Sunday, October 10, 2010

The Stain and Other Sorrows by Cyma Shapiro

Several months ago, I wrote about our much beloved twice/year involvement in a local consignment sale. Forgive me, dear reader, if I make you read it again:

“Last weekend, my husband and I spent two days preparing items to take to my old neighbor’s bi-annual consignment sale. This is not your usual consignment sale; this is the mother of consignment sales. My neighbor prepares for months, delegating tasks, advertising and marketing this well-known event.  We prepare for months, by adding old things to our now old-familiar consignment sale paper bags. These bags are hidden in closets and tucked away awaiting final examination. The items are then transferred to well-marked boxes and transported to the Event. 

 From the end of one sale, in the spring, to the other sale, in the winter, nearly every week is spent assessing the viability of too-small clothes, no longer used toys and ‘gently used’ accessories. I must confess that every stain that appears on my children’s clothing, every rip I find represents lost dollars and a futile attempt to make good on something now seemingly bad. I’ve spent countless hours spraying and respraying stain remover on grass, blood and crayon in the hope that I can recycle that one piece at the tag sale. Sometimes it works; sometimes it doesn’t.

 For us, the days leading up to the sale are a ritual, and one that takes on the tone of the High Holidays – this is when we get to assess; reassess; atone for past mistakes (i.e. items needlessly torn or broken during fun times, or during a fit of rage); and attempt to make better. We get to say goodbye to things no longer needed, items which came with memories, and items which have a story of their own. And of course, I, especially, feel the familiar sadness that comes with knowing that the clock can’t be turned back; that you, and your children can’t recapture time gone by.  While they continue to race toward the finish line – “when I get older…………..,” I can’t wait until I get older……………..” -- and seem to delight in adding their no longer needed items to the pile, I keep holding on to the past, reluctantly parting with all of this, knowing full well that the finish line never looks the same when you are standing at the starting gate.

The act of preparing for this Event takes on a life of its own: we separate the clothing from the toys; tag all items on the right side of each piece with the gold and silver safety pins we receive with our participant package; and list each corresponding item on the inventory sheet, being careful to disclose the type, size, wearer’s gender and, of course, the price. Nearly always, the price becomes a bone of contention between us – should we reduce it to nothing just to get rid of it, should we charge fair market value to recoup our original investment? Should we just get rid of things that are no longer useful by selling them, or should we donate them to much needier people? Ultimately, does any of this matter at all?

This time I had 68 items; actually 64 a few days ago, but the straggler pieces – things that I just stumbled on throughout the house -- were added and added until finally we brought the boxes to her.  Yesterday, I found something else to sell, but yesterday was too late.  That item was placed in the new paper bag, awaiting the next sale this winter.”

This past weekend was the winter sale. In preparation, I gathered all the winter items and stumbled on a really ‘cool’ shirt I’d bought my daughter years before she could wear it. I knew, at the time, that I’d wait for her growth, and later reminisce about how the purchase was so special for me – I finally had a daughter, I finally had a daughter that I could love, I finally had a daughter that I could dress and I hopefully had a daughter who would enjoy dressing up as well. Everything I just stated is still true, except I have a daughter who is a slob. The shirt is full of stains.

 To say more would be disrespectful to her and to us. However, everything she wears is constantly full of stains; in light of the above story, it is my job to try to eradicate them. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. But here’s the rub: suffice it to say that nothing she owns or wears or plays with matters to her at all. Things that are damaged or wrecked can “just be thrown away.” Things that we think will matter (such as items we take away as punishment) to her, don’t. Things we know (and she knows) look special on her, or are special, or are special gifts given to her by special people in her life, don’t matter. In this way, she isn’t at all like her mother or father. In fact, this disconnect is a source of great grief and disappointment, not only because we care about things, but we both have an innate sense of worth, of value in this world, whether it be external or internal. We care about material things, people, events, places, issues of the heart, ethics, morality, highly defined principles and the intrinsic value that all things on this earth must be given. But I must confess that she does not. 

How does one teach one’s child these inherently and deeply important traits – to cherish and value people, things, experiences, places? How does one impart the knowledge about value and worth? What does a parent do when a child’s framework so diametrically differs from theirs and their teachings on so many levels? How do we teach children to understand what they don’t seem to understand or ‘get?’
I am sad, today. Not about the stained shirt; it just serves as another reminder of things.  And, I’ve come to learn through mommyhood that “things” don’t matter. But things about living do. In this way, I continue to feel like we’ve failed.  I may use her soon-to-be-discarded shirt as my tissue when the tears start to flow.

(Oh, and by the way, I’ve started another consignment pile for the spring.)

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