My oldest son is very bright, but if you asked him to name 3 things he would take with him if he was going to be stranded on a deserted island, he would not be able to answer the question. He is, among other things, a diagnosed hoarder.
I’ve never seen the cable television show, “Hoarders,” but I imagine I don’t really need to, because I’m living it. The rest of my house may be immaculate, but in one small 12 x 12 room there are unimaginable piles of things that the average person would consider junk or trash. About every 3 months or so I take several large trash bags and boxes into his room and do what I call, “sorting.” As long as I leave just enough trash in his trash can, he won’t complain. He doesn’t actually believe I’ve simply reorganized the stuff in his room without throwing any of it away, but I think deep down he is secretly relieved to have the items purged without the stress it would cause him to part with the trash.
This week I cleared 3 large trash bags out of his room. Among them were multiple paper plates, napkins, and drink cups that he had managed to sneak into the house; Christmas candy that he has not even touched, but couldn’t bear to part with; 50 or so versions of an identical letter to the tooth fairy; every single price tag off every single item of clothing purchased for him in the last 3 months; and every leaf or pine cone or rock that his shoe had accidentally touched. Plus about 1000 things more.
Today I attended the elementary school’s “Muffins with Mom” breakfast. My younger son was beyond excited to have me with him in the school cafeteria. My oldest son was concerned with only one thing: would I let him keep his trash. Before he left to return to his classroom, he began trying to stuff the remains of a muffin wrapper, napkin, paper plate and plastic cup into his pockets. My motherly instincts, although often dull, kicked in and I immediately offered to take care of his trash in lieu of him carrying it uncomfortably around in his pockets all day. With a serious expression he asked me point-blank: “Can I trust you?” He wasn’t being impudent; It was an extremely valid question. Depending on my current mood I might either toss the treasured trash as soon as he left my site, or carry its delicate contents past the many judging eyes of my mothering peers toward the safety of the school doors and eventually home.
Today I decided he could trust me. Today I smiled when the assistant principal offered to take my “trash” and throw it away for me. I said merely, “No thank you; I’ve got it.” Today I carried the embarrassing trash all the way home and placed it on the counter prominently, so he would see it as soon as he returned home. Today I embraced my son for all he is, and all he will potentially be: wonderful. unique. loved.
And then I threw it away as soon as he fell asleep tonight. After all, he is only a kid. All he will remember in the morning is the love.