Our young travelers, after five days on the road, reach Chicago. We receive photos from the UFO Museum, Carlsbad Caverns and a shot of an Oklahoma steak the size of a mature cow. After a week of fretting about the boy's tiny car, laden with boxes and a giant roof bag, making it from here to there, I breathe a colossal sigh of relief. Now if he can just get a job.
I spend all week converting the boys' dungeon to a space appropriate for a nineteen year old Korean girl who arrives Saturday. The boys from my office haul a big truckload of stuff to the thrift store and it will be weeks until we manage to dispose of all of the trash and recycling left behind. The room, finally, looks quite nice. While I am fascistic about coaster use upstairs, I realize that the attitude in the basement area has been more cavalier. I strategically cover stains with doilies and place mats. I notice too that there is a burn hole in a sheet purchased recently but waive prosecution.
Clearing out their room has me conflicted. I am happy now that the space is clean and attractive. It is hard though to think about the extent to which this change completely displaces our kids. Their accretion of things seems extraordinary. After contending with huge cartons my mother's yellowing steno pads and forty year old dermatological samples, I've been pretty diligent about getting rid of my own possessions which are no longer beautiful and/or useful. I started doing this way before that Japanese book came out. I struggle to impart this philosophy to other family members. I am impressed however that when Number One Son is informed that everything left at our house has to fit in a small cupboard he effectively prioritizes and selects objects for cupboard or car and jettisons the rest.
I think I'd already had children when I finally got the last of my crap out of my mother's house. It seemed that it shouldn't be a problem given that it was a huge house, occupied by a single person. Mom pestered me constantly about taking my boxes but I ignored her. I resented that she was trying to get rid of me. My rationale was that she never would have ended up with the house after the divorce if it hadn't been for me, the kid, so I felt entitled. I hope that I never expressed this sentiment to her aloud, but I probably did. Now that all that remains of my kids' belongings is out of sight, in a small closet, I realize how complicated and fraught the homes and artifacts of childhood are.
When I went out on my own my mother gave me some furnishings. I don't remember exactly what. Years after we'd split up I went to visit an ex-boyfriend in San Francisco and noticed he had one of my mother's tablecloths. I'm not sure why I even wanted it, but I took from Mom a hideous early American rocking chair that she'd allegedly rocked me in when I was an infant. It got left at a house in Crestline that we sort of got evicted from. Even though I'd considered the ugly rocker a gift, Mom was devastated that it was gone. I think she may have actually wept. I had other stuff on my mind and probably screamed at her about her pettiness and the fucking rocker. After seeing how my own kids thrashed stuff that has sentimental value for me, I understand now how she felt.
What I've learned is that it's not just my kids who don't care about stuff. Most kids are pigs. So was I. It is sad to realize how they'd trashed or discarded things we paid for using money that we earned. Our twenty-three year old is now on a weening schedule and the timer is ticking on car insurance, cell phone and gas card. I suspect that when he's a completely free agent he will better value and care for the things he buys with his own dough.
Part of me longs for the bunk-bedded childhood room with Rugrats, DragonballZ and Pokemon. I remember the days when most problems could be resolved with a hug and a kiss. But, when I discover that Spuds has written his name large in Sharpie, on a perfectly nice birch closet, I snap out of my nostalgic reverie. I miss them powerfully but I also enjoy the absence of their mess and stuff and feel bad about leaving my own crap in my mom's rumpus room for decades. I feel guilty about trivializing my mom's concerns when I get more of a sense of what it's like for a kid to grow up and away. The older I get, the more like her I become in many ways. Still, my mom attached too much importance to possessions, perhaps as a substitute for satisfying relationships with people.
I am pleased that Number One Son and Girlfriend-in-law stay in touch during their cross country journey. Spuds however has been rather incommunicado. He knows however that when I text him “Yo!” that he'd better get in touch. It turns out he's been distracted as his girlfriend has returned to Tivoli. He is making her hummus. I'm relieved that he's fine and imagine what the kitchen that I spent days scrubbing is going to look like when he finishes making the hummus. “I love you,” I text him before I turn in for the night. I wake to a message in the morning, “I love you more.” And things kept, and things cast away, and their now frilly bedroom, seem inconsequential.