Because our daughters are the only grandchildren on my side of the family, my mother and father were always extremely generous. That moment of disregard replayed how the girls treated almost everything that had been given to them. It was obvious to me that because they had so much - they cherished little.
Uncharacteristically quiet and firm, I’m the yeller in the family; I told them how disappointed I was in their behavior regarding the new outfits.
“How do you think Nana would feel if she knew how little you care for something she so wanted you to have and enjoy? How do you think it makes me feel when I see how you treat your toys and the things we work so hard for you to have?” They stared at me wide eyed, paying attention. Quiet yelling, I was on to something.
I told them that after they took their new outfits to their room, and neatly put them away, they were to each pick five toys and I would pick five toys. Everything else would be thrown away or donated. They looked at each other like I had gone mad. I was mad, but I was sad too. We’re not extravagant people. We’re hard workers trying to get by and provide what we think is best for our family. My parents provided the extras, and a little financial relief like Easter outfits and school clothes.
I told the girls my to-keep choices were their books, bikes, art supplies, Legos, and one board game, Checkers. My husband looked at me like I was crazy. I was crazy, stark-raving and heartbroken.
“Do I get to choose,” he whispered with mock seriousness and the tinge of a smile? One look in his direction and he knew the answer was no.
“Five,” I repeated in my quiet serious voice. “You have the evening to decide because you both will be spending it in your room. Tomorrow, before school, put your choices on your ‘made’ beds.” They never made their beds before I was hoping to add bed-making as an amendment to the new laws.
Once they were out of earshot my husband asked me how I had come up with the plan so quickly. I had no idea, I was winging it.
The girls were quiet that night but we did here a little moving around and some whispers before lights out. The next morning just before they left for school I asked if they had chosen what they wanted to keep and Becky, the oldest said she had. Rachel wasn’t talking.
After they left I entered their room. Becky’s bed was made, Rachel’s was, sort-of. In the middle of Becky’s bed were two toys, a stuffed little lamb that belonged to Rachel, which I never saw her play with, and a .89 cent Styrofoam elastic wind-up plane with a broken wing. I wondered what was going on. All that stuff and Rachel wanted none of it and Becky only two things and one wasn’t even hers.
While they were gone I filled garbage bags with every other toy they owned. From under the bed, the shelves in the closet, the toy drawer downstairs and the basket in the car for travel-toys, they were all crammed into black plastic bags which I lugged to the attic. It was liberating. Their room, the house, the car was spotless.
When I picked up the girls at school Rachel was the first to notice the basket of travel-toys was gone. Neither said a word about the toys but when we got home they ran to their room to change their clothes. After a half hour or so of quiet I decided to check on them. Both girls had changed and neatly put away their school clothes. They were quietly sitting at the child sized table in the middle of their room, coloring.
“How about a snack,” I asked. They scrambled downstairs like nothing was out of the ordinary.
I’d like to say that from then on both girls cherished every gift and never again showed such disregard for what was given to them but if I did I certainly wouldn’t be telling the truth. Over the years their room filled up again, but not as full as before, because after sharing what transpired with my parents, they learned a lesson too; they didn’t need to swipe a debit card to get their granddaughter’s love and respect; and my lesson? Quiet and firm beats yelling any day.
Oh, about the five toys they each got to pick. I learned later, much later, that Rachel picked nothing because she didn’t believe I’d get rid of everything. And Becky’s two picks: the lamb, because it belonged to Rachel; she thought her little sister might later regret picking nothing, and the plane? Becky spent money she earned from doing chores on that little plane with a broken wing; no way did she want me to throw away something that truly belonged to her. About the rest of the toys, they remained in the attic until we moved fifteen years later when they were either thrown away or donated. Not once, in all that time did either girl mention the toys. They never missed them.