Not for sale

My son Oliver has given me permission to write about the fact that he plans to keep forever two tiny clips that were once used to secure an orchid flower in its pot. These little clips must remain on display with his collection of toy dinosaurs, live amphibians in tanks and other sundry items that cover the horizontal surface atop of a chest of drawers in his room. The chest was procured second-hand by my husband Dan when the renters moved out of the tiny house in Shepherdstown, West Virginia, that we paid too much for 12 years ago and still haven’t sold. Know anyone who wants a cute house right outside the corporate limits of a cute town?

The other morning at 6 a.m. I found myself Googling Hoarding in children. After reading a few articles from bonafide psychiatric organizations, I came to the conclusion that Oliver’s collections do not, at the present time, warrant an intervention. Hoarding might be related to OCD and it might need to be addressed if it is having a negative impact on your life … and stuff like that.

I don’t know where he gets it, but I do know that he was born with it. He was one of those babies who didn’t want you to put him down, so we slept in shifts while someone held him. My husband was the same way when he was a baby. The theory back in his day was that it was because the nurses had held him too much in the nursery. My husband was such a cute baby, they couldn’t resist.

Oliver was a cute baby too. I had prepared myself for an ugly one. A few friends told me that babies are just ugly and you don’t feel the bond and it’s not like in the movies and you’ll cry a lot, so I was prepared for that.

But he wasn’t ugly, and I did sort of feel the bond when I could feel anything other than complete and total helpless anemic postpartum sleep deprivation.

I don’t know where he gets the OCD.

A psychiatrist once told me that my problems were really about feeling that I was not in control. Back then, I didn’t always have the dream about being unprepared on the first day of school. The reoccurring dream I had as a child was about riding in a car. One of my parents was driving and then they would disappear and it was all up to me, and I didn’t want it to be.

Later on, that dream evolved. Someone else, like a friend or a boyfriend was driving, but it was snowing and I knew we were going to have an accident. I just wanted to take the wheel. I knew that if I was driving, I could do a better job, but why couldn’t I just take the wheel?

When I teach Creative Writing, people sometimes write about their dreams. Sometimes they turn their dreams into fiction stories. I tried to do that once with a dream about schizophrenia. I had dreamed that I was living in this old apartment building and I made friends with a few other tenants. Then I found out that the other tenants didn’t really exist. So was the building haunted or was I was just nuts? I tried to make that into a fiction story, but I never finished it.

Years after I had that dream, I interviewed a high school student who had written a play about that very thing – being schizophrenic and terrified of going crazy. She asked me if her synopsis of the story made sense, and I nodded and said that it totally did.

Sometimes people write about their dreams as nonfiction and I wonder if they’re making these dreams up because I never have dreams like that myself. Once a girl wrote what she said was nonfiction about a reoccurring dream she had, and I had this feeling that she made it up just to have something to write about, which was fine, actually. The only part that bothered me was how much it would suck to have that particular reoccurring dream over and over again; no fantasy horror story can compete with a real one.

Those articles I read the other day about hoarding and OCD gave me comfort as well as some common sense suggestions, such as urging the child to donate an item before acquiring a new one. My children have been told that if they want new backpacks for school, they must donate an old backpack. Annabelle has complied with this requirement. We will see about Oliver.

While I was in his room scanning for safety hazards among his collections, I noticed a small pile of coins on his nightstand, and I got what I thought was a brilliant idea. Maybe I can somehow turn my son’s inclination to keep everything he ever encounters into some sort of get-rich-not-that-quickly scheme for me.

If he can hoard animals, plastic dinosaurs, and orchid clips, why can’t he hoard money until he saves enough for college? Then he can major in Finance and help other people hoard their money. Truly, as an English teacher, nothing would make me prouder than to raise two children whose full-time jobs have everything to do with financial gain and absolutely nothing to do with creativity.

I once interviewed this guy who had made his fortune in insurance. He had met many famous people and was a well-known, popular figure in his community. He told me that, when he went to college, his father had urged him to major in something practical like Economics, even though he was better at other things. So he listened to his father, made a lot of money, and had a good life.

The only sad part was that his wife had to quit college to raise their children, and then when she finally got her degree many, many years later, she left him. “Don’t put that part in your story,” he told me. So I didn’t.

He was well-known in town because he spent a lot of his time doing volunteer work. It was how he escaped the loneliness, the sadness … the nothing. He didn’t tell me that; I just knew.

Even with a successful career, he’d always been active in his community, with many friends and associates. He’d always had a full life with plenty of social interaction, intellectual stimulation, awards, accolades, and quotes in the newspaper, while his wife was at home clipping those stories from the newspaper and putting them in a scrapbook to leave for him when the time came.

He didn’t tell me that; I just knew.

I always wanted to turn him into a fictional character. He had the most beautiful home, decorated with many sparkling collectibles. When I looked around, I couldn’t believe that a single man lived there. But I never got around to making him a character, either. I didn’t make time for fiction, and that’s the one regret I have to justify all those years of poorly paid, small-circulation nonfiction. At least we had the truth, and that has to count for something. I would have liked to have made it something more, to really have shown people what it was like for that wealthy man whose wife had left him with a house full of trinkets, instead of just telling them about what a great volunteer he was, which people knew already.

I was just another byline in his scrapbook and he was just another page in my portfolio, wherever that is now, but he did write me a thank you note after the story was printed.

In fictional terms, that’s characterization.

Despite the fact that you can’t buy a fairy tale life, I am of the opinion that money helps a lot with easing the agony of reality.

I am working on my 7-year-old daughter Annabelle now. I am suggesting physical therapy and other practical job possibilities. She had the nerve to say to me that it would be unwise to pursue a line of work for which she has no passion because it would mean a lifetime of unhappiness. Instead of some clinical thing, she wants to be an art teacher or a veterinarian or something else that is meaningful to her, she had the nerve to say.

For now, we are rich in collectibles. If you know anyone who wants a cute house in a cute town, some antique tractor parts, a treadmill, used books, vintage handbags, broken Barbies, a cassette recorder, miniature Bibles, candle holders of various sizes, binders full of worksheets, colorful scarves …

We also have two tiny clips once used to hold an orchid upright in its pot, but those are not for sale.


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