I’ve been saving all of my change for my son’s future. Every nickel and penny count, because therapy is expensive and Bear Boy will most definitely need it. You think I am kidding. Yes, but only a bit. I’m sure there is a twelve step program for what ails him. Granted, he is only six, but someday I fully expect him to stand at a podium in a crowded room and say, “Hi. My name is Bear and I’m a hoarder.”
In the spirit of full disclosure, I too have been known to squirrel all sorts of things away. From the time I could write and lick a stamp, I saved every birthday card, letter and note passed in the hall. I had a mammoth accordion folder for all of them and I was about thirty five before I tossed any of them. Who needs a poorly written letter from a one-time Greek pen pal or a birthday card from a grade school classmate you don’t even remember? In my time I have collected music boxes, stuffed animals, elephants (clearly, not real ones), yarn pom-poms, rocks, journals and books. Eventually, much of it was stashed away in my Auntie’s and Uncle’s farm house attic and duly forgotten for a decade or two.
I suspect a lot of us have complicated relationships with our stuff. What constitutes a treasure and what is junk? Have the recycling campaigns and eco-friendly initiatives slowed our propensity for consumption? In college, my roommate, Beth, and I had an ongoing battle over the garbage can in our dorm room. It was good natured enough and I even wrote a poem about it titled Garbage Wars. The folks in my creative writing class thought it was a commentary on the environment and our abuse of the planet. It was really just a frothy little poem about which of us, Beth or I, would be the one to put the last piece of trash in the can that made the whole pile topple over. Later, during that college semester spent in Sevilla, Sasha, Jen and I shared a room roughly the size of a Volkswagen Bug. We kept all of our things neatly compartmentalized in a series of plastic bags hung over the bedposts. There might be trail mix in one bag, pens and stationary in another, dirty laundry in a third, trash in a fourth and so on. Our elderly house mother, Pepita, liked to swoop into our room and clean while we were at class. I suspect poor sweet Pepita was suffering from the early stages of dementia, because, during one memorable cleaning frenzy, she scooped up all of our little bags and tossed them down the trash shoot. Jennifer was the unlucky soul who ended up in the basement dumpster trying to retrieve her laundry.
It wasn’t until I married Dear Hubby and became a homeowner paying for trash service that I really paid attention to the amount of rubbish we produce. If you add a couple of diaper-wearing toddlers, it’s overwhelming. Granted we’ve outgrown the diaper stage, and we are diligent recyclers, but the volume of refuse a family of four can produce in a week is still mind boggling. There are days that it seems our home is situated on the corner of Consumption Junction and Dump-orama Drive.
At this point, I feel I should clarify that Bear Boy’s hoarding tendencies stem not from rampant and unchecked consumerism, but from a compelling Go Green curriculum at his former preschool. Dear Hubby has threatened to sue the preschool in an effort to recoup the future cost of Bear’s therapy. It is a wonderful program really, aside from the resulting hoarding compulsion. One of the best bits of the program is a big container into which they toss lunch scraps to a battalion of hungry composting worms. In the spring they work that tub of rich organic worm love into the community garden that grows potatoes for local food shelves. They also take nature walks where they follow animal tracks and scat like little detectives on the hunt for clues. They make puppets from old socks and communal works of art from recycled bits and bots. There are monthly gatherings where they get up to untold Go Green mischief. Imagine a roomful of tots dressed like Mao chanting, “Reduce! Reuse! Recycle!”* Bear attended said preschool for two years and in that time he became so adverse to anything that could not be reused or recycled that it borders on manic. He has been known to weep, truly weep, over trash.
To be fair, Bear has been collecting since he began walking, sticks mostly, then rocks and other backyard ephemera. At first it was sort of cute. He saves used popsicle sticks to build castle walls in his sandbox. Two pound coffee containers and two liter soda bottles are fashioned into tunnels for his train set. Cardboard boxes are transformed into cars and castles.
He probably inherits some of these tendencies from his father. Just this past Christmas, Dear Hubby wrapped up all of his own childhood Tonka toys and gifted them to Bear and Goose. Fingering the levers on a forty year old Tonka crane, Bear whispered reverently, “These are treasures to me.” Now Bear plans to save all of his own toys for his future children. Certainly, that is all very well and sweet. But the first time he asked to save his empty juice box I knew we were in trouble. I said no. “But Mommy, I really, really, really, really, reeeeeeeeeeeeally need to keep it in my collection.” I was thinking of sticky residue and mold when he initiated operation temper tantrum. In a bid for a rapid resolution, I capitulated. Sadly, I was shortsighted and foolhardy and a precedent was set. Now, if he doesn’t see a recycling basket at fast food joint or birthday party, he insists that we bring his plate and cup home to our recycling bin. And when this boy began monitoring what we throw away, it became a bit much. I can tell you, it is more than a little eerie when Bear appears out of nowhere, just as I am tossing a bag of trash in the can, and demands to know what’s in the bag. “Bear, it’s just trash.” “What kind of trash?” “What do you mean, what kind?! Just trash!” “But what’s in there? What are you throwing away?” “Oh for pity’s sake, I don’t know Bear! Just egg shells and old tissues and junk.”
One wretched day, I realized that I had melted his new plastic water container in the dishwasher. My attempt to stash it under a milk jug in the recycling was discovered. A maelstrom of recriminations, accusations and ultimatums ensued. “Mommy, you can never throw anything away ever again, never, never, as long as I live! It is illegal to throw anything away! I hate trash! You are ruining my life! The garbage truck is never allowed to come to our house again! Garbage is illegal!” I thought we’d never come back from that one. Truly. It was only when I suggested that he hold on to his melted plastic container that he took a breath. Now he displays it on a shelf with his other prized collection pieces – an antler, some shells and rocks, and a beaver skull. He calls it recycled sculpture. The kid is only six years old. What am I going to do with him? So, this Christmas, when Bear said he planned to keep all of the wrapping paper and bows from every single gift he received, Dear Hubby and I didn’t protest. We duly saved swatches of wrapping from each package. Bear hung on them on his bedroom wall.
*Disclaimer: Clearly I am drunk with my own propensity for exaggeration. It’s a lovely school. Really. Goose goes there now and we LOVE the teachers, especially the ones who might be reading this.