Spring Cleaning: The Playroom by Margaret Hart

This winter on the east coast has been one for the record books. While I was hoping good old Punxsutawney Phil would say the end was near, he predicted six more weeks of winter. That was February 2nd. We’ve had more snow days from school than anyone thought was possible, long winter breaks, holidays, and it feels like the kids have been out of school more than they’ve been in. I don’t know anyone, not even those who love winter sports, who isn’t looking forward to spring. Just 18 more days! I can make it.

To get me in a springtime mood, and in conjunction with a recent kids consignment sale in which I was a vendor (and blogged about), I started my spring cleaning early and decided to tackle the playroom. Every day since my son was about a year old, I have spent countless hours organizing and reorganizing his toys in his playroom. Over the years, the infant and toddler toy “baskets” grew into toy shelves and bins filled with trains, cars, and bigger games. Those toys eventually went out of circulation and into storage and were replaced by other toy bins and shelves filled with books, coloring books, activity books, board games, stickers, paints, markers, crayons, and larger toys!

For at least the last five years, I have stared at shelves containing bins labeled “coloring books,” “stickers,” “craft stuff,” “markers and crayons,” “glue sticks,” and more. These bins were filled to the brim, and hadn’t moved more than a few inches from their little cubbies in years. The bin marked “play dough” was especially conspicuous. My son is nine years old and hadn’t played with play dough in years! I had procrastinated long enough. It was a long overdue project. I finally began the process of sifting through every bin and box and making decisions about what to donate, what to give away, what to keep and what to toss. Surprisingly, a lot of the play dough is still fresh. I donated it to the special needs classroom at a pre-school.

Going through this process has been bittersweet. It’s brought back many fond memories of babysitter’s past, holiday’s, and pre-school play dates and projects. I have found so many cute things. Lovingly decorated cards to mommy that my former long-time babysitter helped my son make, but were obviously the “drafts” leading up to the treasured mementos he eventually gave to me. Lots of doodles. Dried pieces of play dough in shapes of stars. Too many Thomas the Tank Engine coloring books to count. Paint sets. Stiff paint brushes. Stencils. Sticker books galore!

Need a pipe cleaner? I’ve got plenty, and in a virtual rainbow of colors. Need a glue stick? Got those, too! Paints and brushes. Check. I found packages of crayons from our visit to the Crayola Factory five years ago, that were never even opened. There are race car paint-by-number kits, Halloween paper pumpkins half decorated, plaster Easter eggs decorated in the color palette of a three-year-old boy (blue, brown and green with splash of yellow!), Valentine’s Day and Christmas crafts by the handful. Cotton balls and googley eyes. Each item brings back a cherished memory of toddler and little boy days, play dates with good friends, holiday parties filled with little girls and boys painting, drawing and crafting, and lazy afternoons made colorful by finger paints and stained shirtsleeves. So many happy times and fond memories.

It’s a good feeling to clean house, and to organize, but it’s also a little sad to close the door on a chapter of your child’s life that has all but ended. Yes, he still uses markers and crayons and occasionally does a craft or two. But the days of little boy creative discovery have morphed into pre-teen boy creative digital discoveries. My son still plays board games and likes to build things, he still enjoys drawing and the arts, he still likes race cars, but those are now slot cars and tracks that he sets up all over the house. He has moved on to creative challenges that involve more technology: a computer, a DS, and an IPad. It is the way his generation is playing now and the next generation has started playing so early.

So good bye play dough, I will miss rolling snakes and being upset about mixing colors. I will miss the finger paints and the mess. I will miss all the crafts at the holidays with sparkling glue and glitter. But I’m having so much fun watching my son learn exciting and creative things on the computer, and enjoying talking with him about the latest book he read, or enjoying a challenging game of Scrabble or Monopoly. Now if I could just figure out what he’s doing on the DS or the Wii? I wish someone would publish the “Cliff Notes” on how to understand and play Pokémon X and Y. Or maybe not.

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