Amy Brenneman
Amy Brenneman

December 4, 2014

Domestic Geology

As preparation for the, um, 40-50 folks who passed through my house last Thanksgiving weekend, I did some deep cleaning. As in, looking into the nooks and crannies in my kids’ toy bins. I put on my sloppy clothes and protective goggles, took a final breath of the clean top-world air, and dove deep.


The strange thing is, I feel like I do this A LOT. I have the average amount of clutter in my house, but since the kids are growing exponentially these days – both in size and spirit – I go through their closets on a fairly regular basis. At least I feel like I do, but last Wednesday told a different story.


In third grade, kids in California – probably everywhere now due to Common Core standards – learn about the geology of the earth. Having two kids, I have been through this twice. I have learned that there are four basic layers: Inner Core, Outer Core, Mantle and Crust. I have also learned that there are three basic types of rock: Igneous (closest to the core), Metamorphic (the in-between) and Sedimentary (the stuff closest to the top.) For those of you of my generation, this can be compared to the layers of 1-2-3- Jello: the sauce, the jelly-jammy and the foam. (Anyone that followed me on that one is now my new BFF forever.) These guides were of great assistance as I hacked my way through the detritus of my children’s toys.


Sedimentary. Closest to the surface of the earth, most recently discarded. Into that category went; old permission slips to long-gone field rips, dog-eared Highlights magazines, plastic wrappers to unknown treasures, broken mysterious plastic, crap toys from Happy Meals (another reason not to do fast food), deflated balls, popped balloons, discarded paper airplanes (Bodhi takes his R and D very seriously), a filthy teacup or two and markers long bled out of ink. Sedimentary detritus goes into the trash with no decision-making angst or emotions of any kind. Easy-peasy lemon squeezy.


Metamorphic. Ah. As its name implies, this layer is transitioning. Also, it’s not so obviously trash. This is the stuff that goes to Goodwill if I can scrub the chocolate off the doll’s face well enough. Into this category goes (possibly): Bey blades (beloved two years ago, now collecting dust Velveteen-rabbit style), princess stickers (only one peeled off! too tacky to give away?), a wooden family (bought during the Waldrof era, now deemed too wholesome by my cynical offspring), a chubby cheeked Princess Tiana (don’t let Charlotte see it or she’ll become re-attached, better to spirit the doll away in the dead of night.) Metamorphic is more complicated. Plucks at our heartstrings with nostalgia and confusion. My 13 year old melts when she sees a long-lost baby doll. “Aw… I love her!” says Charlotte. Do you really? I want to ask. Or do you remember that feeling of 7-year-old love? Ah, my metamorphic children processing their own growth with their metamorphic toys.


Igneous. Closest to the core, the most ancient of layers. I opened a bin in the TV room and there, hiding in plain sight: the Baby Puzzles. All of them. Shockingly, most were fully assembled: the Richard Scarry-style animals, the frog that croaks when the shape plops in (loved that one, still do), the hand puzzles with numbers on each digit (too educational for my taste), the old-school cardboard Cinderella with her coach, the picture now peeling off of its backing.


The mother load of babyhood, the last of its kind in this house. I had no idea it was there, but clearly at some earlier date I had carefully assembled and stacked the puzzles, knowing that they were useless if not stored carefully, knowing there would be a date when my future self would retrieve them to give them away to an actual baby, not just keep them as relics of the babyhood of my now 13 year old and 9 year old. That day was last Wednesday. The kiddos briefly glanced up, but igneous toys are too distant even for them. There was no attachment, since how could they ever have been small enough to give a shit about the croaking frog puzzle? That history was too dim, too foreign and too unbelievable.


We are all poring over igneous rocks these days. On our way to understanding things like Ferguson and climate change, we go back – we need to go back – to the history of how these things that are problematic came to be. I don’t know about you, but this does not come naturally to me. In college I majored in Comparative Religion, specializing in Indo-Tibetan traditions. I was deeply influenced by the concept of Sudden Enlightenment (more from the Zen tradition than the Tibetan one.) I loved the idea of creating yourself from whole cloth. I loved the idea of not being bound to any tradition, but self-determining your own future, personality and belief system. It was very American of me, and very young of me as well. It was also a privileged position. My parents worked hard to pay for me to go to college such that I could be independent in my thinking, and what I thought was that I had gotten to that point all by myself. I was cocky and confident – exactly what I hope my kids are like at 20.


I remember my thesis advisor, a thoughtful PhD candidate named Miranda, telling me that I was the most “a-historical person” she had ever met. “You don’t have any regard for what’s come before, “she quietly said, with no judgment at all, “You think that things spontaneously arise.”

I know better now. Things don’t spontaneously arise. My cockiness in college grew out of my parents’ support. American gender equality grew out of Elizabeth Cady Stanton, the suffragettes and Gloria Steinem. The protests in Ferguson and around the country grew out of unresolved, anguished racial divides. And my kids’ maturity grew out of that sweet croaking frog. It delighted Bodhi for hours on end years ago, and now the guy is too busy to give it a momentary glance. Velveteen Rabbit, indeed.


The croaking frog puzzle will be going to Goodwill this afternoon. If any of you take it home, tell it hi from me. And thanks.