One of the joys of not sending my daughter to preschool is that we are together constantly, bugging each other to death.
Because I work at home, I have to figure out how to get stuff done with Phoebe in the house. We can’t afford a nanny. So it’s just me, my kid, and a mountain of tasks to do. Every. Single. Day.
This is where The Stuff comes in in handy. I distract Phoebe with her toys or her iPad or, when I absolutely couldn’t be interrupted, a movie.
And after a while, The Stuff piled up. It became a clusterfuck, with used-to-be-tidy bins of carefully selected toys overflowing under the constant stream of birthday presents and Happy Meal toys packages and Very Special Artwork That She’d Cry Over If I Threw It Away. (I’ve tried clearing things out when she’s asleep but she notices. And she’s heartbroken. Every. Single. Time.)
Then one day went especially bad: I was stressed. We fought. We reconciled. And then we fought a few more times. I wanted to scream at her. Instead, I sat in my room, fuming, trying to calm down, giving her time to do the same.
When I went to find her, she was sitting on her bed, glued to a game on her iPad. She wouldn’t look up at me. She wouldn’t respond to me. When I tried to turn her iPad over, she screamed at me and tore it out of my hands.
I’d had enough.
I didn’t say anything—I just took action. I started gathering together her toys and carrying them in boxes and bags to the garage.
At first, Phoebe screamed and clawed and punched me. I spoke firmly, telling her we could talk if she would calm down. I kept working. I told her she could help or watch. After a lot of slammed doors and bargaining and tears, she decided to join me and we tossed the last of her toys into giant garbage bags and left them in the garage.
Then we sat on her bed and talked about how people are more important than things. And after a few minutes, she told me that she misses me and just wants to spend time with me. I was cut to the heart.
The Stuff stayed in the garage all week. We played together, making our own toys out of everyday things, and soon she resumed playing alone in her room, her imagination alive, turning anything into a plaything.
For so long, I thought she needed all this Stuff, I thought I needed the Stuff, but it turns out the Stuff is just a crutch. What we needed was each other.
Now, a month later, we’ve reintroduced a few toys (maybe one tenth of what she had before). But when I have a work day, these days, she’s excited. She leans over my artwork, asking how I do things, studying my techniques. She sits beside me, working on her own art as I complete my commissions. And I sometimes pause to help her, guiding her hand or showing her how to create a certain effect.
This Monday, after we worked all day, I was laying on the bed, exhausted. She came in, laid next to me, and we talked.
“Thank you for letting me get so much work done today, Phoebe. I really appreciate it.”
“I love you Mama.”
“I love you, too, baby. Did you have a good day?”
“Yeah! I did!”
“What was so good about it?”
“I got to spend time with Mommy!”