Thursday, May 11, 2006

Problem of the Week 5/11: Owen's Backpack

Owen has always been one of those kids who gets attached easily.

His beloved blankie, which he used to call his "Tutti," became his nighttime necessity when he was six months old, and it happened completely by accident. Up until then, I'd been putting him down with a stiff, baby-sized quilt, but one fateful day when it was in the washing machine, I laid him down with a softer knit blanket with fringe along the edge. After only two nights it became his special Tutti.

I found out the hard way when I removed Tutti and replaced it with the fresh-from-the-dryer quilt. Baby Owen screamed for a good half-hour that night before I realized why he wasn't going to sleep. Once I brought back Tutti, he fingered the fringe lovingly and fell asleep within seconds.

Since then, I've been wary of putting things in Owen's bed. It seems like everything the kid sleeps with he is instantly attached to. He's slept with various flashlights, stuffed dogs, books, water bottles, plastic animals, legos, rubber bands, and even a pee stained towel I put on his bed one night to soak up an accident that he insisted he wanted and threw a screaming fit in order to keep. You see, all it took was one night next to that particular towel for it to become another Tutti.

Now, this was annoying enough when it was confined to his bed. But now that he is older and has discovered backpacks, I'm in a whole new world of pain.

Owen got this gigantic PowerRangers backpack for his birthday from one of his classmates. Now, he has never even seen PowerRangers- (he occasionally calls it his "Batman" backpack as he prefers SpongeBob to the superheroes beloved by school friends and doesn't really know the difference)- but he LOVES this backpack.

He fills it with all sorts of treasures- his collection of little plastic reptiles, insects and dogs (collectively referred to as his "lizards" or his "lizards and doggies"), his insect collection jar, several rubber bands (which he and Emma call "toots" for some reason that eludes Marylou and I) of varying sizes and colors, at least six stuffed dogs, his PowerRangers wallet, every dollar bill Grandma or his Aunt Liz ever sent him, some pennies and Bally's Total Fitness parking tokens he lifted from the console of the van, his stuffed "Mommy" macaw (a scarlet macaw his Aunt Joanna bought him from the zoo), some cheap toys he got at the dentist's office for sitting still, a bracelet and a broken piece of car he won at Chuck E. Cheese's, and some of Stewart's matchbox cars.

Now, that is a lot of stuff for a four year old to be hauling around, but I wouldn't mind if he'd just leave it in the closet. However, he has to DRAG IT EVERYWHERE. To school, to Ralph's, to speech therapy, to the park, to Marylou's. Anyplace we go, the backpack has to go too.

When we're at home, it's always in the middle of the floor.

And what's even worse is that it's always expanding. Now, in addition to his backpack (crammed with all the aforementioned treasures), he's rediscovered his Tutti and drags that around the house, along with a water bottle, an ever-present spotted Pound Puppy with motion sensor that whines when you walk past it, a red pair of children's gardening gloves I got him at Target, two Squish pillows (one red, one blue), several mini-jars of honey and jelly that Marylou brought him from Los Vegas last summer, and a Kleenex box into which is stuffed a pair of Ninja Turtles sunglasses.

I take any opportunity I can to trim these items down by hiding or tossing them.

And before we leave the house, I set firm limits on what things can go with him. Usually, I tell him to pick just one thing to carry with him and that he's responsible for it. Whatever he chooses, I refuse to carry it for him or remind him about it.

As far as inside the house goes, I put a special hook in the closet and put his name above it with the label maker (best gift I ever got, thank you Marylou) and told him that if he's not getting anything into or out of his backpack, it needs to stay on his special hook.

He uses the hook and consents to being limited in terms of what he can bring when he leaves the house- it helps that he left his backpack at Target a month ago and almost lost it, so I can always play the "leave it here, we don't want to lose it" card.

But I still feel like I am constantly stumbling over Owen's stuff. It seems like no sooner do I fight the battle of the backpack and get him to hang it neatly on his hook than he finds something else to latch onto and I have to fight the battle all over again.

Each item is so random and so different- it's hard for me to think of a blanket rule, like "no toys at the table" (which IS a rule at my house, but not so for little jars of honey, rubber bands, and pocket tissues, all of which seem to defy categorization).

Each one belongs someplace different and each one requires a lot of maneuvering to get back to its proper place. Owen simply doesn't want to let any of it go. He's afraid Stewie will touch it or I will do something to it (he's right- I'll throw it away, Stewart will play with it) and he wants to keep all of these treasures protected.

I want to respect and value his property, but it drives me nuts to see him fighting tooth and nail with Stewart over a dirty Kleenex or something equally stupid. Not only that but it takes the kid twenty minutes to move from one room to the next because he's always dragging so much garbage with him.

I want to teach him to be less possessive, but to still take good care of his things but I don't know how. After all, if he was less possessive, and left his toys lying around all the time for Stewart to play with, Stewart WOULD ruin them or in the case of certain "treasures" like broken jewelry from the swap meet and rubber bands, I WOULD throw them out.

I know part of the problem is that he has to share a room with Stewart and maybe he doesn't feel he has anyplace of his own that's truly safe so he has to take it all with him. Or maybe what bothers him is that he has to go to school and leave his things unguarded at home with Stewart.

I wonder if I should set up a special shelf that's out of reach, or a locking cabinet that's just for him, but I feel like I don't want to encourage that miserly streak in him- and besides, let's be honest, I don't think it would take long for Stewart to find a way to plunder Owen's safe place, making him feel even more betrayed.

And then of course, knowing Owen, he would fill his "special shelf" with such alacrity that in five minutes it would be so full of useless stuff that there would be no room for anything else and he'd end up carrying a bunch of things around with him anyway.

Help! How do I value Owen's property without encouraging him to drag it EVERYWHERE or to squirrel everything he sees away into his backpack?

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