know parenthood involves some sacrifices.

A few weeks back, a wonderful local website, Go West Young Mom, graciously ran an interview with me about the genesis of the 500 Things Project. A few initial interview questions from talented editor Tara Burghart evolved into a far-reaching conversation about my family’s experiences with downsizing during The Great Recession; my highly personal thoughts on raising children based on the successful launch of the Self-Contained Unit; and how we managed the transition from Easterners to Mid-westerners with a child in tow.

In other words, all the things I’ve been blogging about for the last 420 days!

The publication of this profile was the perfect moment to capture some energy and invest my Project with increased traction. It was the perfect moment– except the timing was all wrong.

Instead of seizing this opportunity, I chose to huddle with family and friends in a cold windstorm and watch 785 graduates receive their diplomas with hilarious solemnity; I chose to attend award ceremonies and commemorative tributes in sodden wonderment; I chose to belt out lyrics personalized by my talented sister to the tune of “High Hopes” wishing Sam success in college:

I chose Sam’s moment over the Project’s future. And really, there was no choice.

Sam’s moment was about the future and about ensuring continued traction in his life. My Project, for all its traction and skidding, its zeitgeist and ephemera, is still here, a few days late, and it will be here for another 79 days.

As will the Self-Contained Unit.

Sam in the moment. (photo by Marianne Mather, Sun-Times Media)

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