Monday, July 18, 2011

Less crap

Have you ever walked into a room upended by preschoolers, stared with mounting fury at the multitude of toys, toy parts, dolls and random crap strewn about the floor and felt a nearly ungovernable urge to throw it all away? Just pick it all up, armload by armload, and dump it in the trash? Until every last Lego, Barbie shoe, Kapla block and battery-powered plastic irritant is gone, gone, gone forever?

I have never exactly been good with a lack of order in my home. A moderate neat freak and a major control freak, I have generally tried to keep the bulk of the kids' junk tidy when they're done playing, or at least behind the closed doors of the capacious toy cabinets where it doesn't shout at me like a buzzing, primary-colored neon sign, "Chaos Here! And Getting WORSE!"

When the cabinets could no longer contain the overflowing strain of stuffed animals, diggers, puzzles, cars, car parts, games and unidentifiable bits, I wrote "storage bins" on the Target list and carefully averted my eyes from the family room for the better part of a week. Last night, however, we promised the kids that we'd do "circuits" after dinner (silly exercises like running backwards in a circle, followed by jumping jacks, then doing a headstand before hopping one-footed to the finish line) and that meant clearing the space.

I strode (well, waddled) up the stairs with purpose, intent on getting it all tucked away in those few minutes before the kids joined me, only to pull up short when I took a good look: I'd need an on-site storage facility, not just a few bins, to house all of this excess bloody crap. (Excuse me: Jeff would like to remind me that it is not crap, it is "our children's special treasures." To which I say: Crap.)

Irritation quickly turned to rage--a few blocks and at least one Lightning McQueen thrown hard against the far wall--and then a feeling of utter overwhelm: Where had it all come from? How would we ever get a handle on it? In fact, I know where it all came from. It came from loving, well-intentioned family members and friends. It came from the wave of Christmas and birthday presents, from the tsunami of hand-me-downs. The givers wanted the bring joy to our kids--and for the most part, if only for the first five minutes after receipt, they did. But as to getting a handle on it? There I'm at a loss. I mean, I can organize it; I can make it fit somehow, at least for now. I can rotate stuff out to the garage, pass along the less-loved items to Goodwill and surreptitiously toss the hoarded broken bits. But that will be temporary, until the next wave comes along. What worries me more, and what I don't think I can get a handle on, is how to prevent this excess from filling my kids with a sense of entitlement and the short attention span that results from too many shiny objects calling for attention at once. Will it dampen their creativity? Will they become spoiled? And can I reasonably ask our loved ones to cut back on the gifts without sounding incredibly ungrateful for the generous spirit in which they are given?

A couple of months ago, we enjoyed a wonderful vacation on a sandy island. The kids each brought just a handful of items--one or two toys, a couple of books--and I was delighted by the ways they came up with to entertain themselves. Olivia decided to write out menus (one of my favorites: "meetbols, putado and salid") and Josh abandoned even his one bulldozer to make sandcastles by hand for hours on end. They played Uno and drew. They seemed to listen better, to be more engaged in and aware of what everyone else was doing. Granted, in part this was probably the result of un-distracted parents whose biggest stresses for a week were a hot walk to the grocery store and ensuring that everyone was permanently coated in sun block. But it made me wistful for and appreciative of my own childhood, when a fun afternoon was having an imaginary tea party with my sister or lining up all 64 crayons in rainbow order, arguing at length over whether Green-Blue was really green or blue and mutually decreeing that Burnt Siena was the ugliest color in the box.

So I've been wondering: Are there any techniques you use to keep a handle on the chaos? Or perhaps techniques you've developed to even embrace the chaos and let go of whatever need you normally have for neatness and moderation? And do you feel like more toys=more fun, or more toys=spoiled kids? Am I making more out of this than I should? I realize that this is the product of a fortunate family, and that much more pressing issues are pretty much everywhere you look.

. . .

Also wanted to give my thanks again for the really gorgeous name suggestions. We now have 18 (!) on our "short" list, which feels great.

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

A no-name by any other name would, in fact, smell sweeter

First off, I want to thank you guys for your thoughts on the last post, and I specifically want to address Alexicographer's very sensible comment. I hope, fervently and without reserve, that my kids and I share some natural interests, some mutual passions. But if we don't, what then? That's where I feel like I'll need to reach out, go beyond my comfort zone and try my best to embrace and enjoy whatever it is they're embracing and enjoying. I want to stay connected to them as they grow up, stay relevant in their lives; I don't think it's a matter of seeking their respect, exactly, but perhaps there's an element of that as well.

I have been thinking of the example provided by Jeff's family (and wondering why I didn't think to quiz his parents on this topic before they left for the summer). They are an unusually happy and close bunch, with Jeff being the key silk-spinner in the family web. He and his father share an obsessive love of the Giants; he and his mother share a taste in books. He and his brothers bond over dozens of things, and Jeff--ever the elder brother--serves as the central conduit between his brothers and his parents. Those connections even branch out to include me, since our kids form the basis for the strongest mutual interest of all: every member of his family has embraced Josh & Olivia for all they're worth. (Case in point: Even when his brothers were single, they would schedule vacations three or four times a year just to fly out, sit around our house and play with the kids. This has really blown my mind.)

So, no big ideas to share on the subject, just an update to say that I appreciate the comments and that, if every happy family is happy in the same way, I guess I have the template right in front of me.

. . .

And on a completely different topic, I need your help: We need to decide on a name, and we're lost. I'm at 23 weeks and so far we've called him "Baby," "No-Name" and "Nameless," and keep saying to each other that we really should give him a name soon, then proceed to turn on the TV and ignore the question for another week.

We've looked at lists, reviewed family trees, revived discarded options from the four-year-old Joshua pile, considered the names of all the nicest guys we've ever known and...stumped. Totally stumped. We've even asked family members to weigh in--a sure recipe for disaster. ("Harold" was suggested, quite in earnest, so we beat a hasty retreat.)

Ethnically, we are a very boring European mish-mash, with a very boring, short and common Welsh last name. So even slightly exotic names sound a bit pretentious when paired with both our surname and our pigment. Add to that that we already have two children with quite common names, and adding something unusual just doesn't feel like it would be in sync. But for all that, we are being stupidly picky and don't want something completely boring. And of course Jeff isn't keen on the few names that I'm very fond of, and vice-versa.

So here is a challenge for anyone willing to help: What reasonably-traditional-but-not-too-boring boys' names do you love? No restriction on number of syllables, but probably best not to end in an L or an S. Oh, and we need two names--first and middle--so if you have combinations, bring 'em on!