Broken Toy Parts

Broken Toy Parts

I promised myself that I wouldn't let this become symbolic, but as usual, I only break the promises that I make to myself. How can cleaning your child's room not be symbolic? I'm not going to be one of those parents who leave the room in the pristine state it was it happened. That's just too twisted for words. Especially since Bruce was always a very messy child.

It amazes me that someone six years old could have accumulated so much stuff.

He came by it honestly, though. My parents have boxes of things in their attic from when they moved into the new house twenty years ago that they still haven't unpacked. My mother told me that they found one box that still had the cheap raincoats that we bought on the trip to Disneyland back during the Bicentennial. Me, I have so many boxes of books that I had to get a house with an extra bedroom for them. If Bruce had too much stuff, its because it's part of his genetics.

I decided to do this a couple of months ago, but just kept finding excuses not to do it. It's easy to clean the kitchen or the dining room, since I can half watch a movie or listen to a CD on the stereo while I do it. My room has a TV in it as well, so I usually clean it on Thursday nights while watching one of the less interesting sit-coms I set aside my Thursday nights for. Bruce's room would take commitment, since all he has is my uncle's old stereo from the early 70's and toys and clothes. So many toys and clothes.

I start by just doing a general picking up, putting anything that I want to sort through on the bed. I make a few piles. One has children's books or activity books that we never got around to filling in. Another has coloring books. I can't believe how fast it grows, especially since I don't remember buying any. I know his grandparents and great-grandparents would send them, but I never realized how many there were. Most only have a page or two colored in them, since Bruce never cared for coloring a whole lot.

He is...he was more of an active kid. He hated winter since it was usually too cold to play outside, and there wasn't a whole lot to explore in this house. Once you've seen all the rooms, that's all there is. Outside, there's other yards, the area under the porch, dark places under overgrown pine trees, the playground at the end of the block, and other kids. Inside there's just a couple boxes of toys, a drawer of art supplies and a TV that was tuned to what I want to watch.

I wonder what to do with the coloring books. I know why people send them. It's an easy gift. You don't have to think a lot about it, and there's 80 or so pages of something to do for less than two dollars. Everyone in my family had some sort of financial hard times to go through, so they look to make their dollars stretch as far as they can. My grandparents had the depression. My parents had four kids. Me, I had a divorce and custody battle that I'm still paying for, both in dollars and in scars. I would have given my son anything, within reason. The good thing was that he was just as happy over a 79 cent Hot Wheels car as he was over his bicycle.

I make a mental note to ask that young couple down the street if they would like a bike that would be a little too big for their four year old. I can't remember their name, but they look like they treat their child well enough.

The coloring books go into one of the many boxes I brought home from work for this task. That's how I was able to make sure that I cleaned the room tonight. I brought home boxes, and tomorrow, I drive by the Goodwill on my way to my group, so I have a chance to drop them off. My little bit to help the rest of the world today. I make a pile for toys that still have some play left in them and another for clothes.

After the floor is picked up, I break the room into segments.

There's the closet, the toy pile, the dresser and the worst area of all, under the bed. I smile when I think of all the things I used to find under Bruce's bed. Cookies, of course, and favorite toys he didn't want the neighbor kids to "borrow" when they came over to play, books that he was tired of, even though I loved them, and once, a cat. How he got the cat to stay under the bed, I have no idea. However, since we are both allergic, I had to let the cat go, which was a major trauma.

We were using under the bed for storage of some of the harder to play with toys, like the Hot Wheels city and the erector set. I pull them out and marvel at how well we were able to keep the boxes. Before we decided to store some toys under the bed, anything that needed to stay in a box would have the box shredded in just a couple of weeks. Board games were the worst, with our copy of Candyland held together with tape first, then relegated to a ziplock bag rubber banded to the board.

I see a few wrappers from granola bars tucked away next to the wall, and a whole bunch of those damn foil stars and moons that came with a box of art supplies. Whoever decided that children need little pieces of colored foil to stick to paper should have to clean out the vacuum cleaners of parents who have had to dig the pieces out of their clogged machines. Of course, there are a couple wads of gum that had fallen out of his mouth in the night and Life Savers that suffered the same fate and have bonded permanently to the carpet. I also find my copy of "Oh the Places You'll Go" by Dr. Seuss. That was my favorite book to read at bedtime to him. He would want one of the longer books, like "Cars and Trucks and Things That Go" or "Donald Duck's Big Book Of Trucks", but most nights, I would need the boost that the good doctor would give me.

I pull the bed out to make sure that I've gotten everything and then push it back against the wall. I'm not going to vacuum the room tonight, so I'll just leave the bed where it is. Besides, I'm not ready to get rid of it yet.

Maybe one of my friends with a kid will come over and stay late. It's a good idea to have an extra bed. Besides, it's not really a kid bed. I never liked the idea of getting a bed that was cool when he was three, but would be dorky when he got to be seven or eight.

Now, when I look at the top of the bed, I see huge piles and wonder if I'll ever get this room clean. I open the closet door and it's worse than I remember. Bruce would always throw things in there when I would ask him to clean his room. Now, I see the piles of clothes that had been washed, folded and waited to be put away. There are toys mixed in with the clothes, and a liberal sprinkling of just plain clutter that makes me want to give up. I don't, though. I put the clothes in their pile, take the toys and toss them on top of the overflowing toybox and the clutter goes into a pile on the floor. I find more crayons than I knew existed and start putting them in the little plastic wagon I got him for his second Christmas. I thought it would be neat for him to have something to drag his toys back to his room at bedtime, but the wagon quickly became a riding toy. Until he was three, he would get in the wagon and ask to be pulled around the house.

Once he got so big that the bottom scraped against the wheels, I told him that it wasn't a riding toy anymore and he would have to use it for what it was meant for. From that day on, it became a second toybox and never moved from his bedroom.

I have to go out into the kitchen and get a paper bag from under the sink to hold all the garbage my cleaning is generating. When I get out of his room, I start to sneeze from all the dust I have kicked up. I open up the bag and look at the clock. An hour. I've spent an hour cleaning, and it doesn't feel like I've even come close to getting this room into shape.

When I get back in, I start throwing things away. Mostly old junk mail. Bruce loved junk mail because he used to get upset that I would get mail and he wouldn't. In order to make things easier when I got the mail, I told him it was his and he would open it and do all the things that the marketing folk would have wanted me to do. He played with the stickers, separated the perforated cards and scribbled on the return address lines. Most of the clutter in the closet is offers from companies who have my name on some list they got from some other company's list. I toss it all away.

When the closet floor is done, I look at the clothes and decide I'll do them when I do all of the other clothes. There are his favorite outfits hanging on miniature hangers, and I think about how many times I would pull them out of the dryer and hang them up while he was sleeping. He would go for the hanging clothes before going to a drawer for something to wear in the morning. When I first started hanging his clothes, each shirt and pair of pants had their own hanger. I then started matching up the clothes that went together, since he would just take whatever pair of pants were next to the shirt he wanted to wear, and getting him to change after he was dressed was a nightmare.

Next is the toybox, and it's a pretty daunting task. I had bought him a huge plastic storage box for his birthday the previous year, and even though it looked huge to me, his toys wouldn't even fit in it back them. Now, I can't even see the box under the giant mound of construction paper, action figures and stuffed animals.

When I was a kid, we had a wooden toybox that my sisters and I shared. Every so often, I would empty the whole thing out, party to find the toys on the bottom, and party because I wanted it to be organized. It would last about a day or so, but I remember the job of finding a long forgotten small toy at the bottom of the box. An egg of silly putty or a tangled slinky would make the whole adventure worthwhile.

As I start into the toybox, I decide to be ruthless. Any toy with missing parts, or broken in anyway is going to be thrown away, and the rest will go into a box to be given to Goodwill. I put the broken toys directly into the garbage, and the functional ones into a box, with the stuffed animals up on the bed. Then, I find a Spiderman figure that wasn't even taken off the display card. I'd gotten him that the last time we went to the department store as a reward for not saying "Can I have that" every thirty seconds.

It's then that I got rattled for the first time and the enormity of the whole situation starts to sink in.

I fight to keep from crying again because I don't have time for it. I have to get this done. When I talked to my best friend, he said that it's too soon, and I need to let more time pass. I can't wait any longer. Things have to be done, and maybe if I do thing, I'll be able to put all of it behind me. That's what I say as I toss the toy up on top of the dresser to be returned to the store I had bought it from. I hope they won't ask me why I'm returning it, because I just don't want to tell that damn story again.

I start back in on the toy box, and think that I am far more attached to these things than Bruce ever was. He would give toys away that he was tired of, or trade them with the other kids in the neighborhood. I always would yell at him for that, telling him that there's no way a Batmobile was worth a plastic boomerang. It didn't matter though, since he would just do it without telling me after that.

I find a plastic bag of pogs and it gives me a quick smile.

Bruce sat down after he got them and tried to show me how to play, and I just never got it. Partly because the rules for the game didn't make a lot of sense, and partly because a five year old isn't exactly one of the better teachers you could have. We played one afternoon, and by the time the game was over, I owed him around fifty of the little round pieces of cardboard. I still think he made up the rules as he went along, but it was so wonderful to see him acting in charge and treating me that way a grown-up treats a child. It was one of those glimpses into how his mind worked.

I put the pogs on top of the dresser, intending to keep them as a reminder. By the time I get done with the toybox, the dresser is covered with reminders, and I put them all back into the toybox. I smile wistfully and tell myself that someday I'll have friends that come over to my house to visit with their kids. At least that's the excuse I'm going to use to keep all of this stuff. When I put the lid on the toy box, I find I've filled three boxes. One with stuffed animals, one with toys for Goodwill and one with toys that I will send to my sister, who has two children.

Last is the dresser, and I run out to the kitchen before I tear into that. I hit the first speed dial on the phone and my married friend, Cindy picks up. She has a little boy about a year younger that Bruce, and I ask her if she would be interested in any of the clothes before I send them to Goodwill.

"Sure, but make sure that aren't those ratty old things you ex would buy for him," she says. My wife and I broke up when Bruce was just a year old, and we shared custody until he got to be school age, when she fought for full custody. I gave it to her. We fought while we were married and while we divorced and I was done fighting with her. Now I'm completely done with her.

"Nope," I say, "those are in the box for Goodwill."

"Giving them back to where she got them," she says, not bothering to hide the contempt in her voice.

"Look," I say, not really wanting to reopen old wounds, "she did the best she could. It's not my fault she had no taste."

"Dropped. Are you OK?"

"I'm fine," I lie, "I'm just cleaning the room and thought you might be able to get some use out of this stuff."

"Why don't you bring it by tomorrow night. I could make a nice dinner, and Ned would love to show you his new fishing gear. He shows it off more than he uses it."

"I'll have to pass. I've got my grief group tomorrow and I want to drop all this stuff off on my way. Thanks for offering though."

"How's the rest of your week looking?" she asks.

"Pretty busy," I say, "I'll get back to you."

I know I really should take her up on her offer, but I don't really want to be with other people a whole lot right now. Before I was married, I spent most of my time alone. When I was raising Bruce on my own, I didn't have much of anyone around, so I grew to be comfortable with my solitude. Now, I want to get back to it. In fact, when he was still a baby, I had a routine that I loved. I would pick him up from the ex's house, come home and play with him until bath time, then read him a bedtime story and have him in bed by eight o'clock, leaving the rest of the night for me to watch TV or read. I didn't have much energy to go out and do things, so I didn't miss it. Now, I feel like I'm on the run every night.

I start to feel the wave of depression creep in again, and decide to get busy to chase it away. The top drawer is for socks, underwear and pajamas. The socks and underwear are thrown away, since no one wants those things used. There's half a bag of new socks that we never got around to and I put them on top of the dresser for Cindy's little boy, along with the dinosaur pajamas and the gray long underwear that Bruce used as his favorite pajamas.

The shirt drawer is next, and it looks overstuffed at first glance, but as I pull the clothes out, I see that it's not as full as it appears. Bruce would just shove the clothes into the drawer instead of putting them in nicely. Each shirt I pull out causes three more to spill out onto the floor for a while. I separate them into nice cotton shirts that Cindy would like, other shirts that would be best at a yard sale, and a small pile of shirts with their tags still on them. The same goes for the pants drawer, which has mostly shorts. Bruce liked having his blue jeans and long pants hung up, since his Levis' were his special jeans.

I go back into the kitchen and grab plastic garbage bags for the three tiers of clothes and have them stuffed full in just a few moments. I put the last few things on the bed into their respective groups, clothes, toys or garbage.

I make the bed, being careful to make sure the sheets and blankets are clean. I had washed them and remade the bed thinking that he would have slept there again. I was wrong.

It takes three trips outside to take care of everything I've packed up, between putting things in the trunk and throwing away the garbage. When I get done, I toy with the idea of vacuuming the room, but when I see that it is almost nine o'clock, I decide to wait for another day.

When I look around one last time, I realize that I'm done. I sit down, and feel my back and legs start to relax from all the kneeling and lifting I'd been doing. The bed sags under my weight, the same way it would when I would sit on it to read a bedtime story, or to sneak a kiss on the cheek before I went to bed. I stare at the Winnie the Pooh poster, going over the details as if I were seeing it for the first time. When I was a kid, I would have known every detail of every poster in my room, but I never really noticed the pictures I'd hung in my own house. They were just there, filling space on the walls so that they didn't look barren.

The room is so quiet now. I reach over and turn off the light.

And now it's dark.

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