Saturday, July 1, 2017

Dirty Drawers: Musing on Clutter, Tampons, and My Son's Awesome Mind

I am his mother. That is my preface. I am prone to thinking the world of him, to being amazed by his brain, those empty pockets quickly filling and swelling with new ideas and information, bulging with delightful discoveries, emptying out, sorting and pouring back in.
I do not apologize for my amazement, and I encourage other parents to stop apologizing as well. The fear of raising a spoiled child weighs heavily on our shoulders, passed on to us from previous generations. Can we rethink the means of spoiling? Did a child ever truly suffer because his parents were too proud, too supportive, too amazed? It’s possible. But it’s a risk I’d like to take.
My son is two years old and he is special. I encourage every parent to see her children this way. I want to build us up against the eye-rolls, the judgments of others. In our efforts to avoid over-parenting, hovering, helicoptering, micro-managing, let’s not miss out on basking in the brilliance of our children’s brains.
My son is two years old and every morning, he opens the drawers in my bathroom, pulls them out repeatedly - open close open close - making the contents shift forwards and backwards, crashing against the inside of the drawer. 
If my dad were in the room with us, he’d likely yelp out, Be careful! You will hurt your fingers! You will pinch them! You will bump your head! Often, in an effort to protect our children, we tell them that the bad thing will certainly happen. In reality we have little idea if it will. 
Would a photo of my real-life drawers be too embarrassing? Too late!
If Marie Kondo (is it obvious I didn't read her book?) were in the room with us, she might be horrified by the disarray and the sheer volume of contents in the drawers. Housed inside are all my short-lived and long-term obsessions: essential oils, handmade jewelry, make up brushes, lip glosses, nail polishes, and skincare products. Do these items “spark joy” in you? she might ask. My son pulls q-tips out of a box one by one. To him they are magic wands, invented one morning during a game he and his four-year-old big sister played. The wands lose their powers after the fluff has been pulled off, or drenched by water, or dropped into the shower drain. I need more wands, he insists as I try to close the drawer, I only have six wands! Perhaps this is what joy feels like.
If my mother were in the room with us, she might be concerned about the colorfully wrapped tampons tumbling onto the floor.
What are dees? my son asks in his one-volume (loud) voice.
Mama needs them for her vagina. That’s a hole in her vulva where blood comes out sometimes because she’s a grown up girl, my daughter explains. 
Oh I see, he says, lining up the tampons from biggest to smallest.
A brief history of my relationship with tampons: I was 12 years old when I first got my period, and at the time my mother was against using tampons. She did not use them herself. And it was not just fear of toxic shock syndrome, which is what will scare me if my daughter chooses to use them one day. She was worried about the affect they would have on my virginity. 
Half a year into my period, I lost my virginity to a tampon. I smuggled them from a friend. I used my first one because I really wanted to go to a pool party during the summer between 7th and 8th grade. I put one foot up on the side of the toilet seat and relaxed my vaginal muscles like the box instructions said I should do. It was easy, maybe because I was determined.
I didn’t want to hide them. I didn’t like how it felt to be dishonest. When I started to use them regularly, I tossed the wrappers out in the garbage right next to the toilet that our whole family shared.
Don’t leave these out in the garbage, Lyn! my mother scolded, your little brother will see. My brother was seven years old at the time, and he was asking questions.
Maybe I wanted to show my mother that I was the boss of my body? Eh, or more likely, like the messy drawers my son empties onto the floor, I’m just kind of a cluttered person. Was it intention or carelessness that led me to leave used tampons in the toilet bowl, losing patience to make sure the water flushed it all the way down before rushing off to something else? Now, I have to tell him what it is, my mother was flustered. I like to think that my actions reflected my early rumblings of railing against the idea that menstruation should be mysterious to men … or to anyone.
But enough about periods (for now). Every morning my son pulls open our drawers and out come the contents - cotton balls, toothpaste, spare change, contact lens cases, vitamin bottles, nail clippers, face cream, hair spray, dental floss, bracelets, lonely earrings, single mismatched socks. I mean to throw the empty bottles away, I mean to organize the products, I mean to. I will. 
All the heads are shaking at me. My husband’s head too, though he is relieved that my stuff stays, for the most part, on my side of the sink. Twelve years ago, after meeting with us for our pre-marital conversations, our marriage officiant had looked my husband directly in the eye and said, You cannot change Lynnette. She will not transform into a tidy person one day, this is something you’ll need to accept about her.
Lately, he might be starting to believe her. Some days, I still want to prove her wrong. But I haven’t yet. 
Honestly, most mornings when my son is going through my drawers, I heave and sigh in exasperation. The thoughts running through my mind are of genuine resolve to organize better, to purge, to buy child locks for the drawers that will keep him out for a couple years. Rubbing my eyes, I position my body in between him and my drawers. Yawning, I tell him that I don’t want him to make a mess of my things, I ask him to help me clean up.
But this morning ritual also pulls me inside his beautiful brain. And I take a mental step back to marvel as he pulls my chaotic drawers open one by one. I forgive myself for the clutter today. I think instead, that this is the child I want to raise. A child who will not leave a door closed because someone has told him not to open it.
A child who will open the same drawers over and over again, noting what is familiar, finding what is new, asking question after question, curious about what has changed. Identifying, filing, categorizing, editing, revising.
A child who is not satisfied with just one answer, who will continue digging, unearthing, wanting to know what is inside, wanting to look behind, to discover how it opens, how it closes, unafraid of getting hurt, knowing he might get hurt, getting hurt.

I want to raise a person who will get hurt and still choose to come back again tomorrow to uncover something new.