One of the most fascinating behaviours that Nick exhibited as a preschool child was his interest in creating lines of random objects. I refer to them simply as, “Lineups“.
Nick’s object “Lineups” began as relatively short innocuous lines of toys in the basement. Soon they migrated to other parts of the house. Soon there were Lineups along the edge of the bathtub, Lineups down the hall, Lineups in the living room. And they grew longer and longer, and grew to include not just toys but objects from all parts of the house. Soon Nick’s preoccupation had outgrown every room and he began making Lineups up and down our driveway. We have a long driveway, as our house has a rear garage. These were a special type of Lineup for they were, for me, very public displays that told the neighborhood that something was different about the occupants of this particular house. For there was no discrimination as to what was appropriate and what was not appropriate to display on the driveway. For Nick a “Driveway Lineup” was probably his ultimate expression of enjoyment.
My initial reaction to the Driveway Lineups was horror and embarrassment. We live in a relatively upscale neighborhood in Oakville, where everything appears to be perfect. And there for all to see on my driveway, were my little secrets, my dirty laundry, my cheap no-name brand preferences, my costume jewelry, my keys, my Oil of Olay night cream (minus the lid), feminine protection, plumbing tools, candles, leftovers from lunch, VHS boxes, books, cork from a wine bottle, – you get the picture! Any normal or abnormal household item could find itself in one of Nick’s Driveway Lineups. I imagined my next door neighbor, whose house is spotless and never an object out-of-place, must have been appalled by the public display of totally out-there messiness.
Dealing with the Driveway Lineup (or any other) was a delicate matter. It was not possible to dismantle it while he was present because it caused him extremely upset. To disturb the Lineup was to cause Nick PAIN, so it seemed. Initially I believed that Nick created these arrangements because he did not know what to do to amuse himself. But his reaction was really strong, so that could not be the real purpose. To get stuff put away I went to lengths to distract him into the house, and then I would sneak outside, remove the items and swiftly store them out of sight.
I did see the humour in the situation, even at the time, if fact sometimes I took a perverse pleasure at watching the “OMG!!!” doubletakes of dog walkers and newspaper delivery folk. But at the same time I was also rather pissed off that I had all this extra work of Lineup management. I already had enough to do, thank you very much! And my beloved possessions were being rained on, stepped on, broken, damaged or otherwise ruined. It was my STUFF and in a previous life I worked hard for it! However, I really needed to get the Lineups to stop, so I had to figure out why he was doing them in the first place. Then one day I had an “AHA” moment: Nick did not get the purpose of items and his lineups were his way of making sense of the senseless items in his environment. He was trying to put some order and control in his chaotic world.
This realization has given me my own “AHA”. In general there is so much stuff in our lives that is meaningless and without a practical purpose. Do we really need it? Do we really need that electronic ear wax vacuum? Will it make a difference? Will it last? As Driveway Lineups were replaced by other Driveway Lineups, and in time disappeared, a lesson remained with me.
At the time of this post N no longer makes Driveway Lineups, or in-house Lineups. Partly because he understands the purpose of many household items. Partly because he has found other ways to regulate his environment. I still catch myself getting upset when I find something broken, but Nick has ultimately taught me that I CAN let go of stuff and the need to acquire, to have, and to display success. It is a tough lesson, in our material world. But there is no question in my mind that having Nicholas has helped free me from attachment to the much of the stuff, the trappings and status symbols of this life.