Secret Stashes

October 18, 2010 at 9:31 pm 1 comment

You can’t say our home is neat as a pin, the drifting tides of yellow dog hair put us right out of the running for any descriptions like that, but even if you can’t tell, I do clean. I straighten more than I care to admit. I remain constantly on the lookout for signs of disinterest on the part of the children and then at the first opportunity swoop in undetected to shuffle toys back into their “proper” places. When I was a girl my father did the same thing. He’d make a circuit through the shared living quarters and gather items on the kitchen table that we were then required to return to our rooms at the soonest possible opportunity. I remember groaning: But DAD! I was still using that!, annoyed by his preemptive cleanliness. We’d joke that Dad would clear a mug of tea from the table, still warm, if we left it unguarded, or immediately remove an unfinished craft project if left unattended for a five-second potty break.

But now, looking back? I get it. Not only do I get it, I do the very same thing.

I scuttle about in the background, like a fussy hermit crab, reaching between skinny kid arms to pluck the Littlest Pet Shop figurines from the mountain of mess and seal them into their zip-loc bags. Waiting for  plastic horse paraphernalia to remain idle long enough to justify scooping it all into the tub mentally marked: “plastic horse paraphernalia”.  It’s satisfying to pair like with like. A box with legos mingling with playing cards? Ew. Polly Pockets sharing space with bouncy balls? I don’t think so. So I gather and divide, sort and dissect, all the day long, and it all stays that way for approximately fifteen milliseconds. Until Echo rotates back around and says: Mom. Will you get out the toys I was playing with before? There were one hundred and two pieces.

When I’m not looking is the worst. I make my thrice daily toy parceling rounds to find, not only disarray, but a sense of “order” so foreign to me it feels like intentional disorder, like a code that only young girls in the mountain time-zone of North America could ever crack. They repeatedly dump out tubs and boxes, rid them of their original (rational) content to refill them with something else. No pattern at all as far as I can tell.

Jewelry box of tiny sea shells? Now harboring dried garbanzo beans, a geode, two of mama’s broken fingernails, plastic gems, and a bike reflector.

Polly Pockets’ Personal Zip-loc? Now storing three fuzzy mini-kittens, a plastic toy syringe, a princess playmobile figure, and a rubber band.

Sure, it all makes sense to them. When I ask what in tarnation they’ve done with the bottle cap collection, they say: Oh we dumped it out because that canister is now a prison. Or, what happened to the glass eggs that were in the woven basket? They say: They’re in the pink cowboy hat because this swan is magical and that’s her nest. And there is nothing left for me to do but wait until the swan isn’t magical, and the cowboy hat isn’t a nest, or at least until they aren’t looking, to put it all back in its “rightful” place.

It’s crazy, my part that is, especially since nothing ever stays in its rightful place for very long. But the funny thing is that it doesn’t work to leave things as the girls arrange them either. Their particular flavor of order lasts only as long as that piece of make-believe. When it comes time to find the glass eggs the next day they do not scan their mental card catalog and think: Well… glass eggs belong to the magical swan… and magical swans build nests out of pink cowboy hats… and pink cowboy hats always swing from the kitchen chair… so I know just where to look! Nope. They come to me. And if I haven’t already disassembled their various constructions, already de-stashed their various stashes, I’m screwed.

In some ways, even though I scratch my head at the logic, I like the little stashes. They give me a sense of how each girl thinks (or doesn’t) and what is important to them. Some stashes don’t make any sense, I’m pretty sure the dish with peanuts and earrings is a fluke, a whim from a pretend long ago, but other times the collection is like a snapshot, a glimpse of who these girls are.

If I’m looking for a lost baby doll I have to look through the eyes of a three-year old, a perspective that sees every nook as a cozy bed, every cranny as a little home. Baby dolls will never be found under the bed or lying on the floor, they are perpetually tucked-in, under the stack of towels in the bathroom, under the sled in the garage, within Papa’s moonboot, and if I’m not seeing the world this way I’ll never find them.

If I find my own trimmed finger nails stored with precious gems I am completely grossed out, but I’m also a little honored, a little tickled to see my girl’s love for me tucked away in a little red box.

If I wonder what’s important to Xi I have only to pull the curtain aside and catch a glimpse of her windowsill. Her heart is displayed there in foreign coins, pigeon feathers, silly bands, and movie stubs.

I still dream of school-classroom organization, tidy cubbies, labels, and color coordinated filing systems,  and I’ll probably still wear a groove into the floor with my own toy shuffling madness, but in some ways, at least from this late-night, sentimental moment, I hope I never succeed. Imagine how much I would miss, how many unusual still-life compositions I’d never see, how many clues to our girls’ values I’d never find.

There is still a part of me that would swoon at the sight of red legos sorted into red-lego piles, of  plastic horses arranged by size, of bouncy balls filling a jar and sealed with a bold-print label, but now that I think about it, I’m not sure it’s worth it.


Entry filed under: parenting principles. Tags: , , .

Hear Ye, Hear Ye Fleeting

1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. Erin  |  October 18, 2010 at 11:30 pm

    I’m nodding and laughing at the good spiritedness of this post as my eyes scan the wasteland…toy-strewn, lived in, loved in 1200 sq feet that we play in and we love in. 10, 000 villages arranged randomly, art supplies, artwork and artists hidden, piles of no longer needed or played with items and 2 1/2 years of my grieving (2) deaths that have allowed this accumulation to grow exponentially. A fair bit of depression from said grieving that breeded apathy and disorganization.

    But I’m only laughing for a moment. Yes, at some point before bed I will have to concentrate on a 12′ x 12′ section and attempt the impossible. It will be a clean patch that I will celebrate for 2 minutes in the am before it is littered by hurricane # 1 or hurricane # 2


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