When I was pregnant with my first daughter, I became prey to the endless array of children’s gear, clothing, and toys marketed to parents as if they would be negligent if they did not purchase it. One evening, while watching Saturday Night Live and realizing that the commercials, marketed at young parents like myself who were too tired to go out on a Saturday night, and too lazy to find a babysitter, were for Barbie Dolls and Transformers (has nothing changed???) , I took a stance, and made a definitive decision that I would never let “kids’ stuff” take over my house. Kids don’t need much, I told the magazines as I flipped through them, trying hard not to fold down the corners of pages with cute stuff I liked.
Another kid, ten dolls, a hundred books, and a billion Lego pieces later, I am often unable to find the living room carpet because of all the toys. Some were gifts, some were bought in moments of weakness at the toy store across the street on rainy days, and many were hand-me-downs, but, there’s no two ways about it; our house is bursting with kids’ stuff. And worse – it is bursting with stuff that refuses to be contained or maintained in any semblance of order.
So it is with little choice that I wage constant war. I am the general of a one-woman army fighting against a tireless team that wickedly employs the best of guerilla warfare. They’re good. They go after the tiny stuff. The Thumbelina-sized pieces of the Russian dolls. The little orange spoons from the tea-set. The littlest boot from the wooden doll’s dress-up doll. And their hiding spots are inspired. In the bowels beneath beds and cribs, inside the deep crevices between the pillows of the couch, in minuscule bags placed inside larger bags placed within boxes wrapped in blankets. How they test me!
After bed-time, I transform. If only I knew how to sew, I’d make myself a costume. Just call me “Super-Finder.” Or “Stuff-Buster.” Anyway, my days end under couches and tables, ear to the floor, on the war-path, obsessed with finding each toy and placing it in its proper location. I go through boxes and bags of toys, looking for missing pieces from other sets. Each night, I attempt to impose order, and each morning, they’re back at it, seemingly innocent, strewing chaos in their wake.
Is this the nature of mother and children? For them to be pushing, constantly, against whatever boundaries we have erected to define our lives? For them to endlessly challenge the structures we have imposed, until, one evening, in the midst of the chaos, exhausted, we lay ourselves down, and begin to question those very boundaries and structures? What would happen if, one evening, and perhaps the following, I left the mess? If I allowed chaos to sink its claws deeper into my skin? If I relinquished some control, and then some more, handing it over to them, so that, one day, I would have no choice but to say – it is beyond me, I cannot find it, I cannot reach it, and you must search for it yourself?
Children have a way of spreading into our corners, hiding little pieces in our deepest places. And when, on those weary evenings, we search ourselves, we often find that which we didn’t know belonged, and, in the process of striving to maintain our inner home, our very rooms expand.