Friday, April 06, 2007

Socks and sand

I killed my dryer. Or at least I thought I killed it. But my handy husband spent over an hour last night performing emergency dryer surgery and he thinks perhaps it’s not completely dead after all. What a relief. I’m not sure I could bear the responsibility of cold-blooded appliance murder. It wasn’t a premeditated act so maybe I could plead guilty to dryer-slaughter and get off easy. “But your honor I was just transferring a load of clothes and emptying the lint filter when I sensed that the baby was crawling up the stairs (up: not a problem; down: another story) and once I had rescued her, the phone rang and then, after about 15 other interruptions, I returned to the laundry and turned on the dryer and it wasn’t until much later in the day, when I went to unload the clothes, that I realized I had failed to put the lint filter back into the slot. I promise I would never deliberately make my dryer eat socks. Especially since the sock that made it the furthest down the shaft and ended up tangled in the motor was one of my favorites: a thin white anklet with little flowers embroidered around the top.”

Ken dangled the sock in front of me last night – behold exhibit A! – so severely stretched that it would now reach well above my kneecap. I’m thinking that the mangled sock is a fitting symbol for my brain. Once lovely and useful, now full of holes and stretched a bit too thin.

After he had extracted the sock but still had the dryer open, Ken called me down to take a look inside. I knew exactly what I’d see, and there it was: a layer of sand at least an inch thick. I knew it would be there because we own a sandbox and my children practically live in there during the summer months. We do our best to make them dust off their clothes and dump out their pockets before coming into the house (short of stripping them naked and hosing them down I’m not sure what more we could do), but still I have seen the sandy residue that lines the tub after their baths, I have heard how the vacuum (back when we had a vacuum) crackles and pops its way across the carpet, and I have felt the grainy texture of the lint when I pull it from the dryer’s lint filter. (Back when I used to empty the lint filter and then put it safely back in the slot where it belonged.)

Ken and I have a hate / love relationship with the sandbox. He hates it / I love it. I realize it has some drawbacks, but in my opinion, the benefits far outweigh them. The kids need a place where they can be creative and get dirty. Well, at least the kind of “dirty” that a control-freak mom who loves the idea of a contained pile of somewhat clean, dry silica within a fenced yard right outside her kitchen window will allow. One of the first things we did when we bought our old house (after installing an outlet in the bedroom so we had a place to plug in our alarm clock without stringing an extension cord all the way to the bathroom. Hello? Why had no one in the home’s 50 plus years of habitation gotten around to THAT?) was build a sandbox in the backyard. Ditto (except the part about the outlet) for our current home.

Mary Cassatt, Children Playing in the Sand

I’m not really sure I understand the bottomless appeal of the sandbox. Why do my kids love it so much? With what abrasive magic does it hold my boys’ attention for hours at a time? How does it manage to draw a small crowd of neighborhood children, even the older ones who spend the rest of their precious free time in front of television and computer screens in dark, air-conditioned rooms?

I ask Ethan: “What do you do in the sandbox?”
He says, “Build things. Towns, cities, dams, roads.”
“Does it matter that they all fall apart?” I ask.
“No,” he says. “Sometimes demolishing things is the best part.”

I want to project metaphors onto them, my children in the sand, playing with entropy. At the very least, I want to quote soap opera slogans at them: “Like sands through the hourglass, so are the days of our lives.” (Not that I ever watched this soap opera, rushing home every day from High School to get my daily fix or obsessing along with my girlfriends about the status of Hope and Bo’s ever-imperiled relationship and taking bets on whether Steve had a healthy eye under that awful patch).

I want to tell my kids that sand, formed from the weathering and decomposition of rocks, symbolizes the transient nature of time. That, as the foolish man learned the hard way, we don’t build houses on the sand because it is shifty and unstable. I want to tell them – gesturing dramatically to the garden next to their sandbox – how sand is essential to life; without it to keep the soil porous, our plants would die of thirst. I want to interpret their childish play – the building and the destruction – as a microcosm of other more universal patterns: the growth and decay of nature, the rise and fall of empires, the flourishing and death of all mortal things. I want to see the world in their grains of sand.

But I won’t. Because maybe it’s just sand. And maybe they’re just kids. And, at least for the moment, as shifty and transient as that moment seems to be, they are just playing.

“Mom, is it okay if we use the hose to flood our city? We want to see if the levies will withstand the latest tsunami.”

“Sure. But be sure to dust all the sand off your clothes when you’re finished. It’s bad for the dryer.”


Dedee said...

(Reading this as I flinch everytime a child of mine walks back in to the house, knowing that they are tracking sand in with them, from the sandbox under my back deck. Wondering just exactly what they see in it and trying to figure out how to get it through their heads that drinking cups and sand is not a good combination--at least for my lips, it's not.)

Love it. Love the sand box. Love the freedom it buys me. Love your post.

eve said...

I love it as well! You have such great command of the language! I read every post with a smile.

Em said...

Sandboxes are a dream for children - the perfect place to explore and build and discover... although I have to admit that my most vivid memory of my childhood sandbox is finding a large brown snake curled in a spiral and basking in the sun on top of the sand... very impressive and scary.

Jennifer B. said...

First found you through your "lather and rinse" post mentioned by Compulsive Writer.

Fantastic post. You are beautifully articulate.

Jenni said...

Ahhhh.....sand. We don't have a sandbox, but my dearest dream is to live by the ocean and have the biggest sandbox anybody could ever desire.

I think I will invest in a sandbox now, though. Your thoughts are very persuasive (especially the part about the video-game lovers wanting to get involved).

Jenni said...

Oh and I meant to say that the part about the sock resembling your brain cracked. me. up.

I think one of the reasons I blog is to remind myself that there really *is* more in my head than the alphabet song and grocery lists.

Radioactive Jam said...

I recommend you mount the stretched sock in a frame and hang it on the wall over your dryer. Next, bury the now orphaned unstretched sock deep in the sandbox. When someone unearths the lost and lonely sock and brings it to you, ask them to write the sock's story as an epic poem.

That way you'll have something to read while repaying your debt to sock society.

Also - even if you enter a guilty plea, retain Gabie as your defense lawyer. Now. You don't want him working for the prosecution.

Lynn said...

I think part of the lure of a sandbox is that not only can kids use their imaginations...they can also mechanically go through the motions of building something while "zoning out" and clearing their minds (without having anyone ask them if they're o.k.)

Klutzmom said...

Sandboxes are an essential part of childhood. I grew up playing in one that my mother could see from the kitchen window.
The sandbox we put in our current backyard was in view from the kitchen window but at the farthest corner of the yard to allow a little more sand to drop off. I hate to admit it but it's now overgrown with weeds. And why haven't we revived it for the grandkids? Good question!