Lessons from One-Armed Baby

A lot of Moms I know have nice houses. Fancy houses. The kind where you walk into a foyer and it smells like pot-pourri and there’s this glass-fronted cabinet with all the wedding crystal and silver-framed photos of honeymoons and children, and even though you know for a fact that they have all these kids (because you’re there to pick up or drop off one or more of your own), there’s no evidence of them anywhere as far as you can see.

My house is not like that.

When you walk through my front door, you’ll probably be knocked back by the sports-smell of the half-dozen pairs of cleats stored within an arm’s reach due to lack of closet space, and, because we have no mud room, as many of my peers do, and, because of the aforementioned lack of closet space, you’ll probably trip over a backpack or two. After you regain your footing and rub your bruised elbows from the fall you took when tripping, you’ll catch a glimpse of our living room, with books strewn over every possible surface and drawings and projects too (because we have no library or craft room, either). You’ll see a small house where six people live, four of them children who, despite all our best efforts, haven’t yet mastered the idea of putting stuff away. Frankly, neither have some of the adults.

If you walk into the kitchen, about the size of a shoebox, complete with about 10 inches of usable counter space for food preparation and a dishwasher that can’t open more than 3/4 of the way because it butts into a floorboard radiator, you might see this:

This is One-Armed Baby. OAB was, I think, originally Mitzi’s doll, received as a gift probably 7 years ago. OAB’s the kind of doll that eats and poops. You know the kind? You feed it some reconstituted powder pack of fake baby food, fit her tush over a plastic potty, push down on her shoulders until all the crap comes out. Child claps! Amazing! Then Mom is left to — I kid you not — clean out the inside by repeatedly swishing it with soapy water and then letting it dry to ensure no bacteria will grow. You’re supposed to do that every time you feed the doll.

We fed her once.

Ever since that singular poopy day, OAB joined the troupe of 67 other baby dolls that inhabit our house, spending her time being dressed up and pushed around in rickety toy strollers and dragged endlessly over the hardwood floors (hence, her current One Arm status). But never has she been fed. I saw to that.

Until the other day when Ellie and Joanna figured out what she was capable of. They loaded her up with water and made her use the potty. Again and again. And again. When they grew bored, they left her on their bedroom floor, where I found her some days later. I picked her up and saw the puddle that remained where her vajajay had been sitting. I shook her. Filled up with water. To her boobies.

So I put her by the kitchen sink, hoping she’d drain. Every once in a while I squash her shoulders or pull her head up and shake her upside down, trying to get the water out.

It’s been two weeks.

If you’ve ever had a bath toy, you know what must be growing inside her right now. I fear that OAB is destined for the dump, but, having seen all three Toy Story movies, not to mention Child’s Play, I am reluctant to toss her aside.

But throw her away I will, I’m sure, and I’ve warned the girls.

Till then, OAB keeps me company while I was dishes, her one arm raised in a silent plea — Look at me! Play with me! FEED ME! I hate her and she scares me a little, but I’ve sort of become used to her presence.

It’s hard to let go, even when it’s the smallest piece of your world, even when you know you should, even when you know it’s right.

Even when it’s just a plastic one-armed baby, even when you know it’s time, it’s hard to let go.


Laundry tip for kids, #28

“I LOVE doing laundry!” said no child, ever.

My darlings,

I wash your clothes. I dry your clothes. I fold your clothes. I separate your clothes into neat little piles. I put those piles in your room for you to put away. All you have to do is pick up each pile and put it into the proper drawer. For example, the underwear goes in the underwear drawer. The shirts go in the shirts drawer. The pants go in the pants drawer. And so on.

Given the dexterity and cleverness with which I’ve seen you master any number of video games, I feel confident that the concept of putting away your laundry is within your realm of understanding.

Also, you’ll know where your clean clothes are tomorrow morning at 7 a.m., when you get ready for the first day of a new school week.

With love,


Drowning in stuff — how to let it go?

I will admit it.  I’m somewhat of a pack rat.  It’s not that I save any old thing, just things that are meaningful to me.  And for the past 8 years that includes kid stuff.  For them, I save almost everything.

When it was just one or two kids, it was harmless enough.  I’d save stuff like a bib my aunt embroidered for Mitzi, Cooper’s first soft baseball, baptism gifts, mementos from birthday parties.  And I even got a lot of it into scrapbooks.

But then life kicked in, and brought two more kids, and suddenly I was inundated with more stuff than I thought possible.  I’ve gathered items for Ellie and Joanna’s someday-scrapbooks (yeah, who has time for that?!), put aside drawings and crafts and schoolwork and special tokens from beloved relatives.

And with bigger kids comes more schoolwork.  I can’t bear to throw any of it away.  As it comes in, I pile it into my “to-be-filed” section of my office, which is actually a floor space between a wicker trunk and bookshelf.  Today, that pile towers over 2 feet.  I definitely need a secretary.

But I remember how fun it was to look back through my own stuff that my mom saved — it still is, frankly, even seeing those report cards that always glared a C in handwriting.  And I know that it makes Ray a little sad that he has virtually nothing from his own youth.

So I save it all for the kids.  Someday it will collect dust in their own attics.

I know I have to pick and choose — I’m running out of space and we’re just getting started!  But how?  How do parents out there choose what, if anything, to save?  How many crayon drawings by your 3 year old (and we know how many reams a preschooler can color in one rainy afternoon)?  How many spelling tests?  How many shakily-written stories with stick figure illustrations?

I need help!  If my sister were nearby she’d come over and give me some tough love about decluttering.   My mom, having spent many days cleaning out her own parents’ attic, would probably join in.

Sentimentality is wonderful, helping us to remember the past and those with whom we’ve shared it.  But when is it too much?

Please, give me advice!