Wednesday is my day off. All that really means is that on Wednesday I get to be lazy all day, as opposed to other days, when I am lazy until I realize I am late for something. My Wednesday often consists of laundry, grocery shopping and straightening up (which, in case you didn’t know, is the slob’s word for “making it look clean without actually cleaning it.” I mean, sure there’s nothing on the floor, but my feet stick to it. But the room is “straightened up.” Get it?).
So as I hauled an obscene amount of clothing to the basement to toss in the washer, I realized that every toy I’ve ever purchased was strewn across the floor, as if my children were trying to build some sort of fort with Jenga and Thomas and Dr. Suess’ greatest hits. So I packed the mass of clothing in the wash (and no, I didn’t separate it — what a colossal waste of time) and decided to tackle the mess.
Now, I do usually make my kids pick up. But they are 3 and 7. And just like my husband, when putting things away, they do it WRONG. Things have a place people. That’s why I bought this bin for train tracks and these fancy schmancy canvas totes for the hodge-podge of toys you play with. But, and don’t tell Jim, I think I secretly enjoy my occasional need to re-organize the things that have already been put away. Probably because it takes more effort than straightening up, and hence, I am not a slob when doing it.
So I get to it, tracks in the bin, books on the shelf, blankets folded up and put away, Lincoln Logs shoved back in the container that is somehow, someway still in one piece. Jenga in the Jenga bin (another tangent here — Jenga is the best toy ever, as I explained earlier. But seriously, best toy ever. If you have to go to a baby shower, bring the Mom-to-be some Jenga. She won’t appreciate it right away, but in a few years, she’ll think you are a genius). But it was when I got to the bunches of mix-and-match puzzle pieces scattered about near and underneath the cabinet where they belong that I realized that the reason my kids have so much crap isn’t because they love it so. It’s because I won’t let it go.
The puzzles were by far the best examples of this. My sons have several cheap puzzles, the most notable a counting puzzle from WalMart. A simple line of 25 cardboard pieces that stick together, and when you are done, you have a train being inexplicably engineered by a lion, carrying around cars with objects in them. 1 beach ball, 2 baseballs, 3 pieces of pie, etc. A closer look shows there is truly nothing fun about this puzzle. Make a line. The end. But not only do I have it, but I always carefully put it away in its original box and place it carefully back on the shelf. Why?
The answer — this cheap little gift represents some of the hardest parts of parenting I ever encountered. I was a single Mom, strapped for cash and forced to move in with Mom and Dad just to make ends meet, when I bought this toy for my eldest son, Hank. It still has the $4 price tag on it. This cheap puzzle, along with a few other WalMart specials, made up my son’s second Christmas. It was the best I could do. But to him, it was the best in the world. He was not yet 2. A box full of colorful nonsense was just about heaven.
As Hank got older, he ignored the puzzle, occasionally pulling it apart then walking away from it. And each time, I put it carefully away. It followed us after Jim and I moved in together, then from there to the last house, and from that house to this one. George eventually found it, and again was astounded by this colorful, lion-driving train of weird. But now, all he does is pull it out, dump it, and walk away. Yet still, when it’s time for me to pick up, I carefully place it back in the box.
Every few months Jim and I go through the toys. We find the lame McDonald’s Happy Meal toys and things that are battered and broken beyond repair, and we toss them. When we stumble upon something the kids don’t even remember they have, we quietly push it to the bottom of the garbage can, lest the kids notice we threw it away and it suddenly becomes their favorite toy ever. Occasionally, toys we simply hate end up “lost.” But this puzzle remains.
I guess I don’t know what exactly I am holding on to — a reminder of what it means to struggle, a reminder of my kids’ youth, a reminder of my own youth. Hell, maybe I am just fascinated because the engineer of the train is a LION. But I straightened the house today. And I have a fabulous little colorful counting train puzzle put away, again, in the basement.