Kids paint, crayon, pen, colored pencil, and marker pictures — pictures of dinosaurs, princesses, Star Wars, bears, houses, and flowers (lots of flowers). They make craft projects ranging from the usable (handprint magnets) to the ridiculous (clothespin sheep). Most of it falls into the “ridiculous” category: advent wreaths, cotton-ball clouds, wonky paper dolls. And they write stories, and they bring home school papers — paper after paper, test after test, gold star after gold star. They pile up on the dining room table we never use anyway. They sit on top of the wine cooler. They clutter the face of the refrigerator, eventually forming sedimentary layers.
So actually, dear child, I threw them out.
This is the deep secret of moms: We are the ones who throw things out. My husband’s a hoarder. If it were up to him, we’d be moving through the house on rabbit trails between stuff. Most husbands, I’ve noticed, are like this. It’s like they lived through the Depression and want to keep everything “just in case.” (And “everything” includes old milk jugs and broken Spiderman figures.) So it’s up to us, the moms with the big black trash bags, to keep America from drowning in its own stuff.
We throw out plastic animals — but not the good ones with heft and actual pupils. We chuck the lighter ones, the ones with the dots for eyes. We throw out the ones we bought to shut you up in Wal-Mart, and we throw out the ones Grandma gave you because they were only a dollar each. I don’t care if it’s a triceratops and that’s your totem dinosaur and you collect them. Nope. It goes. But we’re not having this argument because you have no idea I’m doing this. Mama and her trash bag are sneaky. If we mess up, and you notice something is gone, we play dumb. “Oh, that?” we say. “I haven’t seen that in forever. I’m sure it’s around here somewhere.” You amble off, frustrated but determined to look some more, until you get distracted. You always get distracted.
We toss the toys when we’re picking up your bedroom. On one of the runs to the trash can, we just scoop up some of those wooden castle dolls you never play with and those plastic fish that go to a game you lost last year. And plop! In they go, among the old juice boxes and assorted schmutz. We throw out toys when you’re asleep, just because you left them in the living room. You never notice. Or if you notice, you never mention it.
We thin the herd of stuffed animals. Oh, stuffed animals, the only toys that reproduce by spontaneous generation. You get them at Christmas and Easter and birthdays and trips to the aquarium. Who doesn’t need that stuffed octopus? You don’t, because if you keep the octopus, you have to also keep the Christmas bears Gramma got as a free gift from Macy’s, the third best stuffed dragon, the spindly grasshopper they picked out at a museum, and the stuffed frogs. Oh, the stuffed frogs. Some of them gotta get outta this house.
So we get that big black trash bag. We wait until you’re occupied with Legos, with video games, with Matchbox cars (you can never have too many of those). And we sneak into your rooms and snatch up the least-loved of the animals, the ones you won’t notice are missing. Then we artfully arrange the ones that are staying, tie that big ol’ bag up, and heft it in the car for Goodwill before anyone notices.
And what if you do notice, dear child? We play dumb. “Oh, that broken action figure? I didn’t know it was in the trash! How did that happen? Here. [fishes it out] Go put it back where it belongs.” Then we wait until you’ve left, and throw it out again. Because it’s broken. We throw away broken things, and it’s not like that’s your only Captain America Marvel Super Friends Action Hero figure. This is the one injured in battle. The villains took his arm, but they can’t take our freedom!
They can, however, take up too much space.
So we threw him out.
And gosh darn it, we’d do it again, else we drown in stuffed animals, broken action figures, stupid cheap plastic animals, games with missing pieces, sticks you just had to have, duct-taped swords, souvenir treasure chests, fractured masks, and gloves without a mate.
This is a public service. You’ll understand when you’re older.
Until then, we’re the ninjas with the black trash bags.