They started appearing about a month or two ago by the handful. Every day, after school, my youngest son would show me when he hopped into the minivan and dropped his backpack into the backseat. "Mom, you will never guess what I found today!"
They are all alike, the rocks he finds on a public elementary school playground in suburbia: white, generally nondescript, and sometimes, clearly, chunks of concrete. "Conglomerates!" he yelps with excitement. "This one might be limestone. I mean, maybe. Did you know chalk comes from limestone, Mom?"
Somehow, some way, his magical teacher -- the famous Mrs. Hoot -- has instilled a love for rocks in her little classroom of first-grade academics. They have all become playground geologists. Now, Ben will turn down a pair of shorts I lay out for him in the morning with a shrug. "Those don't have pockets. I need pockets for my rocks."
And yes, every day, Ben's pockets are full of rocks. Unfortunately, with the amount of laundry I must go through in any given week, this fact slips my mind. Inevitably, I open the washer or dryer -- especially the dryer -- and a handful of white, chalky rocks fall out with a clatter. They are now constantly filling my lint tray and knocking around in the bellies of my machines. In the rush of my every day, I bend down to open the dryer door, hear the familiar noise, and curse under my breath. Again. I forgot to check his pockets again. I know it is only a matter of time before Ben's rocks break my washer or dryer.
We have asked him to empty his pockets, but, being 6, he has a certain hierarchy of priorities and thoughts. These include, in no particular order, which of his friends were at school today, whether it was chicken sandwich day in the cafeteria, if he had two dollars to spend on luxuries at the school store, whether his brothers have already scored the last of the best snacks or the plum seat in front of the computer after school, and if he has seen this particular episode of Adventure Time. Distinctly absent from his list of priorities: where he took his shoes off, if he has homework to complete, whether he left the door open so the dog can bolt out into the neighborhood, and yes, if he emptied his pockets of rocks.
Lately, it has begun to drive me crazy. I have been picking tiny pebbles out of the dryer lint tray and depositing heaps of rocks on my laundry counters, uncertain whether to throw them away or keep them for some undoubtedly valuable collection of nondescript white playground rocks? I caught the toddler trying to hurl one into my bathtub one day, and I fished another out of the dog's mouth. But though I grow increasingly bitter about the piles of rocks, I can't bear to say anything to the boy they belong to other than a weak, "Hey, buddy? Think you could try to empty your pockets for me when you come home?"
Something in my heart just won't let me do anything to discourage this hobby. He is my last little boy, the one who is such a Third Brother that he regularly skips the innocent phases most little boys go through, racing straight to the more mature or savvy interests of his older brothers (Minecraft, RoBlox, Pokemon Y) instead of meandering through Thomas the Tank Engine or pirates or Star Wars at his own pace. The fact that a rock kit was his favorite Christmas present this year -- that he spent time taking each different specimen out of its pocket, announcing its name, and passing it to both my husband and me for inspection instead of solely burying his face in an electronic device -- is so wonderful and rare and classic childhood to me, I cherish it. I won't chide him for the rocks in his pockets. I can't.
Instead, I have decided to see the rocks that tumble out of my dryer each day as small symbols of the abundance in my life. They are physical reminders of how blessed we are:
- We are lucky enough to have four children, including this charming, unbelievably stubborn, incredibly spirited little boy in our midst;
- He has a bright, creative, motivating teacher and a cadre of like-minded, adventurous soul mates in his first grade class;
- He is so unburdened by other cares that he feels free to spend his precious recess time selecting his daily collection with his friends, and
- My life is so full -- of laundry, at the very least (ha) -- I don't even remember to empty his pockets myself.
So for now, I will look at the ever-growing pile of rocks on the laundry counter and smile and shrug. Someday, I won't have any 6-year-olds leaving me beloved treasures in their pockets. I will remind myself of this, just as I (repeatedly) try to convince myself when I look at my bathroom sink -- perpetually smeared with children's toothpaste and SpongeBob band-aid wrappers -- that someday I might curse a clean sink.
I'm just wondering if my old-school, somewhat crotchety appliance repairman will have the same attitude when I ask him to come clear the nooks and crannies of my dryer of a bunch of rocks. I am thinking not so much.
Photo credit: Cynthia Graham
This post first appeared on Allison's blog, www.allisonslatertate.com.