The Klepto-Hoarder and the Magical Spirit of the Season


Maybe Christmas,” he thought, “doesn’t come from a store.

Maybe Christmas… perhaps… means a little bit more.”
~ Dr. Seuss


The holiday strategizing has begun! You are shopping online, frantically planning Black Friday-Cyber Monday-Small Business Saturday- Broke Mommy Wednesday shopping tactics. You find yourself looking around at the toys from the last haze of holiday and, maybe even listing some poor toy souls on Craigslist to make a buck or two. You don’t have to be ashamed. This is what every thrifty and brilliant Mom does. The one in, one out policy. For every new toy we welcome, you can say sayonara to an old one. Many Moms need to adopt the “hiding” method. Hide a toy as experimentation. If child doesn’t ask for it, then sneak it into the trunk. Then find a poor new Mom to unload it on. Or donate it. Or make a time to meet another Mom to swap it. That’s my favorite.

Parker is very much a child who likes “stuff.” He has always had an affinity for every-stuffed-animal-under-the-sun. He loves figurines of every superhero-character-animal possible, and the littler the better. He likes to have a toy in transit at all times. One to bring downstairs, one to bring upstairs, one to bring in the car, one to bring into bed, one to bring to his friend’s house, one to bring back to his house. He is known to put things in his pocket for “safekeeping”– he’s found hiding places for hot dogs, given sticks a home under the covers of his bed and will carry around two quarters for days and days and days. This gift is compounded by the memory of an elephant. He is often able to pinpoint a McDonald’s toy he loved back in the Spring of 2011 will ask, with an indicting tone where it is. I answer a lot of his questions with, “it must be around here somewhere” and never, ever, ever utter the words “lost” or “thrown out.”

He’s a toy-a-holic. He is interested by them whether they be new, old, happy, sad, used, broken. He’s got the gift of play.

This is all pretty typical of kids (I think) except for this next part. He is not just a hoarder of toys that he owns, he also enjoys toys that are not his. I first was able to diagnose this problem when another boy left his stuffed dog (named Mustard) at our lake house. Ordinarily, a child would be just beside themselves to give the toy/comfort object back to their friend. Not Parker. My child was not blessed with the giving spirit. He saw this misstep of his young playmate as an opportunity. A Klepto-tunity. He now could steal a toy from someone without a punishment. “So, we don’t EVER have to give Mustard the dog back to Declan, right Mommy?” I heard this more than once as Mustrad took up residency in our home. Every time I got Mustard out to give back, he made a disappearing act under the bed or between the couch cushions. My little loving red headed boy had now taken to a life of crime. He’d become a klepto-hoarder.

On more than one occasion, Parker has made a trip home from a play date with a little toy in his pocket. “I have a superfast car in my pocket Mommy and it’s— not—mine!” He will find something usually very small that he can sneak into some crevice of his coat-pants-carseat-backpack and will readily admit his crime only minutes after (almost) getting away with it.

With this “stuff” obsession comes along a sort of anxiety that Mommy is going to sell, give away or throw away his toys. When he sees me going through a bin of old toys, he often says, “Mommy, why are you doing that!? Are you giving our toys to ANOTHER FAMILY?!!!” The lies I have made up to assuage his anxiety will be kept a secret until his college graduation. Or until I really, really need to embarrass him in front of some friends someday.

Last night we watched an old fashioned Santa cartoon with children in tattered clothes. Because their clothes were tattered, Parker kept calling them cavemen. I stopped for a minute and wondered if I should try to explain to him what a poor person was. There are so many moments as a Mom where you wonder if you should compromise their optimism and innocence for a cold, hard dose of reality. I was feeling brave.  I went for it.

I explained that everyone doesn’t have warm clothes and homes and beds and blankets. Some people don’t have the money to pay for them. Some people don’t have their pick of ten different stuffed animals to snuggle in bed with. And some children wish from Santa for things that he gets already everyday– a warm home, a warm bed and clothes that aren’t tattered.

This makes the holiday time hard for a four year old mind to grasp. Someone who loves to hoard toys, hide toys and steal toys for himself. Teaching him to give to other people and not just add items to his Christmas (and birthday– Dec 16th) list is tough for a little guy. I have to show a sense of reserve and parental wisdom when approaching matters of “getting” and “having.” But, deep in the heart of me, there is a little klepto-hoarder Mom. Looking to gather all the joy I can into this time of year. Looking to see bright little faces light up. Looking to see what other “stuff” my kids can spread all over the living room and then hoard the whole year through. Now that I am writing this, I am wondering– am I part of the solution or part of the problem? Sigh…

This season is full of magic. It’s the magic of beliefs, the magic of positive thinking, the magic of giving and the magic of family. We all play a little part in the magic. Whether it’s the magical cleaning out of the toy box or the magical appearance of just the right shade of red bicycle under the tree, we are all magical.

At some point in the end of the cartoon, the two children pulled  blankets with holes in them over themselves and they dozed off to sleep . They then dreamed of gumdrops and sugarplums. In their dreams, they danced around in a dreamy candyland — and their clothes were no longer tattered. Parker noticed it too. “Mama, they’re not caveman anymore!”

As I wrap my presents this year and complete my shopping, I will hold one value extra special close. While I am lucky that my son’s biggest problem is his love for toys and his addiction to them, I will not let him forget that this season is not about toys or cookies or treats or even Santa. This season is about taking care of each other. Whether it be in charitable ways or in your own personal way, I challenge you to teach children about the magic that comes when you help other people. And hopefully, ever so slowly,  you can help them to rehabilitate their little klepto-hoarder selves.

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