Thursday, October 14, 2010

Wanted: Atonement

I abhor clutter. It goes along with my mildly anxious temperament, which I try to delicately balance in this crazy busy world by intense periods of quiet and solitude, sporadic yoga practice, and a home in which everything has its place. In addition, I grew up with a mother who seemed to be totally unaffected by sentimentality over anything old or used, her belief that anything could be replaced at anytime, and that nothing should be saved, because when you die, your treasures become someone else’s responsibility, which translates in most cases to garbage. As a result, I am very fickle with my possessions, and when something new comes in, something old must go.

I also have children. Children who, as I did as a child and before I knew better, save every chewed-on pencil eraser they have put their fingers on and every drawing on scrap paper they have created. Anything that comes into their possession is regarded by them as a part of their lives forever. Until they were old enough to clean their own rooms and do a generally satisfactory job of keeping their personal spaces neat and tidy, the task fell to me, who quickly boxed up and gave away or threw away everything they had ever cherished or wore or played with. Rare, semi-valuable objects of theirs were crated, labeled, and stored with the intention of being passed on to my children when they are adults and can more realistically decide what to do with them.

In recent months, my children have been bringing an alarming number of things into their bedrooms that they want to save. Whole mobile homes made out of shoe boxes for miniature stuffed animals, piles of scrap paper bearing the words “Good job!” and “Try better next time!” that they use when playing school, and large posterboards scrawled with pictures that are rolled into tubes. Not to mention the junk made from garbage like cereal boxes and egg cartons that are held together with pieces of tape and rubber bands filched from my desk drawer. A rubber ball stuck through with safety pins. Polyfill pulled from an opening in the gut of a stuffed pig is piled inside a shallow box and serves as a bed for a small toy squirrel. All this Junk is stored under their beds and on every flat surface, mocking the neatnik in me and daring me to put it into a bag and rid my soul of it forever.

Today is garbage day, and I did just that.

Maybe it finally got to me, or maybe it was that I felt that the children had earned enough time with and grew creatively enough from their art pieces, but I quickly and carefully bagged up exactly one garbage bag full so as not to alarm their animal-like acuity in sensing when things go awry in their bedroom-dens. I buried their treasures under real garbage like used tissues and meat packaging, and created garbage like shredded paper.

I would be lying if I said that I didn’t feel a little bad about it, but man, these kids are packrats. Nothing falls through their sticky fingers. And don’t think for a minute that that my children are helpless victims: they fight back with every shred of manipulation and excuse in their shrewdly sympathetic arsenal. Once I found a tag off of a new shirt displayed in the center of a pile of rubber bands on my son’s dresser. After I tried to throw the tag away, my son fished it out of the garbage can and informed me that he was saving it. For what purpose, I couldn’t imagine, but he explained it was from a shirt that he placed a high importance on wearing, and that it was obtained at a time in his life that he wanted to remember forever, and this makeshift shrine was exactly the way he wanted to display it. He told me once that he likes to have everything sitting out that he owns so that he can look at it. My husband told me the same thing once. Not to worry – there are a couple of Sports Illustrateds lying around that will be meeting their demise in a black garbage bag, and soon. I will figure out how bad I need to feel about that later.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Soul, Depleted

I think that raising kids to be decent human beings is one of the hardest things a person is ever asked to do.  It’s constant, and can often feel not unlike banging your head against a rock.  On good days, the angels sing, and on bad days, the most stanch and unfaltering mothers will weep.  On particularly bad days, I think raising children is like having your soul sucked right out of your body, just like the Dementors do in the Harry Potter book series.  I’ve read that the author, JK Rowling, wrote about these creatures when reflecting on a period of severe depression, but maybe this depiction could be a sub-conscious metaphor that she used, because as everybody knows she was a single mom when she wrote those books.  If I, a married mother of two half-grown children with no outside job to speak of, at times regards her offspring as soul-sucking zombies that thrive only by depleting her, then I’m sure the creator of Harry Potter felt the same way while she was busy working, writing, and raising a child.  Can I get a Hells Yeah, JK Rowling?

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

To Whom It May Concern

I feel no pressure to own a super-smart, robot-brained cellphone.  All the ads for new cellphones - apparently mostly smart phones - confuse me.  I mean, as soon as a new one comes out, another one slides in to take its place.  And the deals.  Oh, the deals.  You get a free one with one and if you sign up family members, they get theirs for free, too.  The monthly plans ensure you never have to talk to another person face-to-face again, and the fee only approximates your non-dominant arm and maybe one leg up to the knee. 

I've owned a cellphone for most of my adult life, and my current one is a pre-paid phone with no camera and simple texting features, and less-than-average coverage/larger-than-average dead zones.  It's about three years old, and it's fine for me; I do not employ an entourage who needs me to be at the ready with my phone in a hip holster.  I can go a day without being contacted when I'm out and about; there are not any people in this world who cannot go about their lives or do their jobs without contacting me first.

I understand that I am in the minority.  I see people all around me who text or talk while driving, while eating dinner with their parents, families, and friends, on vacation, even at weddings and funerals.  I have long ago realized that I do not want to be at anyone's disposal anywhere, at any hour of the day or night just because my cellphone is on.  Because of this and my pay-as-you-talk plan, which can really add up, I rarely give my cell phone number out to anyone.  The following is an example of a response I give to people who want to talk to me via cellphone instead of other more obscure ways, such as telephone, email, mailed communication, or real live conversation:

I can give you my cell number, but please use it as a last resort, because I have horrible cell service and if you have to leave a message, I probably won’t get until a week later.  My husband is always on me to get an iPhone or something, and I always feign ignorance on how this newfangled technology works and how it would be a complete waste of money because I would never really learn all the functions on a new gadget.  Actually, the truth is I hardly use my cellphone because if I did, my husband would call me incessantly to ask me to do menial tasks for him while he is at work, and I’d rather not be his secretary.  Plus, I never keep my cellphone in the same place – it gets lost a lot – and it would be a shame to lose it with a message from you on it.  I can also give you my husband’s cell number, but please call from an unlisted number, because he will store your number in his phone and might try to call you at an odd time to ask you to fill up the propane tank for the grill.