The next few months are stressful for me. It starts tomorrow. American holidays are the epitome of conspicuous consumption. Tomorrow night, my little elves will dress up like Bat Girl and Spider Girl and tromp around town, with pillow cases cluthched in their hands,collecting insane amounts of candy. They will fall asleep in the car ride home, their mouths smeared with chocolate. They will eat candy for breakfast, lunch, and dinner for several days. I will stress out about hyperactivity and cavities until I stress-eat a significant pile of chocolate from their stashes. Then it will be all gone and we will forget about candy consumption for another year. Simple solution: I ate my problem.
Just a few, short months later, conspicuous consumption rears its ugly head again. As the Christmas holiday nears I will perform my own annual ritual; a sign of the season. I call it the toy cleanse. I perform this ritual at least twice a year, usually before the girls' birthdays and before Christmas. In order to find space for the new toys, I must say good bye to others. Yes, I have seen Toy Story and the sequel. I don't feel bad. While the girls are watching TV and Andy is at work, I will comb through bins and bags and under beds, chucking broken toys, outgrown toys, and toys that have never been touched. I'll work quickly and quietly to ensure that no one, big or small, catches me in the act. If I am lucky, the bags will make it out the door, and to the trash or donation spot, before any items are pulled out and returned to the toy box or, if Andy gets his hands on it, the office or garage.
Besides making room for the bizarrely insane amount of crap that will infilatrate our house at Christmas, why do I do it, you ask? It brings me inner peace and serentity, mostly. Also because I believe in simplifying our lives. Yes, I buy into that crunchy business that kids will engage more if they have less toys and toys that don't do the work for the kids. Just like in the olden days, I believe that creativity is sparked by engagement with simple objects. Connections are made with wooden toys, toys with fewer parts, less plastic, less flashy lights, less gadgety, gimmicky, flashy. When I was a kid (When we walked up hill both ways to get to school. When we rode horse and buggy. When we got one Barbie for Christmas.) my cousin and I pretended that the rocks in my grandmother's field were our houses and a rock and a piece of wood were our cameras. We played for hours. I don't ever recall watching TV or playing video games with her. It was me, her, and our imaginations. You know that book, Not a Box? Yeah, that's such a good book. Who needs Polly Pocket or XBox or an iPad when you can have a big, cardboard box?
In the Golden Age, also known as my childhood, I didn't have a lot of toys and those that I did have, I coveted. I collected and cared for my toys. I lined them up and put them on display. I combed my My Little Ponies hair with love, braided their manes with care. I cut photos of porcelain dolls out of Parade magazine and glued them into a scrapbook that I carried around with me in my purse. My eyes lit up with excitement when I added another Lisa Frank sparkly panda to my sticker book. I was the coolest kid on the block (I was also the only kid on the block) with my Caboodles filled with lap bracelets and feather hair clips. I loved these things so much that I still have most of them today. And mostly, I have them becuase my mom packed them away and stored them for 25 years.
I like to think that my own children, like me, would be much happier if I gave them a box or a book of stickers. I like to hope that they would be smarter, and healthier, and better behaved if I wrapped up a piece of wood for Christmas instead of getting Caroline an iPhone, as she has requested weekly. What I have learned about my children, expecially Char, is that it doesn't matter if it is an expensive, flashy, gimmicky toy or if it is a leftover box. They don't care about either. Here's what they want, and what they want to do with it.
Anything that doesn't belong to them. Like my shoes, or my money, my phone, my wallet, or my jewelry. They want to drag it around the house and then leave it under the couch.
Knives- large ones that they use to cut up my 30 year old board games.
Pens and markers. To write on the walls with, duh!
Car keys, to lose down a grate.
The TV remote. To hide in a closet under a bunch of stuff and then totally forget about.
DVDs, to scrape along the floor and crack into little pieces.
Anything glass, to, you guessed it!-bang along the floor and break into little pieces.
My treadmill, also known as a jungle gym.
Q-tips for throwing all over the floor.
Vaseline for rubbing all over their bodies, the toilet seat, and on door knobs.
Me. No batteries required. No flashy lights. I'm way cooler than an iPad and just as boring as a box. But they always seem to want me and my attention. I'm funner than any toy and I stand the test of time. I'm been found amusing to an infant, a toddler, and even a seven year-old. Lucky me, because I'm free, I don't take up too much space, and I even help clean up after they are done playing with me. I think I'll slap a bow on my head and sit under the tree this year.