What's It (To Y)ou?
Recently, blog post themes had occurred much later in the week than I would have liked, and seemingly out of nowhere. Yet, every now and then, my trainer arrived at the gym and wrote her workout last minute. “It’s random,” she’d say. But I knew it wasn’t. It was the experience, the practice, the purpose hovering right below consciousness waiting to surface with meaning. For the last month, I dug into a toy closet and toys from all over the house resurfaced, forcing me to answer the question, “What is it (to y)ou?’
This past week, my eyes jumped from the plastic and metal creations spread across the dining room floor. It was a lot of toys, AND they were in very good condition, no thanks to me. While cardboard boxes had suffered, the sets were complete and easy to match.
“That’s a lot of toys,” my dad said.
Despite my thirty-year absence from acknowledging the toys’ existence much less their value, I had recently done my best to give each one its best shot of its next step, even if that didn’t mean staying in a house that needed to redefined its spaces in terms of who we each were now. I had sifted through plastic, recycling the bits and pieces no longer attached to each other nor a memory. I had plunged the rest into water and scrubbed with a soapy sponge. I left them to bake across dry grass in late September heat.
“The ones sitting over there, I’m going to donate.” I said the words to convince myself more than defend the decision. “They’ll be good for young children, and I honestly don’t remember several of those sets.”
Dad nodded. “You’re still keeping quite a few.”
“I know. We’ll see,” I paused. “How many will actually fit.”
How would they fit back in the closet that now sat empty smelling of fresh paint? Did they still fit? If so, why?
Which toys illustrated my story? My brother’s? Ours together? Which preserved the memory of the toys taken from my father without his consent? Which filled the gap of my mother’s intentional teaching choices without the heart for play?
For a long time, I hadn’t even touched those toys, and now it was harder and harder to let them go. I had expected more resistance from my father, but as with many of our recent forays into reorganization, he was stepping back. He had gotten us this far, to where the toys and I had met again. That had been his purpose, what had not been done for him. Now it was my responsibility to decide the ‘what happens next’ with which I could live.
Because. . . I had heard that Salvation Army discards as they sort, and I had already paid for special recycling services for the toys I believed would be reborn.
Because. . . I believed toys were bought with the purpose of education and connection, and I wanted to be intentional with the purpose of their next life.
Because. . . I feared for the toys’ safety and ultimate destination as a lesser one, and I was compelled to protect them.
I carried the donation tubs to my car, I exhaled and promised to ensure they were really wanted in each place. At the immigration support services, I said goodbye to the stuffed animals and circus set.
“They’re a sweet group,” I was told, and I was grateful I had held my ground to ask her to look at each piece to ensure this was their place, because it wasn’t, not for all of them.
I pressed the intercom at Headstart and announced my arrival. “We’ll bring boxes,” said the bubbly voice who then emerged and returned with me to my car.
“They’ll be great for the large motor room,” she reassured me. “There will be some very happy teachers.”
I said a prayer of gratitude to my steering wheel when I pulled out of the parking lot. “Mom, you had always intended these to be for my growth. Now, I no longer need them. I am what you wanted me to be, so they need to move on.”
Then, I eased into traffic.
I delivered the awkwardly tall carboard box with the prepaid shipping label to UPS last. The outside was marked with plastic cups not even close to representing the stories twisted into broken plastic now cradled against each other. Perhaps the toys better understood the inertia of the universe than I and had prepared themselves long ago when I had abandoned them to years’ of dust and silence.
That evening, I carried one armful of larger pieces up the stairs. I glanced at the toys still waiting for their next place and space. The chosen few I dotted across empty shelves. I lowered myself to the floor and opened the doll’s closet. The ends of her hair were a bit crimped and frayed. Her clothes were faded. The toys’ eyes and my past met my gaze. I felt the sadness wrapped in brightness of the next time I might sit here with my niece and nephews wriggling by my side.
Above me the tinkle of ‘Row, Row Your Boat’ hovered. It was not the first time the tiny television set had played its song to me all on its own. The light notes were butterfly wings affecting not a recent, but a deeper acknowledgment of, change.
What are your toys worth? The answer depends, but it is worth further exploration. If you have the financial means, please consider recycling options available to you.
For general toys, I recommend shop.terracycle.com. They participate in several free programs and provide 'Zero Waste Boxes' for all the odds and ends of your toys' lives.
For media, I recommend greendisk.com. In this digital age, 'donating' media to the Salvation Army or Goodwill is simply the easy way out for many of us and it kicks the responsibility to someone else. Audiocassettes, VHS, CDs and other techno trash are welcomed by this service.
Toys in good condition deserve a further conversation, but it takes a conversation. Google searches made me believe that I had no options, but further conversations revealed that several services in my community use toys in different ways (i.e. for displaced families, for Headstart classrooms and for families to select new pieces to take home.) Please ask around.
Books are great to rehome at your public library's used book sales, but those that are not, especially encyclopedias, require the bindings to be removed before recycling. Please do the extra work.