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The first time I showed my son what a pocket was and what he, could do with it he was wide-eyed delighted. It took him a only short time to figure out how to make his fingers work to open his pockets by himself, but once he accomplished that motor skill he would wear nothing without pockets. I figured it was a "guy thing". When fall arrived that year, having pockets enabled him to amass huge quantities of acorns, carefully gathered one-by-one, from the billions lying on his preschool playground. I found him an empty plastic jar to store them in when he told me, "I need ‘em for monsters. See, ya trow ‘em at monsters an it makes dair, um, eyes go bald, I tink", then he raised his hands up to cover both his eyes, as if to show me how they work. I hadn’t realized this was just the beginning.
The first time I paid attention to my son’s hunter-gatherer instinct was the afternoon I found rocks in my bed. Then three years old, he had stuffed his pockets with drainage stones from our local pool, after his swimming lesson, while I was busy getting his little sister dried and dressed. Nap time always followed lessons and on this particular day some of my son’s best pleading led us to a compromise allowing him to use my bed for his rest. Trusting him with, "Go to sleep!" orders, I gave him about 10 minutes before I tip-toed into my room to see if he had obeyed. He apparently had BIG pockets in his swim trunks, for there in my bed lay my son with his precious treasure of seven large rocks, complete with sand and gravel, meticulously arranged in a precise row parallel to his prone sleeping body. Although shocked to find yard materials in my bed I quietly, carefully removed them afraid they would hurt him should he roll over in his slumber. I placed the rocks in a neat row, in clear sight, on my glass covered vanity to await his awakening. I didn’t mind the dirt in my bed, by this stage in our lives I had come to expect just about anything from him, but I was surprised to find the loving, detailed, attention he paid to his new found possessions. This wasn’t just a pile of worthless rubble, it was a carefully arranged collection. "Hmmm, like mother like son," I mused.
It’s a sad fact that we will be grown-ups far longer than we were able to be youngsters. We spend the majority of our lives as adults, and most of us have been adults for so long we have forgotten how we felt, and what we thought, as children. A child’s desires, urges, and needs are the same, if not greater than, those of an adult. The youth of our world, even the wee ones, are no different, no less human, simply because they are children. Unfortunately, a child can’t communicate his/her emotions on a level we’ve become accustomed to...an adult level. Therefore, it is up to grown-ups to pay attention to the unspoken words of a child. All too often we interpret these "rocks" of theirs as dirt that belongs outside instead of "diamonds" from the Seven Dwarf’s Mine. What joy to a child may mean finding the most perfect stone, to an adult it may mean finding the most perfect antique golf club, Christmas ornament, or carnival glass cake plate. Who’s to say what has value to a child? The child!
If you are a Collector (admittedly or not) you are the modern day caveman. Your hunter-gatherer instincts can’t be fulfilled at the grocery store with a package of skinless, boneless chicken breasts. You search, accumulate, display, and share with others of like mind the love of certain items that seem to call out to you, "Take me home, make me yours!" Nothing is more exciting than "getting for a song" that certain "piece", except for setting it ever so tenderly among a cluster of it’s own kind in a special place of honor.
My son could have left his rocks anywhere, but he took his collection to a special place...my bed. All children search, accumulate, display and share with others of like mind their "pieces". What sets children apart from adults, in addition to their inability to communicate on our level, is that they haven’t the ability to purchase their desired "pieces" and, generally speaking, have no special place(s) to put their treasures.
I recently enjoyed a rerun of The Andy Griffth Show. Part of this episode involved little Opie Taylor emptying out his pockets onto his father’s office desk. The assortment of "stuff" he packed into his pockets was amazing, each piece as important as the next, but it was was the act itself, the use of Opie’s pockets to store his valuables, that pulled our heart strings and tickled our funny-bones.
So, now that we recognize the hunger-gatherer instinct in our children, how do we nurture this basic human drive in a healthy way? At what age do we introduce a child to the hobby of collecting? What type of collections are appropriate for what age children? How do we avoid sinking tons of money into our child’s immediate desires, only to find immediate loss of interest? How do we help children display their collections? What lessons can be learned from the hobby of collecting? These and related topics will be discussed in the coming months.
In addition, check out these additions to this column next month:
What’s Hot And What’s Not, where you’ll find information on current trends in kid friendly collectibles.
Ask Lacey, an interactive collectibles advice forum for children of all ages. Questions can be emailed to Ask Lacey.