objects, objects…

Something, anything…

Nothing much happened yesterday. Except a whole bunch of little kids came around. Kyria had two friends here, and then Ian’s friend Elias from the neighbourhood dropped by. The thing is with Elias that he always brings several brothers in tow. Big family, kick them out into the compound, let someone else take care of them for a while. That someone else often happens to be us, probably because Allison’s long-time predilection for picking up bargain toys and games means that we now have a bursting-off-the-shelves collection that would make any child’s eyes pop wide open. The little ones, barely toddlers, even come around here and ask to be let in on their own, when Elias is not visiting. The problem is that they pull the toys and games down off the shelves, they charge around the house, they fiddle with things they shouldn’t, and soon the place is wreckage.

A week or two ago I had a rant at Ian (especially) and Kyria, because the CDs on the stairs keep getting knocked down into the playroom and trampled. This was on the back of an Allison explosion after Kyria asked to borrow her string-of-beads bracelet at breakfast: Ian decided he wanted a slice of it, there was a tug of war, beads all over the floor, and Allison incandescent at another unnecessary task, another time-consuming inconvenience (when there is no time), another favourite object damaged.

The very next day there was a fight over the gorgeous Flower Fairies book that was a present from Karen to Kyria, and a page got damaged, though fortunately it narrowly escaped being torn. And then a pile of trashed CDs in the playroom, which was too much for me. “I’ve had these things for twenty years”, I ranted, “and you lot just come along and trash them like you don’t care!” Which of course they don’t – because they have no idea what that means (though it probably sounds portentous). They had been sliding down the stairs. Which weighs lighter in the scales – my sense of continuity in who I am through valued objects; or the sheer childhood exuberance, perhaps to become a sustaining memory, of shooting downhill at speed? The wreckage of my past and of my dreams becomes fuel for their future? Aw, it’s only objects…

Yesterday, as the price of my time to play a little guitar and Allison’s to research summer camps in Austin: the little boys played rough and one of the girls got hurt; toys and games got strewn indiscriminately all around the living room; all the cushions from the sofa got thrown on the floor and the sofa’s dodgy leg collapsed; somebody (unidentified) broke the head off the little green goose  that stands on the pregnant chest (an object Allison is especially fond of); and after Elias and his entourage of overweight toddlers had departed, I found my copy of U2’s Zooropa on the playroom floor, case shattered open and CD trampled and scratched. (Well, it was only U2, and I have it on iTunes anyway…)

I confronted the kids about this, and Ian claimed that he had watched one of Kyria’s friends accidentally knock it over the edge of the stairs. “And you did nothing?” I said. “You stood there and watched her knock it down onto the playroom floor, where it was going to get trampled and scratched, and you didn’t even pick it up and put it out of the way?” I became quite strident, which, as Allison pointed out to me later, was probably not reasonable; at seven, he probably just doesn’t make those connections, and he should be guided there gently, not chastised. But it goes on; day by day, more chunks get taken out of who we were, even as the kids silently accrete another layer to our identity as parents…

We talked, in our frustration, about banning the toddler gang from our house. But you know what? These are kids whose parents just throw them out. So they come to a “Christian”, infidel home, and they like it. One of the first times they came there was a dispute with Ian over the PlayStation, and one of them said, in French: “He’s a liar.” “Yeah well,” the other responded, “they’re Christians, and Christians are liars.” Allison gave them a rocket, in French, which opened their eyes… But the thing is that they actually like being around these Christian liars, and they know we’re not monsters now; maybe one day it will occur to them that we’re not liars either, and that whoever told them that Christians are liars had some sour agenda of their own. And maybe, one day, in twenty or thirty years’ time, in some racial tinderbox situation somewhere, these little acts of tolerance will count for something. Maybe it could be said of us that we planted a seed. Maybe. And even that maybe is probably worth taking the hit for…

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