The Pull of Things

Earlier this evening a couple unfortunate choices were made– Håkan chose to put his coffee on a shelf in the living room that has a lot of often unused toys on it, right above the shelf with a lot of kids’ books on it, and Sam chose to get out one of the frequently unused toys, not noticing the coffee mug, spilling coffee onto several of our best-loved children’s books. We got there in time to catch the worst of it, but many of the books now have a quarter inch of coffee stain at the very top of their pages. One of the books was a gift from my mother and is one of Nina’s absolute favorites. I was very upset by this event. Responsibility was accepted by Håkan and by Sam (to the extent that responsibility is ever accepted by a 6 year old), and we all agreed it had been an accident. While we were cleaning up, Nina asked a couple times, “Is it all all right now?” Neither kid was phased at all by the fact that the books will now be permanently coffee-stained. There’s a chance they haven’t quite understood that, but there’s also a large chance that it really doesn’t matter to them. They are used to reading lift-the-flap books where one or several flaps have fallen off, and books whose pages have been mended, sometimes repeatedly, with clear tape. They are used to books that have been chewed on and whose covers have fallen off.I am in mourning for the books, and I know I shouldn’t be. They are still perfectly readable. It is probably also the case that I very much wish Håkan had chosen an alternate location for his coffee, and that Sam had thought about the mug before he reached for the toy, so perhaps part of it is a feeling of mourning for the accidents that happen. But I want to learn from my children, because they did not mourn at all, and I think they have the right idea. Maybe they will be sad when they see the pages with the coffee stains, but chances are that it won’t bother them a bit, or if it does, they’ll say, “Oh, that’s from when the coffee spilled.” Perhaps it’s a bit about perfectionism, and about the fact that striving for perfection is a recipe for misery. It is also about the things themselves. During one move from Sweden to the US, I sent a couple boxes home in advance. One of the boxes was lost. There was a sweater in that box that I miss to this day.So tonight I will try to think about my relationship to things, and I will strive to be more like the kids, so that tomorrow, when it’s time to read Otto’s Orange Day, I can just say, “Oh, that’s from when the coffee spilled,” and move on.

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