As I opened the package that arrived in the mail, a little voice inside my head told me I was nuts. “Have you lost your mind?” it wanted to know. “You can’t have nice things!”
The little voice was right, I suppose. If 13 years of parenting have taught me nothing else, they have quite surely taught me the value of maintaining a healthy detachment from material goods.
I refuse to spend more than $5 on a pair of sunglasses, for example, because in the end they all suffer the same fate: masticated in the chubby hands of a slobbering toddler. I will also happily wait until the kids grow up and move out of the house before investing in fine china or the dining-room set of my dreams.
This is just a parental fact of life that I have come to accept: I can’t have nice things. Not now, anyway.
But then I saw one particular nice thing. I saw it and I wanted it. It wasn’t a big deal, really, but it was nice and I knew it: a lovely, ultra-soft, suede cover for the futon in the living room.
Just this one nice thing, I begged myself. I told myself no, and kept on looking. A hideous canvas or vinyl cover would be infinitely more practical.
But I couldn’t forget the suede, and I begged myself more and more until, eventually, I acquiesced.
I then managed to convince my husband the cover would be a wise purchase, and — whee! — I ordered my nice thing and it arrived in the mail.
It was nice. It was soft and smooth and wonderfully clean. Unblemished. No stains. No tears. No rough patches. I tore off our old, too-gross-for-description cover and put on the new one. I stood before it and relished it for the full three-quarters of a second that it remained untouched.
Then the kids descended.
“Cool!” they shouted as they leaped onto the futon — sandy sneakers, Kool-Aid faces and all.
“It’s so soft,” they marveled as they lay across it, rolled around, and rubbed it with what I was certain were sticky little hands.
When a couple of preschoolers plunked themselves down as well, my heart filled with fear.
“Nobody pee, okay?” I begged them.
Nobody did, and somehow we made it to bedtime. But the following morning the inevitable happened. I was walking by the futon when I noticed some new markings on the cover — crayon markings. Red ones. That’ll teach me.
I had no proof, but I was pretty sure who was the culprit. Someone who was young enough and cute enough to get away with most household rule infractions. Someone who had recently been experimenting with different artistic mediums, only a very few of which were mother-approved.
It was all so predictable that I couldn’t even get angry about it. Well, I thought to myself, this just confirms what I already knew to be true — that I can’t have nice things.
It was only foolish to think that maybe this one time I could get away with something. I sighed as I scrubbed at the marks with a damp towel.
Almost all of the markings did come out, but I knew there would be more. And there would be stains, messes, tears, and accidents too.
It would have been easy to wallow in woe-is-me for the day, but minutes later I caught sight of the crayon culprit sitting on the floor beneath the dining room table. He was wearing a string of pearls from his sisters’ dress up box and running a small truck over the bottom rungs of a wooden chair.
“Vroom! Vroom!” he rumbled. His cheeks flushed with concentration as he focused entirely on the task at hand.
I watched him for a while as the baby hung heavily in my arms, warm and sleepy. I can have nice things. In fact, I do have nice things. Thanks be to God, I do.