Thursday, September 8, 2011

Down in the Dumpster

I don't know how many times I've said to the kids, "we're living in a garbage dump". Between Diva's generalized pigginess and Wild Child's tendency to drop toy weapons and snack wrappers on anything that can't run away, our home's general appearance is that of a family in crisis.

Moving through our house isn't actually all that difficult despite it's resemblance to an overgrown forest because like a forest, we've carved trails. Well worn traffic areas flow through the clutter of the entryway, into the staging area known as the living room and from there, branch off into the thicket to end up in the kitchen, with it’s own zone of functionality, the bathroom or the playroom. (I won't delve into the playroom except to say that in a rage one day last week, I removed the doorknob.)

One path also extends to the stairway, which is fraught with its own perils.

The dogs, ever determined to keep us all in sight, often snooze at its base. The path theme is in evidence even here, as the steps are lined with things the kids have been told to take up to their to rooms. Poor executive function (otherwise known as common sense) is one of the features of ADHD; if my son is holding a piece of toast, he can't manage to carry more than a pair of socks up the stairs. The rest of us can think of any number of ways to confront this challenge: Put down the toast, stack the items to be transported and set the toast on top, or simply go get a box or bag for everything. (I'd like to say that I'm always calm as I offer these suggestions, but that’s the mom I’d like to be, not the one I am.) My daughter is just plain lazy. Consequently, most of the things on the stairs have been waiting there so long, they're wearing as much fur as the dogs.

My own sensibilities tend toward feng shui, with its elegant simplicity, its fresh-canvas, life-affirming essentialism. As a young adult, I managed to live comfortably - and neatly - in a small two-room space for years. That was before children and, in particular, a son who hoards: packaging material, broken boxes, empty bottles, bits of aluminum foil, unidentifiable hunks of broken plastic off the street and things he’s liberated from other people’s trash.

Last year, we had made a stab at planning a tag sale. We gathered saleable items under a tarp at the far end of the driveway. But scheduling proved to be impossible and it kept being put off until a surprise ice storm swept in from the Northeast and left everything welded to the drive by five inches of ice. I’m not speaking metaphorically when I say that we’re living in a garbage dump.

Which brings us to the dumpster.

Now, I’m a member of Freecycle in three communities; I sort my recyclables and trash. I buy locally grown. I walk and ride my bike when I can. I’ve replaced all the bulbs with fluorescents, and turn off those not in use. I do care about the environment. Really. But I think my life and sanity depend on this dumpster, so maybe Exxon can turn off the tap for 18 seconds or so to accommodate me.

The dumpster is what they call a 15-yard can. I had to make room for it in the driveway. I set about removing the “tag sale” goods, the split bags of cedar mulch, the mangled basketball stand and backboard (sans hoop), the broken bicycle parts, skateboards and water guns. Relocated the broken shelving and what remained of a couch after wresting it from one of the dogs, and swept up great piles of leaves, broken concrete and sidewalk chalk. Not a moment too soon. The driver for the disposal company executed a very pretty three-point maneuver, backed gracefully into the drive and deposited the 2-ton payload within a half inch of the spot I’d indicated. It speaks of a great deal of practice.

So there it sits: We’ve asked the kids to make an effort to sort their things into the good and the  dumpster-bound. That won’t happen, of course. I’m the one who can’t take the clutter; it’ll have to be my project. In my fantasy, it looks something like this:

Me and an empty house. Chocolate. A really big pitcher of margaritas.

And the dumpster.

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