Child’s Treasure Box – Stories by Sally Honeycutt, Katie Sadler-Stephenson, Sonya Tinsley-Hook, and Michelle Bishop
Sally Honeycutt – Treasure vs. Garbage
One morning my family, as usual, was running late. Instead of getting ready, my children were having a bitter and ugly property dispute. There were lots of unkind words, the sort that can only come from someone who knows what will really hurt. I decreed that since they couldn’t be nice about it, no one could have it. Seeing how the kids reacted to that, their father took inspiration from Solomon and passed judgment that the gloating child would get nothing and the tearful child could keep it.
And what was the treasure that sparked all of this dissension?
The cardboard flap that is ripped out when you open a box of tissues.
This was the cause of the fighting and the decrees and the sobbing and now the sulking. I didn’t want to be late, and frankly I liked my initial decision to recycle the cardboard flap. But I wanted to de-escalate things, so I calmly explained to my six-year old child that she could have it for now, but that before the end of the day, the cardboard would need to go into the recycling bin.
“Because it’s garbage, and I don’t want our house to be messy and full of garbage.”
“But I want to make it into a computer.” (And here she folded it along the crease, like a laptop.) “I’m reusing it to make something.”
“Honey, I know that sounds like fun, and I love that you want to make something creative with it. But we don’t have time right now, and you need to get ready so we can go, and I’m worried that it will just wind up being garbage and not a computer.”
I was feeling kind of good about how calm and how patient I was being. And then my daughter said, “It makes me feel bad when you call something I like garbage.”
It makes me feel bad when you call something I like garbage.
Several speakers in this series on the treasures of our lives have touched on the sometimes complicated relationship between treasure and hoarding. My kids would gladly set themselves up like a dragon in her lair, with vast mountains of treasure to hoard. They have an expansive concept of what counts as treasure.
One has her BOB – her book of books – which is a list all of the books she reads. I look at that BOB, and I see her curiosity and her imagination, her thirst for both knowledge and escape. I also see a reflection of my own childhood self, happily lost in books. It’s easy for me to treasure that BOB.
One has a cup full of feathers, and she can name every bird that they came from. I look at those feathers, and I see how observant she is and how determined as she learns the names of the birds. I didn’t learn to name birds till I was an adult, and I love that her world is bigger than mine was. It’s easy for me to treasure those feathers.
They have a collection of Shopkins, small plastic objects whose sole purpose seems to be for children to collect. I can’t quite say that I like the Shopkins, but I get the appeal of naming, and sorting, and organizing. It’s easy for me to recognize the Shopkins as treasure.
But what about those Kleenex boxes? What about the magazine subscription cards, the little plastic hang tags that connect new pairs of socks, the empty floss containers? What about the many small plastic smoothie bottles that flew, on an airplane, from Maryland back to Georgia? I would ask what their grandmother was thinking, but I already know. “It makes them happy, and it doesn’t hurt anything. Who cares?” When they arrived home and pulled the bottles out of their suitcases, they confidently assured us that the bottles were clean—run through the dishwasher even—and that they had worked out a fair distribution of the loot. No spoiled milk, no arguing, all parental objections preempted.
But those empty smoothie bottles still look like garbage to me. I’m not sure how to balance my children’s desire to collect with my desire not to have my home full of garbage. When I originally wrote that sentence, it said “hoard,” not “collect.” Only when I read it aloud did I hear the pejorative in hoard and change it. And there’s still that word “garbage.”
It makes me feel bad when you call something I like garbage.
(If any of you wiser or more experienced people have some advice for me on this one, please grab me in the social hall or on the playground.)
It’s easy to lift up and celebrate the treasures that reflect back who we are, or who we want to be, or that we at least recognize. It’s not so easy to figure out what to do about the treasures that look like garbage. Right now, I’m talking about literal garbage, not garbage as metaphor for my children’s values and decisions. But I know that one day I may need to celebrate some treasure that I can’t put in a recycling bin, but that I could still mistake for garbage.
At this age, with our very literal treasures, I’m not aiming for celebration, but I am aiming for some acceptance. Within limits. The deal I’ve offered is that I’ll throw away or recycle anything on the floor that looks like garbage to me. But if it’s put away, it’s not garbage. And I won’t call it garbage. It’s a work in progress. We’ll see how it goes.
Katie Sadler-Stephenson – Treasure Stuffies
In June I posted on Facebook that my 8 and a half year old daughter, Miriam, came home from camp with 34 stuffed animals, or stuffies, as she calls them. See for yourself:).
Yes, that is me covered in stuffies. Miriam likes to point out that she only got 30 at camp; she actually took 4 with her to camp.
We are a house overrun with stuffed animal and other toys. Judge all you want, I’ve given up on the mommy wars and just don’t care anymore.
I interviewed Miriam about her stuffies yesterday.
Me: Do you love all of your stuffies?
Miriam: All of them, every single one.
Me: Why are they treasures?
Her: Because I play with them and I love my cats too.
Her: They are fun. And Cassie can fly.
Me: If you had to pick a favorite who would it be?
Her: That’s too hard of a question, but if I had to pick either Cassie or Baby Bear.
Me: What would you do if you lost them all?
Her: I’d cry and then snuggle with the kitties all night. Or if I had a thousand dollars I’d buy more stuffies.
Me: How did it feel when we took some away? (Sidenote, this happened about 2 years ago).
Her: Really bad. I missed them.
Me: Could we take some away right now?
Her: No, because I love them too much.
Me: What does it feel like to have something you love taken away?
Her: Really, really bad.
Me: What does that mean?
Her: It means that I don’t feel good.
I also asked Miriam if she prefers to buy her own stuffies or if someone gives one to her. She told me that she likes when someone gives one to her and said “it’s happy to get something you didn’t know you were going to get.” She also said she likes to trade her stuffies with her best friend at school so that they can each have a new friend.
The truth is that she does love them and they hold a lot of importance to her. She saves her money to buy things now or convinces a grandparent to do it (that’s where the 30 stuffies from camp came from). Sometimes we institute rules that for a new stuffy to come in an old one has to leave. But now we mostly rely on the fact that it’s her money and she just needs to be responsible for what she purchases.
These items have significance for her, and I think back to the physical things I have had for years that carry significance for me. I still have my 36 year old teddy bear and he sits in a place of honor on the dresser.
I moved a lot after my parents got divorced and it’s one of the few things I’ve had for my entire life – or what I can remember of it. So I can’t judge my child for the items that she loves.
But it is hard.
Because this child also loves every scrap of paper, cardboard box, piece of trash, and roll of tape. Every piece of art from school, here, camp, after school, and McDonald’s. And I just can’t.
Oh my goodness, I just can’t.
Can we please clean up the dining room table from everything? Can we clean the kitchen table? I have nowhere to eat people! Can you please get that paper and throw it away?!?!?!?!
These are often things you will hear at our house. Repeatedly.
This mama sneaks things into the trash. You may be sneaking things too, but me? I’m sneaking twisty ties from the bread bag!
And I can make so many jokes about it and make it seem funny, but it’s also hard and overwhelming.
Like the vast majority of 8 year-olds, Miriam is messy. So, so messy. And I have severe Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, inattentive type (meaning I’m not particularly hyper), along with some anxiety, two things that often go together.
What does this have to do with a messy kid? Well, it means that I’m pretty awful at cleaning and I also get overwhelmed by big giant messes. Yay me! Google ADHD and cleaning and you’ll get tons of helpful hints and stories around how hard it is. And it’s true. When Miriam’s room is totally trashed in that way that only children and college students can manage, I can’t walk into her room. When I think about trying to deal with it, it makes me want to cry, and sometimes I do. Which means that Kevin always has to deal with it. And he hates it too. But his executive function is chugging right along and he can help her break it down into bits and pieces of what to do that work for her.
Do I wish I had less clutter in my house? Of course. Do I get overwhelmed by it regularly? Yes. Do I try to declutter? Yes, I really do. Am I going to take away my child’s stuffies and paper and tape and scissors and fabric and and and and?
No. No, I’m not. I’m starting with her learning to clean up after herself – just like almost every other parent ever – but I’m not going to take these things away. Here’s why.
For every little thing I’ve mentioned, it’s not just that it’s a friend – those things have so much potential to her.
In my interview with Miriam she mentioned “Cassie” and said she was fun because she could fly. Now, imagine in your head what Cassie might be and I’m 99.9% certain that every single one of you is wrong.
Cassie is a flying otter. Yes, you heard me right, a flying otter.
Miriam decided that Cassie needed to fly and designed wings for her. Grandmom and Paw Pete, Kevin’s mom and stepdad, were in charge of fabrication.
Another favorite of Miriam’s is Flame.
Flame is a red fox with a wheelchair designed by Miriam and built by Miriam and Kevin.
This is Momo.
He is a character from Avatar: The Last Airbender. Momo is a flying lemur. He is made from paper, tape, bendy straws, and bobby pins.
This is a decoration Miriam made out of Christmas trash.
This is Dino Find, a board game Miriam created on her own, also from trash (she insists that my bag of paper scraps were not trash).
This is Curvby, a stuffy Miriam drew, cut out, and mostly sewed up herself.
So no, I’m not going to take away her stuffed animals that always have the potential to be more than they are. I’m not going to deny her the paper and tape that she can turn into just about anything. And I’ll even let her use some of my not so good fabric and my good fabric scissors. As long as she stays out of the trash can itself, I’m not going to stop her from rummaging around the house to find things to use creatively.
The truth is that one of my biggest treasures is seeing my child create and explore.
And that is what she is doing with all of these things. It’s how she is discovering the world and making it her own. And being able to watch that happen makes my own world a little bigger and brighter and I treasure her all the more for that.
Sonya Tinsley-Hook – “Letting Go In Order To Hold On”
To be a parent means being a guardian of treasures both literally and figuratively. Our children are not only the treasures of our lives but they also ask us to guard so many found treasures on their behalf. The special rocks and feathers, the drawings and the home-made art projects, the tiny toys that come from cereal boxes and birthday party treat bags. And, of course, let’s not forget the menagerie of stuffed animals.
It’s a standard rite of passage for moms to discuss, sometimes with humor, but often in desperation, how to manage the endless stream of treasures that find their way to the floors of our children’s rooms, or the inside of our purses (as in “Mommy, will you put this special ‘fill-in-the-blank’ in your bag for me so that I don’t lose it”). Many of these items we don’t even recognize as being treasures until we are accused in shrieks and tears of having thrown them away. “Mom! That was the perfect rock…or box…or sticker! I will never find a rock-box-sticker just like that one ever, ever again!” Or “But I was going to use that to make something!”
As my own daughter and treasure, Sophia, leaves elementary school and prepares to enter middle school in just two weeks (eek!), I must face the truth that my challenge is no longer simply managing all the treasures that she brings into my life and into our home…or even getting her to get rid of some of them to make room for new ones. My challenge has become letting go of the treasures that no longer matter to Sophia. Now I am the one who wants to save the favorite dolls that she no longer plays with, or the early writings full of charmingly misspelled words that she now finds embarrassing, the books that used to be her favorites.
Sophia is working relentlessly this summer to make her room look more like a room that is befitting of a rising 6th grader…grown-up, but not too grown-up. As she said to me last week, “Because I’m still a kid, you know, Mom!” Sophia is confident in her decisions about what can now be dropped off at the Goodwill, or given away to a delighted younger neighbor. Now I am the one who says “Oh no! You’re getting rid of your collection of old iPhone cases!? But you put so much time into it! It’s a treasure! You might want that again someday. Your child might want to see it!” Yeah, riiiight.
I know many parents come to this same stage and that I’m not unique in wanting to hold on to so many of my child’s once-treasured possessions. But I also know this rite of passage is complicated for me by what I experienced as the unexpected death of my father, a 44 year-old high school principal, when I was six years old…during my very first week of first grade. From that age onward, I was transformed into a person inclined to hoard souvenirs of treasured memories, physical things that would help me remember the ordinary moments of love and connection that I could once take for granted. Real things that I knew my adoring and adored father had actually touched or used or given to me. Proof that our short time together on earth really happened and was not just a very pleasant dream from which I was forced to wake up all too soon.
My challenge now is not to turn my daughter’s childhood treasure box into unwanted baggage that she has to cart around for the rest of her life because of my own early losses. Yes, my life has involved loss, but it has also overflowed most abundantly with treasure, not the least of which is being Sophia’s mother and being entrusted by both her and the Universe to guide her safely into adulthood.
In my search for wisdom about dealing with loss, I stumbled upon an essay* about the Hindu god, Lord Shiva, one of the three most important gods in the Hindu pantheon. Lord Shiva is the destroyer and the transformer, and as this essay states, even though he is the destroyer, “he has many things to do to keep the worlds going.” And I quote:
His [Shiva’s] first and foremost task is to destroy many things in order to ensure…the order of the universe. Shiva’s destruction is not negative. It is a positive, nourishing and constructive destruction that builds and transforms life and energy for the welfare of the world and the beings that inhabit it. He destroys in order to renew and regenerate. His destruction is the destruction of an artist, or a surgeon or a cook. Through destruction he facilitates the smooth transitions of things and events from one stage to another. He destroys our imperfections in order to ensure our spiritual progress…He destroys our old memories, so that we can move on with the movement of time.”
Taking a cue from this ancient and modern wisdom, I resolve to better prepare myself to let go of more of Sophia’s old treasures, so that we both have the space we need to create new ones. So that we too can thrive and “move on with the movement of time” in a healthy way. I must remember that the value of most treasures is not really to be found in their physical embodiment, but rather in the beautiful memories and positive emotions they call forth.
The poet Alice Walker once wrote, “Letting go in order to hold on, I understand how poems are made.”
Yes, letting go of what is no longer needed in order to hold on and make space for that which matters most. May this be so for all of uson.
*“Hindu God Lord Shiva (Siva) – the Destroyer” by Jayaram V at http://www.hinduwebsite.com/hinduism/siva.asp
Michelle Bishop – Perfectionism and Parenting
There are many amazing things about being a parent – but the worst thing about being a parent (for me at least) is that I almost never know if I am making the right choices. The choices that will help my children be better, kinder, more thoughtful adults. Sometimes however – I do see how my choices affect my daughters – and sometimes it breaks my heart.
Two years ago, on a beach on Florida’s panhandle I had an epiphany. This was about halfway through my journey towards becoming a credentialed religious educator and I had just finished working through some heavy introspection. You know, the kind that helps you understand why you have come to congregational work and how to stay with it in a long-lasting way. The piece I had been working through most recently was the short and long-term ramifications of my conflict management style.
When you look up conflict avoidance in a dictionary – you might find my picture. Granted, I could have told you that going into the process – but what I hadn’t realized was just how many strategies I had developed / or how good I had gotten at avoiding conflict. What I could have told you going in was that; I am the least likely person to go ask a question of someone I don’t know. I avoid people I find unpredictable, and that I would rather be uncomfortable than cause conflict in a relationship.
What I didn’t realize was that, when I can’t physically avoid conflict, I work to minimize it. I am a control freak, controlling my surroundings to minimize surprises and sources of conflict. Lastly, and most importantly for today, I am a perfectionist. For me, perfectionism is all about the idea that if I don’t make any mistakes there is nothing for anyone to criticize. From the dictionary “Perfectionism is a disposition to regard anything short of perfection as unacceptable, especially the setting of unrealistically demanding goals accompanied by a disposition to regard failure to achieve them as unacceptable and a sign of personal worthlessness.” Perfectionism is a trap – it is the belief that we can earn love, respect, happiness. From an employer standpoint – perfectionism, when kept in check, can be a good thing. The best benefit to perfectionism I have found that it gives me a foolproof answer anytime someone asks me what my greatest weakness is. The downside is that I find perfectionism calls me to focus on the wrong things and leads to binary either/or thinking.
So – back to our story – staying in a beach house with extended family for a week can be trying on anyone’s nerves. Or at least – if anyone out there has mastered this feat talk to me afterwards – I would love to hear how you do it. So, in order to have some space and because I love walking on the beach at night (from my never-ending freckles and fading reddish hair you might be able to tell that the sun is not my friend) my youngest daughter, Sarah, and I often went to collect seashells. We had a plan you see… a plan to collect tiny seashells and use them in ornaments for Christmas presents. I had it in my head that for the seashells to be the best choices they had to be in perfect condition. Occasionally I would pick up stunning pieces but then drop them back into the surf when I realized they weren’t “perfect.” I would like to say that I was bothered by this after just a few – but honestly it took many more and my daughter picking up a shell that was so utterly beautiful that she was compelled to show it to me before saying that it wasn’t perfect and dropping it without a second thought.
Before that moment, I thought that my issues, my worries, my problems were not negatively affecting my children. I came to the abrupt -walking into a wall- realization that I was transferring the strategies that helped me survive my own childhood onto my children and they were taking those same strategies as fact. Perfectionism leads to anxiety, depression, procrastination and often gets in the way of lasting relationships.
As a human – who is more prone to mistakes than I will ever be happy to admit I have had to concede that this is my war to fight and that sometimes I only recognize the battles after they are over. I am doing what I can to end my own perfectionism; accepting that there is often a middle ground between doing nothing and being perfect, setting realistic standards, asking for help, and taking time to be mindful of my choices as a person and as a parent.
What I did in that moment on the beach was stop – and think – and decide that beauty was more important than perfectionism. That evening and the next Sarah and I collected many more utterly beautiful shells. When we got home, Sarah decided to change the plan completely and placed them all in a cloche with some of the sand we collected as a reminder of our trip. Now this collection of the perfect and the imperfect but beautiful sits on display in my living room as a reminder of more positive choices.