“Here, Mom. Take it. It’s for you!”
When I hear those words, filled with pride and delight, I know she’s going to have one of two things in her outstretched hand: a pine cone or a rock.
Pine cones aren’t the worst, I suppose. Some people actually collect pine cones and make homey, folksy art out of it. I could take the growing assortment from the window ledge of my office and every hidey hole in my car and put them in a basket, or make a wreath, or artfully arrange them around a candle holder of some kind. That would require any sort of artistic talent on my part, but still, the possibility exists. For now, I can tell myself that my Peanut really wants to push my creative boundaries and help me consider a more natural decor as we move from fall to winter.
The rocks, however, are getting to be a bit of a problem.
I regularly fish rocks out of the drier because they’ve gone through in the depths of a pants pocket. I have to take car seats out and shake them upside down because rocks wedge themselves into the mechanism that cinches the car seat belt and render it useless as a safety device. I have piles of rocks at my front door, by my kitchen sink, at the back patio. I view rain gardens and natural landscaping with dread, knowing I will not be permitted to pass without a twenty minute delay to search for the right rock. I cannot be distracted in public for even a moment, as muddy parking lots somehow hold the best stones – and I’m no germphobe, but c’mon, I don’t want you digging in parking lot goo until your nails turn black.
The thing is, my kiddo has reached a phase where she has definite likes and interests. She knows the things she finds interesting and special. You cannot see the top of her dresser because it displays her many treasures: a princess-themed building set, a glittery art project, a baby toy that looks like a hippo. “It’s special to me, Mom,” she insists, and even wards off her sister by invoking the magic word “special.” It’s become such a clear boundary that even our little one in her limited language skills has learned. “Eshul,” she intones with reverence.
One of the most special things on my big girl’s dresser? A paper cup filled with rocks.
It’s entirely possible that my kid has learned some of these low-level hoarding traits from me. She’s learned that she doesn’t get to play with the ratty teddy bear on my dresser because I got it when I was four days old and it’s special to me. She’s learned to be respectful of photo bookmark she made me for Mother’s Day two years ago, even though I’ve never used it as a bookmark, because it’s special to me. She knows which necklaces she can swipe and wear to preschool because they’re not as special to me as, say, the necklace with the pendant made out of my breastmilk. But to be fair, those things actually are special. They’re not pine cones.
Or rocks. Old, beige, pokey rocks. Oh my goodness, I am so tired of rocks.
It’s getting a whole lot worse. A gorgeous Minnesota fall means splashy red, yellow, and orange leaves all over. And when you’re about two feet closer to the ground, you’re more inclined to examine those leaves from much closer. You’re likely to pick them up, examine them, and fully realize their intricate, vibrant nature. You’ll want to bring it home. You’ll ask your mom to carry it. You’ll flip out when Mom doesn’t put it someplace safe. Or worse: you’ll melt into preschooler pathos when the leaf fades and crumbles.
I know how much my girl learns just by watching me. I know that if I treat her treasures like trash she might learn that she doesn’t know what’s good, or what she likes doesn’t matter, or that she has to hide things from me or risk losing them. I also know that if I treat every pine cone, leaf, and rock like it’s irreplaceable, she might never learn how to let things go or how to determine what’s really important. When she reaches out to me with yet another rock, I need to make a choice. How will I help her figure out what to keep and what to kick?
For now, I’m trying to strike a balance. I can handle some rocks around the house. I also can’t feel too guilty when I let her know she has enough rocks for the week. She can keep her special things in her room, but the dinner table needs to stay clear. Besides, who knows? Maybe by gently nurturing her rock obsession I am fostering the development of a future geologist. And by helping her learn what things are special and what things are intentionally fleeting, I can help learn the same. I can decide which art projects stay and which go, which baby onesies get kept and which get sold, even which photos I keep for instant nostalgia in my phone and which get triple-saved and tucked away on my computer. Together, we’re learning more about letting go.
The pine cones, however? I’m holding on to those. If you need me, I’ll be over here researching high-quality pine cone crafts. I feel like these leaves might help me make a particularly pretty garland.
What kinds of things do your little ones love to collect? How do you help them decide what to hold on to and what to get rid of? And come to think of it, any suggestions for what to do with all these rocks?