I’ve been thinking a lot lately about objects. Specifically, I’ve been thinking about the objects that Henry loves.
Perhaps it is a function of his lack of toys. Not having space for all those massive entertainment centers/bouncers/walkers/dangley-toy-distraction things that people use to buy some sanity occupy babies,* Henry has always found toys with whatever items he discovered around the house. He has one basket of blocks and some hand-me-down things from a neighbor, but that is pretty much it for the moment, which doesn’t really seem to bother him. His preferences in re-purposed household objects-as-toys change along with his interests and abilities. When he first started “playing” with things, there was no possession more prized than they plastic container where we stored a couple rubber bath animals. Lengthy sessions occurred in between every nap where he would study the tiny pouch, holding it aloft and giggling at secrets contained therein, before cramming it against his gums and coating it in slobber. It was weeks before it lost its appeal, but eventually it faded in comparison to the box lid that a new Bible came in. He carted that lid all over the house, enthusiastically presenting it for our approval, gnawing at the edges until they softened and frayed, the box sagging and cracking at the corners.
From the Era of Containers, we passed into Age of the Remote. We don’t let him ever touch our phones, so I suppose he fixated on the TV remote as an acceptable substitute. Henry’s love for Remote is deep and loyal. He carries it from room to room, always eager to wave it if we forget for a second that he is capable of carrying things. He drooled in it so much that it no longer works, the batteries have been removed and it is official Henry’s Toy.
The remote has, of course, had contenders for the top place in his affections. The heavy kryptonite bike lock briefly drew all his attention as he strained all his tiny strength to haul it around the apartment and raise it above his head. The lid of my soup pot, not to mention all the mixing bowls, prove passing fancies that he revisits from time to time. The dishwasher door, the empty box that the diapers came in, James’ briefcase- these are all objects that we leave scattered around the floor, sacrifices cast before a fickle king in hopes that some will catch his favor and entertain him. And they do, because they are noisy and exciting and chewable and he believes them to be fully his.
By the end of the day, our house is strewn with Objects Henry Loves. It is a land-mine of beloved household goods and trash that hasn’t made it into the trashcan because “the baby wanted to play with it.” It is an obstacle course of items that served a purpose in distracting him long enough for me to half-way accomplish a million tiny tasks.
It is a total, unequivocal, perpetual mess.
And yet, I love it. Perhaps it is just the lens of motherhood that endows things with meaning beyond logic, but when I spend the evening undoing Henry’s damage, each object that I clean up feels precious. I laugh with James over his love of the remote, I pause with affection over the bike lock, I explain to guests who try to pick up the pot lid that it’s Henry’s “floor lid” and it doesn’t actually go on the pot. I look around my house and see a landscape punctuated with the things he loves and my messy house is imbued with purpose and beauty.
While it is tempting to grow overwhelmed at the constant destruction, and while I do find it vital to my sanity to clean it up each day, I don’t hate it. I think of it more as preparing our home as a clean slate for him to explore, to decorate with his beloved possessions. The messes he makes reflect his blossoming creativity and awareness. When I find the remote in the fridge or the cheese grater (another Prized Object, though one that presents enough dangers that we try to remove it from the rotation) inside my tennis shoes, I smile over his new understanding of space and depth. When he slowly carries all the items from my purse one by one to his little sheepskin rug, I feel pleased that he knows what spaces in our home are comfy and cozy.
I’ve talked about relics before, about our need for artifacts. My feelings only grow stronger as Henry grows and enchants more objects with his touch, with his enjoyment, with his love. So when I spend each evening cleaning up, when I find myself tripping over pans out of place, when my home is strewn with trash, I stop to remember-
These are the things that he loves. And this is the home where he loves them.
And that, that is enough.
*This is by no means a judgment on those toys or those who have them. Henry LOVES them, and I’m pretty sure he likes the nursery at church and our babysitter in large part because they have them (also because they have graham crackers, the epitome of luxury for our kid). If we lived somewhere larger, I would most definitely invest in them because my goodness they distract tiny humans so very well. But in our current setting, the benefit to entertaining Henry is weighed against my frustration at not being able to walk across our living room.