Thursday, June 23, 2011

Light-Family Philosophy, Packing It Up

We are a family on the move again! The kids are having final play-dates with school friends, I am cramming in last-chance meetings, and we are working Atey through the interview circuit toward her next nanny job. Five more days in Cambodia—I can’t believe the adventure is already reaching its end. TJ is home from his assignment and skyping with us regularly. We can feel the tug of our other little nest pulling us back to Virginia.
I’m not going to let this move stress me. Being a planner, I had a spreadsheet of packed items coming over here on a thumbdrive, so I pulled the file out to start again in reverse. For me it’s a soothing feeling to throw out worn-through socks and busted flip-flops. I see the floor of the apartment looking more bare each day, and it makes me feel light. A missionary mom of Ernie’s friend told me that she’s mastered the allotted moving cube. And with no house in the US and a pool of shared furniture in Phnom Penh, she smiled when she explained to me that everything they own quite literally packs into a cube. I’m a little jealous.
Well, I admit that some of the trashing goes on after the kids have fallen asleep. But I know I’m not the only parent doing that. Jamie Lee Curtis calls it “toy editing”, and my brother calls it “the final putting away.” It’s where you arrive after the first-baby euphoria of accumulation. (Or you don’t, and by baby #2 you are drowning in it. No offense, hoarders, but it gets to feel like the fourth plate at the Lucky Panda buffet.) Anyway, I would feel guilty about all the “editing” I’ve done if it weren’t that the kids seem just as happy with the light-family philosophy as I am. (OK, in fairness, as I have written before, we have plenty of head-banging and hair-pulling going on here. But do we have a control group? I don’t see the causality of kid+toy=fulfillment and kid-toy=misery. In fact, I rather like my dad’s assessment of McDonald’s “sad meals” that dispense disappointing, unequal, and quick-to-break toys which pretty much guarantee that a carload of multi-age children will burst into kicking and tears minutes after opening the packages--driving some moms insane.) On the light-family side, yesterday was such a good example that I wanted to burst into Julie Andrews and have a bird land on my shoulder. I walked through the door and Ernest was reading another book, Yoshi was drawing space aliens, and Tika and Puck were playing hide-and-seek. We might not have a control group, but we have a counter-factual! Take that, McMansion-dwelling consumer-hoarders!
In case you hadn’t guessed, I seem to have a problem with being stationary. Ernest and Yoshi have been anxious about returning to the circle of kids in their American school, many of whom will spend their entire childhood in the same school system. The age cohort has built a social hierarchy that will last from kindergarten to first cars and facial hair (and that's not too pretty, as Greg Heffley can attest from the junior-high lock-in). And while some parents think that this kind of stability nurtures healthy childhood development, it seems to me an unfair trade for my going totally nuts.
How will we cope with the return to Americana? Thanks to some lucky timing, we’ll start with a few cold beers and firecrackers. Then I think it won’t be long before we’re huddled back around the tiny kitchen table studying some new corner of the map.

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