Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Stuff, As Managed By A Three Year Old

My daughter Boo turned 3 last week.  For weeks we've been struggling with her emerging personality (because of course she doesn't act like me or my husband AT ALL oh no not even a little...) and we've just been worn out by the effort of Having A Child Who Is Three.

We were doing it wrong.  Totally.  100% Not Right Even A Little.  Last night, we got schooled.

Backstory:  Boo has a lot of stuff.  She has an area in our house, just off the kitchen, that will someday be a breakfast room or something but right now it's where her stuff is.  Our expectation is that at the end of the day, before bathtime, she will pick up her stuff and put it away.  We've asked around, and this is not an unreasonable expectation.

But she wasn't doing it.  We'd set the timer for a VERY generous amount of time, and she would just not pick up.  Anything that was left on the floor or wherever was "taken away" (read:  tossed into spare bedroom with exasperation and frustration).  About a week ago, I had HAD.IT. and I cleared out her playroom.  There was not a single toy in that room.  It was like after the Grinch Stole Christmas.

And she didn't care.  She was fine.  She didn't seem to miss her stuff at all.

We were devastated.  HOW did we get to this point, where our child was so S-P-O-I-L-E-D that she had no regard for her stuff; she had no concept of what it meant to take care of her stuff.  Her stuff was important, dammit, and HOW were we going to make that point?  How is she ever going to learn to appreciate and manage Her Stuff?

Last night, Mr. Incredible reached his limit and pulled out a big black garbage bag and started putting stuff in.  She wasn't going to pick up?  Fine.  She was going to watch AND HELP her stuff be put in that bag to give to other kids.  Fast forward 10 minutes, and all of her baby dolls (probably 5-6?) and their stuff, including the cradle, all of her dress-up clothes, some stuffed animals, the dollhouse that she'd received as a birthday gift the day before (?!) and on and on.  And she was fine.  No trauma, no meltdown.  She was fully aware that this bag of stuff was going to be given to other kids.

We were speechless.  I was in tears.  We CANNOT give all of this stuff away.  I was sad, and I told her that.  She was sorry I was sad, but was not sad herself.

Just after we'd tucked her in with more stern words about Learning The Value and Appreciating The Effort and all sorts of other BS that seemed important, she emerged from her room with a big smile, and said she needed to go to the bathroom.  She went, and I asked her why the Pink Bear she wanted to sleep with was so special, but the other stuff was not.  Here's what she said, as best as I can remember it, with no elaboration or embellishment by me:

"Mama, Pink Bear be's special because he's soft <insert cuddle of Pink Bear>.  The toys in the bag for other kids are for the other kids because the other kids can play with them and I have Pink Bear and Monkey and my stories and I like when we read stories and have songs and go places and that's good and tomorrow daddy's going to give the bag to other kids and I'll got Pink Bear and that's good."

Our jaws were on the floor.  Our three year old daughter was giving us a lesson on the value of the time we spend with her, the things that are important, and how we share with people who aren't as lucky as we are.

I was suspicious, I admit.  "She's setting us up," I told Mr. Incredible.  But she wasn't.  She was just telling us that the stuff is just stuff, and the things that were important were the things that make her feel happy.

Tonight we're going to go through the big black garbage bag together, and the stuff that she's ready to give to other kids?  She can (within appropriate reason, of course...).  The stuff that's important to her, that makes her happy, that she loves?  She will keep, and I'm interested to see how she takes care of it.

The lesson I took from this is that sometimes, it's just stuff.  When you're unable or unwilling or uninterested in taking care of your stuff, it's time to go through and keep what you love and pass along what you don't.

I'm reminded of George Carlin's fantastic bit about Stuff:

That's powerful stuff right there.

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