One of the consequences of moving to Australia is a fairly, no very, severe culling of our belongings.
For example, do we really need to take the files containing bank statements going back to the 1980s that fill our landing bookcases? Or how about the set of espresso cups and saucers that, after five years of living in our home, remain untouched on the top shelf of a kitchen cupboard?
Questioning whether something has sufficient emotional value to pack it away and take it half way around the world with you is a good test of what you find important.
For the children the process is necessarily much harder.
Everything is ‘special’. Regardless of whether it is broken, incomplete or just plain redundant.
Throwing anything away has become a nightmare. I resort to secretively going through their bedrooms looking for items that can be easily discarded without detection.
Chief amongst these are old comics. The numerous and various items previously attached to the front of said old comics. And McDonalds Happy Meal toys.
Secreted away in black sacks which are then removed on an almost daily basis to the dump. Which is fine. Easy. When I’m alone.
When I am not, however, the potential for problems, and conflict is, enormous.
Standing at the head of the steps to the ‘bagged waste for energy production’ skip last week I threw the penultimate of the many bags of rubbish that had filled the back of our people mover into the enormous bucket.
Our eight year old son was at the foot of the steps, having collected the last of the bags from the car boot. In releasing the bag from its resting place he had nudged the top open. He stood looking up at me, confusion on his face.
“You can’t throw this away!” He exclaimed. “It’s special!”
The recycling centre was busy and his stance at the foot of the steps was causing quite an obstruction. I therefore took him to one side. We both looked at the toy protruding from the top of the bag. A pull along toy telephone, with a smiley face, the bell of which tinkled as it was pulled across the floor.
It wasn’t even his. It had been his sister’s.
Joining our family when she was eighteen months old she had initially been interested in, but soon grown out of, ‘baby’ toys such as this.
“How can you throw it away!” Our son exclaimed loudly.
“When did either of you last play with it?” I retorted.
“Umm..” Our son hesitated.
“Where has it been kept?”
“Uhh.” He was on the back foot now.
“At what point will you play with it once we are in Australia?”
“That’s not the point. It’s special. We should keep it.” Our little boy knew he was beaten but wasn’t going down without a fight. One last tug at the heartstrings.
“We only have so much room in the container. Would you rather we keep this and leave out some of your Star Wars toys?” My final argument struck home.
“Oh no, bin it then. Star Wars is MUCH more special.”
There are clearly degrees of ‘special’.
This exchange made me consider our son’s attitude to possessions.
A little while ago I met one of the child protection social workers who had been involved with our son at the very beginning of his coming to the notice of social services.
She described for me the conditions in which he lived from a first hand perspective.
In a single room.
Having no toys with which to play.
Parents who were oblivious of him. Moving around the room as if he were not there. Ignoring his pleas for attention. Knocking him over when he got in their way.
That story put into perspective our son’s desire for possessions.
He will fixate on obtaining an item. A toy. A book. A DVD.
To him the chosen object is the most important thing in the world. He must have it. His life is incomplete without it. No matter how trivial (and luckily most are both trivial and therefore inexpensive), he needs it to fulfill his existence.
Yet so often, once he obtains said item. Through a present, perhaps bought to reward good behaviour. Perhaps bought with his own pocket money. He discards it.
He doesn’t play with it. Read it. Watch it. Knowing he has is enough. His desire fulfilled. His thirst quenched. He moves on to his campaign for the next item.
This can be very frustrating. J in particular finds it irritating. Equating our son’s treatment of the item as expendable with a disrespect for property.
To an extent this is true. At least in the sense that it’s the perception of behaviour that’s often so much more important than its intent.
So we try to teach our son to appreciate the items he’s given. The toys, books and films he acquires. To recognize they have value. A purpose.
But we also remember that to him once they are in his possession their purpose is to a large extent fulfilled.
In obtaining the item he has been noticed. His existence recognized. His place in our family confirmed. Our affection affirmed. His deep seated fear of being ignored assuaged.
Until the next time.