HB held tightly to two plastic curlers, four white disposable spoons, a piece of string, a pink plastic egg, and a Woodstock doll, the bird from The Peanuts. She climbed into her car seat with her fists turning white around these items. Then she looked up at me and smiled.
I told her, “you can take them in the car, but not into school.”
She repeated, “I take in the car, not in school.”
Today is not the first day she has climbed into Brando with an assortment of items to accompany us to school. I have trailed behind her with my arms full of “the buddies” (stuffed animal playmates). I’ve lugged along blankets and pillows, boxes and baskets, like she’s moving every day. It’s a 30 minute drive.
Do all children collect such things? Items that appear random and disorganized? Items that have only the slightest things in common: some are plastic, some are brightly colored, all fit in her hands.
Despite my jokes about HB being a hoarder, I’m actually fascinated by what she picks and why. She’s carried around stickers that no longer stick, nail polish bottles, an American flag on a stick, Mardi Gras beads, plastic roses and postcards, Barbie doll hair brushes and an extra pair of shoes. She’s brought matchbox cars, DVD cases, Happy Meal toys and greeting cards, mismatched socks and Party City noise makers. I clean out Brando and find a small plastic tea cup, a few stray Cheerios, a hair bow, and a Dora the Explorer Valentine.
These small items create the world HB occupies. They decorate the walls of her castle, fill the drawers of her wardrobe, spill out of the closets and overflow the boxes in the rooms she has yet to occupy. Glue them on a canvas and it would be a scrap book collage of color and shape and texture and size to tickle and thrill, amuse and enthrall.
We moved a lot of her toys to her Ma-Ma’s a few weeks ago. We kept three baskets on the bookshelves, stuffed with blocks, cups, beaded necklaces, pom-poms, playing cards, puzzle pieces, and tiny stuffed bears. We pour them out nightly looking for nets to catch thieves, ropes to tie up prisoners, noises to scare off animals, snacks to serve at picnics, and favors to celebrate parties.
The other night as her daddy and I were refilling the baskets with these unrelated, random, disorganized things, he said, “why do we have all this junk?”
I said, admittedly with a pout, “they’re her toys.”
I love that she doesn’t need the fully-assembled Barbie dream townhouse to play. She lets the dolls grab their few belongings and fly away to find adventure in the plants, wine rack, kitchen stool, and couch cushions.
She is three and four on her birthday. She has plenty of time to understand and operate in the world other people design and build. She may one day, like me, feel trapped in that world for practical reasons.
Right now she enjoys her make-believe world: where stories fill her head, spill out of her lips, and require chopsticks and frying pans and feathers and flowers to be told. I try to play along when I can. I even prompt the misuse of a wooden block as a telescope. But my own imagination has for so long been reined in by practicality that I find I am mostly just an observer of her fantasies.
I encourage Cuk to watch. I can’t make him feel the fascination, pride, and envy I feel. So I just protect her world, by protecting her things and removing the rules that might govern her into reality and out of play forever.