Monday, February 11, 2013

Paved Paradise

Come visit me at my new home,

“There goes my youth.”

This is what my son said to me when he saw that the soccer fields of his youth were being paved over to make room for a shopping center or a retirement community or a business park or some other eyesore that will cater to adults at the expense of the children.  In reply I might have quoted Joni Mitchell and said that they had “paved paradise, and put up a parking lot”, but that historical lyric would have been lost on a boy who doesn’t even remember Justin Timberlake’s first band.  His relative inexperience in life doesn’t make his feeling of loss any less genuine however.

This was the second time within a week that he had mourned the metaphorical loss of his childhood.  During our kitchen remodel, we took the opportunity to purge some dishes that no longer fit our mature family profile.  Gone to the Great Recycling Bin in the Sky were the Bugs Bunny, Winnie the Pooh and Aladdin plastic plates, and that caused some teenage angst in our home.  Who knew that those plates had hidden meaning within their cracked exteriors and faded cartoon images?  

We threw the plates away thinking they were merely hand-me-down plates that had been over-dishwashed and over-microwaved for too many years.  Little did we know we were actually tossing the boy’s youth into the trash without a hint of remorse.  It was another example of heartless adults taking actions for their own convenience during what must have been an emotional week for the child.  First his fields of play become part of the suburban concrete jungle, and then his plates become part of a landfill for a thousand years.  Could his baby blankies be next?

I understand assigning sentimental meaning to certain objects and saving them to serve as vessels for our fading memories.  I have baseball cards from the 1970s and ticket stubs from sporting events and concerts long past.  Each small token has a rich story poured inside, and I would be upset if they were lost or worse, deliberately thrown away to make room for newer versions.  Take that as a warning, family members.  Keep your hands off my stuff that looks like garbage but is really important to me for reasons I can no longer remember.

Some objects from our past can give us comfort and security.  Too many objects from our past can give us clutter and confusion.  I believe that I was teaching a lesson to my son that the clutter of cartoon plates was holding back his personal growth.  He’ll be in high school soon.  Time to grow up, boy.  Time to embrace the china plates of life.  They may be more fragile, but they are also more beautiful...and age appropriate.  

I told him that we should learn from the past but live in the present.  There’s a fine line between a sentimentalist and a hoarder.  A sentimentalist thinks of the past fondly through objects; a hoarder refuses to let go of the past through objects. Hoarders can also get their own reality shows, but that’s a topic for another day.  

I have tried to convince him that his youth will always be there for him in his memories, safe from my thoughtless decluttering sweeps through cabinets and drawers.  His youth doesn’t live in my cupboards.  It lives in our hearts, and in the permanent stains on the carpet and the gray hairs on my head. 

What we have here is a failure to communicate.  I saw a plate; he saw his childhood.  I threw away a plate; he felt I was throwing away his childhood.  I guess it depends on your point of view. 

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