While I napped on Sunday the boys struck a deal: Jay would give Wally the chipped glass marble he’d found at the park that morning and Wally would give Jay the big red Hess fire truck with working lights and sound effects that he’d guarded closely for the last week. Caroline, sensing a bad bargain afoot, stepped in – the deal would be temporary and the boys would have to trade back in an hour.
Which might have worked, except at the appointed time Wally had bad news to report: He’d lost the marble. He’d put it on the big shelf in the playroom and when he went to look for it, it was gone. Jay grasped the significance of Wally’s misfortune immediately and cradled the fire truck as his own. Caroline, looking for an out, told Wally he’d have to find something else to trade back.
So Wally went to his room, rummaged in the little drawer of his white nightstand, and came back with a set of big plastic lips that you can place in your mouth and blow like a kazoo. No deal. So he went back to his room, rummaged in the little drawer of his white nightstand, and came back with a paper person he’d made at camp that summer – cut out, colored in, and with a shock of brown yarn Scotch-taped to top for hair. No deal. The plastic lips plus the paper person? Jay, not bothering to hear him out, went off to find a dark closet where he could appreciate the grandeur of his new fire truck’s lights.
Five years ago, when Jay was two and Wally was just born, I wrote a post about the treasures Jay had stashed beneath the seat of his ride-along fire truck, comparing his standard of value to the one used by Danny Devito’s character to assemble a coin collection in Throw Mama from the Train. This is what Jay had cared for most:
- The spare tire that had broken off his favorite model car.
- Three wooden people that he only gets to play with every now and then as a special treat (because we’re afraid he’ll lose them)
- An old car key that we gave him after our car was stolen the prior year
- A plastic butterfly that had once served as a cake decoration
- A brown squirrel finger puppet that usually resides in the pocket of a quilt that hangs on his wall.
The items Wally tried to barter reminded me of Jay’s collection when he was two. And of the touching way generally that kids assign importance to objects at a time in life when much of what comes their way, still comes accidentally.
Just the other week, on an idle Saturday, Jay decided to put the contents of his own nightstand drawer out for display on the dresser he shares with Wally. He’s seven now. His standards have changed since he was two. He’s started to recognize the symbolic meaning of objects – Delta wings handed to him by a stewardess on our flight to San Francisco in March and sports trophies from seasons of soccer and baseball. (Though in the case of the trophies, it’s been hard to shake him of the notion that the gold-ish materials they’re made from are valuable in their own right.) He gets that a new flashlight has more material value than a pair of plastic lips. He values his “worry doll” because, I think, it took him nearly a year to make it in art class. And he knows enough to know that letters from the Tooth Fairy are worth holding onto, though not enough to know quite why.