a tiny bit useful

November 9th, 2014

IMG_0728_2“I’m so over that cup!” my daughter said as I was about to pour a drink for her to take on the morning drive to school.

The cup was a spill-proof plastic cup with a hole in the lid for a straw. When she objected, I realized it was a child’s souvenir cup from an amusement park. The kind of park where you take your little ones for their first coin-operated horsey rides, first bumper cars, first roller coaster, and the first of dozens of cheap, ugly, oversized stuffed animals that will litter their rooms for years. It was still a perfectly usable cup, one you graduate to after you outgrow the sippy cup, but the drink I was pouring for her was coffee, and the commute was to high school.

My days are like this now.

This week I sold a good number of her once-very-special American Girl dolls, taking a baby step toward her urgent desire for a teenager’s room, Mom, a teenager’s room like everyone else. For a day and a half, my office was a doll salon, where I cleaned their faces, eyelashes and hair with baby wipes and coaxed the tangles from their ratty curls. I sorted a trunkload of doll clothing, hats, coats, socks, shoes and underwear. In short, I had a blast. Deep in the mound I found this teeny tiny duct tape purse. This craftwork dated from an age when my daughter was obsessed with enterprise. First came the dog training, dog washing, and dog walking schemes, then the yarn potholders and duct-tape wallets and purses. She was forever wondering how she could offer something people would want and use. Her ambition crested around age 12 with the YMCA babysitting classes and personal business cards, a campaign producing the pitiful yield of one actual babysitting job. Then she gave up childish things.

I kept the duct tape purse, because I remembered a little girl’s attempt to be a tiny bit useful in this big world. Usefulness gives us dignity. It gives us life. Everyone and everything wants to be useful, until their usefulness is used up.

I pitched the cup and a few more like it. I shipped the dolls. Now I pound this into my laptop waiting for the text that will tell me it’s time to pick up a girl who needs a ride home in the cold and dark from school. My tiny bit of usefulness is not yet used up, and for that I am completely grateful.

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  1. Oh you mother, you. My heart beats with yours on this, and I’m so glad to have read your words here this morning, just home from a visit with my now 22-year-old son, who allowed me to stay at his place and find ways to be a tiny bit useful to him. For which I was grateful.

    Comment by Katrina Kenison — November 10, 2014 @ 7:07 am

  2. Picturing you in your doll salon brings tears to my eyes. What a mother you are!
    And whoever receives these dolls, will find the perfect gift of your attention accompanying each and every one of them.

    Comment by Roos — November 11, 2014 @ 1:26 am

  3. I remember when I packaged up my son’s collection of Playmobil and gave it to another little boy. He was already way past using it, but I had hung on because I think I thought I was saving it for his kids. But that would have meant sitting in a closet for too long a time. It needed to be played with. So, I gave it away to another little boy. And the look of disbelief on his face, kind of like he’d won the lottery, helped assuage the funny little sorrow in the pit of my stomach.

    Comment by Clare — November 11, 2014 @ 10:12 am

  4. I was sure when I saw the photo that that was a tiny duct-tape rakusu.

    Comment by Rich Lafferty — November 12, 2014 @ 6:48 pm

  5. Now THAT would be useful!

    Comment by Karen Maezen Miller — November 12, 2014 @ 6:54 pm

  6. Please don’t promote the idea that enterprise is childish. C’mon! Trade and start-ups in baby-sitting, doll sales and other sorts of exchanges are a fundamental part of our world.

    Comment by Bill — November 16, 2014 @ 7:23 am

  7. Of course I am not speaking of enterprise. Read it again and see if your perception changes. It does, with time.

    Comment by Karen Maezen Miller — November 17, 2014 @ 6:06 am

  8. Karen Maezen Miller is one of the best writer’s in English on any subject, but especially on the romance and holiness of each hour of our lives. Her admirers and those of us who benefit from her thoughts and her language realize this. So, it is difficult to make a comment that is anything but more praise. How much praise does she need? Sometimes, trying to be the prideful nail that sticks up, I seek any excuse to say something that is other than adoring, even though I adore her.

    Comment by Bill — November 17, 2014 @ 6:40 am

  9. A friend recently demonstrated the strong upset a mother can feel when a son or daughter leaves for college. She is aware that mates can be found at those places, mates that will steal a child away!

    Comment by Bill — November 17, 2014 @ 8:52 am

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