In a world of American materialism, inevitably comes the time when you must pare down. Simplify. Walk through the valley of toys without injury. Open up closets without risk of avalanche.
But, alas, children—at least mine—do not subscribe to the concept of spring cleaning. Girlchild and Boychild are headed straight for featured guest appearances on A&E’s Hoarders.
In their world, nothing is trash. Broken toys are not trash, but even trash is not trash. Girlchild brings home treasures on a weekly basis from school; broken, chewed, nondescript items from the recess pad that she sneaks into pockets and backpack compartments. Among these gems I have found a gnarled pen insert, a bottle cap, a barrette, a soda tab, and a quarter of a fluorescent green crayon that went undetected until post-dryer laundry. Yeah. Talk to me about that.
One would think, looking around the playroom that has become the Kingdom of EveryToy, that the kids would start playing some favorites and wouldn’t mind when I ask them to choose a bag of…. anything…. to contribute to charity. Surely there must be something that they’ve received a new and improved version of, or something they deem baby-ish, or something they never liked in the first place but were polite about.
Wrong. They actually play with most everything.
But space doesn’t negotiate! Things must go.
First I tried gaining buy-in. At least two years ago we participated in Operation Christmas Child as part of Girlchild’s dance classes. The idea is that you fill a shoebox with small gifts, donate it, and it’s sent around the world to a kid who has nothing to open on Christmas. The small gifts can be new, or gently used. So I convinced Girlchild, “Hey, I was thinking, you know that small giraffe you’ve had since you were a baby that you’ve never played with, hugged, or made eye contact with? What if we just packed it up in a shoebox with some other items? Can you imagine how happy it might make someone?”
Indeed she could imagine how happy, and she fought me. I won the battle, but her sad face remained, as did the memory. She brought up this giraffe incident this January, citing it as a reason she can’t trust me not to take things from her.
I began to realize I would be forever unsuccessful in gaining their buy-in on recovering some carpet and shelf space, so I began to slither into the Kingdom of EveryToy after bedtime, sorting and bagging and hiding and sneaking. Just like the Grinch, when he pilfers absolutely everything out of the Whos’ houses.
Okay, that’s not entirely true; for a Grinch I do have a terrible case of guilt. Picture a Grinch who leaves houses with 1-2 grocery bags of toys, wearing an indecisive look on his face. Fortunately I have never been caught in the act like the Grinch, because I happen to be an absolutely miserable liar. I’ve often wondered how he came up with that instant response to Little Cindy Lou Who.
However, the loot has been discovered as it waited in the basement for a charity pick-up appointment. Girlchild has followed Manchild into the basement for something, and run up two flights of stairs asking, “WHY? Why did you donate these slippers?!” amidst a burst of tears.
I have calmly stated, “Sweetie, you have two pairs of slippers already, and these barely fit. You got these at your 5th birthday party from that preschool girl who was always nasty to you, so they’re also bad fung shui. Do we really need to keep them? Wouldn’t it be nice to give these to some poor child with frozen feet?”
“But I LIKE them!”
“And honey, the two identical, already duplicate Polly Pocket figures….”
“But they’re TRIPLETS all together! And, they’re MINE!”
Okay. True. What right do I have, really, to take things from them? When does this border on deviance? And if it’s wrong, how do I teach them to pare down??
Even worse is in the garage, when one of them glances into the recycling bins and sees a piece of art they’ve made that didn’t make the cut. Now—before ye judge—you should know that 99.993% of handmade-with-love scribbles make the cut. I have folders, boxes and stacks of awesome and not-so-awesome creations. I have several walls of artwork, some even framed. But every once in awhile I come across art pieces such as “Ripped Paper with Booger”, or “One Blue Whatnot Stenciled Almost Diagonally”, or “Today I Was Feeling Like I Should Color This Whole Page Blue So I Did, Every Inch of It”. As I start to add it to the “save” pile, I think, “What am I doing??” and toss it into recycling.
“Well, that cut-out lion colored like a tiger, with balloons, on the newsprint paper,” Boychild will tell me, “really made Girlchild feel proud”. And he is sure she worked really hard on it, and would be very hurt if she knew I’d planned to recycle it. Sigh.
The guilt trips can get pretty ridiculous. Girlchild found an item in the basement charity bags recently and came running to me with this voodoo-looking doll and said, “You promised you’d stop doing this!” [Dear God, am I at the point of a necessary intervention?! It’s not like I truly enjoy this!] And then, “I think Giver Person would be sad too, not just me!” She looked mad and hurt even after I apologized and told her she could keep it. Ow! Dang it feels as though a pin is poking my ribs as I write this….
And here’s the thing. Even when Girlchild and Boychild don’t find the confiscated items in the donation bags (because sometimes I get smart and complete Project Grinch the night just before a charity pick-up, and take the goods directly to the front porch in dark bags), THEY KNOW. One, two, three years later, they’ll come to me and ask, “Hey Mom, do you know that xylophone, with only one bar, with the cowboy sticker on it, that only made that ghost monkey shrieking noise, that gave us recurring nightmares? We can’t find that.”
To which I respond, “Well you guys have so many toys, I’m sure it’s around somewhere.”
“Did you donate that? DID YOU?”
How can these kids not remember to shut off their unoccupied bedroom lights, yet have some unwritten lengthy inventory of 500 toys, along with the name of the giver and date of receipt??? I think they sneak downstairs in the middle of the night with green visors, hunched over the play cash register that they switch to silent mode. One of these days during a Project Grinch raid I’ll uncover ledgers that explain nearly everything.
You know, I have a feeling I’ll get a bill one day from the future Schleiger & Schleiger Accounting Firm. Either for the estimated value of goods “stolen”, or for therapy.
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