Don't Toy With Me

August 23, 2013
Lately the family room is filled with so many toys, stuffed animals and teeny pieces of plastic, it's starting to resemble the ball pit in an Ikea. La Principessa stumbled into a tottering pile once, which swallowed her whole. It took a good three minutes of slipping and sliding into the morass -- like we were skating on ballbearings -- to fish her out. We've tried tossing abandoned play things cold turkey -- they always find their way back. We still have Teen Spirit's foot-shaped teething ring. He hasn't chewed anything but burgers for awhile now.

Years ago, in an attempt to start paring down the excess, we explained to Teen Spirit how he didn't need to play with baby toys anymore, that he hadn't touched that plastic phone in over a year, why not give it to other little kids that could enjoy it. We decided to donate it to the local coffee shop which kept a store of such things on hands for kids to pass the time while their parents gassed up on high octane coffee drinks. He nodded solemnly and agreed. We ceremoniously brought a small box to our friends at Hyperion Espresso. And we basked in the rosy glow of our little one's mature generosity and community spirit. I must admit to feeling smugly content at all that good will I was midwifing. Actually, more smug about my awesome parenting -- look him in the eye, don't talk down to him, quietly explain, he'll understand and grow as a person. Ahem. I snapped out of that delusion pretty fast. My bubble burst the next time we visited Hyperion and we encountered a sweet little kid playing with "that phone that looks just...like...mine." Uh oh. He could make out his own name Sharpied on the bottom and lost his mind on the spot. We haven't thrown out any toys since then.

For awhile in his younger days, Teen Spirit liked to carry around five or six of his very favorite playthings -- they were with him at all times tied to a long string. Some of them weren't proper toys -- more like odds and ends, kitchen implements, other little items he found interesting and could add to the growing landscape of toy piles around the house.  He would tie a belt or long string or ribbon around each toy, then another toy and another about six inches apart. After some experimentation, he settled on dragging around his Dad's bathrobe belt that was fastening a whisk, part of a plastic crane, a mini hockey stick, an action figure and a spatula. You could hear him coming a mile away ---clomp scrape clomp scrape clomp. I always felt like Jacob Marley was tracking me down around the house. Teen Spirit eventually tired of tying one on and dragging his treasures behind him.  He then started to merely carry his one or two special items. The crane piece became Yellow Thing, but that's a different story.

Just recently I was gathering up a few little stuffed animals, meant for infants to hug and chew on. And there was Little Cow. Teen Spirit owned about six cows -- stuffed, plastic, short, tall --- who all ended up out to pasture in the deep recesses of a closet; all except Little Cow, who was still a free-range toy all these years later. It was a sacrifice but he let La Principessa slobber all over Little Cow when she was a baby.

So Teen Spirit came upon me holding the toy, trying desperately to will myself to add it to the "Donate" pile. I spotted him and put the cow in the box fast. He ran over, 'Hey, my Little Cow, What are you DOING? I still like this." and he plopped it on a shelf in his room. "But you're a freshman in high school. Do you really still want Little Cow?" I asked.  We smiled at each other.  I turned to leave and still had to wade though piles to get out of the room.My feet were caught up on some dress-up clothes and a Barbie but I was secretly thankful that Little Cow had won a reprieve.

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