Saturday, 26 January 2008

Collective Wisdom

A friend of mine has a teenage daughter with more than seventy-five pairs of underwear.

My friend made this shocking discovery one day when she went into her daughter's room to look for the scissors. Like my children, hers regularly help themselves to her belongings and she has been reduced to fumbling about under their beds for her hairbrush and scanning their cluttered desk tops for her stapler. Silly woman: she still keeps her stapler on her desk. I gave up years ago and started hiding mine in my chest-of-drawers. My kids still find it, but at least I make them work for it.

Desperate to recover her scissors, my friend quickly rifled through her daughter's top drawer and found a great quantity of panties, but no scissors. So she opened the next drawer down -- and was surprised to find yet more underwear. Imagine her shock when the next two drawers revealed nothing but underwear. Seventy-five pairs of knickers later, my poor friend staggered out of her daughter's bedroom. Without the scissors, I should add.

I mention this interesting fact, because both of my daughters have collections too. The youngest has collected rocks for ages and has more than I care to report here -- let's just say that when we moved, my compassion wore out faster than my muscles after the five boxes I carted up to her room.

My eldest has nail polish.

Way back when I was a teenager, nail polish was expensive. One bottle cost you the equivalent of one hard babysitting job, say, or delivering a day's newspapers. Girls with rich parents might have as many as five bottles, but those of us who got a pittance for an allowance were lucky if we could afford two. One shade was always clear, for painting on the runs in our stockings. The other -- the fancy one with color in it -- was always chosen with great care as it had to be something that could be used on a variety of occasions. When I was 17, mine was a shiny magenta that made me feel like hot stuff. It took me years to use up that bottle.

Nail polish for my daughter is entirely different. It is no longer expensive -- one bottle can be bought for well under a pound -- and this, combined with a natural tendency on her part to overdo it, has resulted in her current collection. She has dozens upon dozens of bottles, and she can afford to paint her nails a different shade many times a day. Fire engine red, smoldering crimson, black-and-blue onyx, morning glory purple, gold-flecked platinum -- the color changes according to mood or whimsy. I'm not crazy about it, but like my friend's daughter, she has a part-time job and it's her own money. My friend and I both believe in letting our kids learn from their mistakes. So far, our foolish daughters have been having a great time spending their hard-earned cash on nonsense, and if there's anyone learning anything, it doesn't appear to be them.

"Seventy-five pairs," my friend said glumly. Seventy-five."

"That is a pretty amazing number," I commented. "I've only got a dozen, tops."

My friend grimaced. "I've got ten. I counted today. Seventy-five! What was she thinking?"

She looked so dejected, I had to tell her about my kid's nail polish collection.

She perked right up. "My God! I think I've got maybe three bottles, tops."

"I don't have any," I told her.

"You're kidding!"

"I am not," I said, blushing at the state of my bitten-down nails. When my daughter is feeling magnamanious, she gives me the full treatment. But lately, she hasn't been forthcoming and what with gardening and housework, my nails have become atrocious.

"Come on," said my friend, "I'll do your nails." And she walked right over to a drawer and took out a bottle of nail polish and a nail file, just like that.

My jaw dropped. She still has a nail file! And she knows where it is!


Eryl Shields said...

Rocks are great. I once managed to persuade Stevie to climb a rather steep cliff with a rucksack full of huge pebbles. I also have a large collection of bleached (sea, sun?) shells, tiny multi-coloured cone shells and beach glass. And quite a few 'deads' including a fossilized frog.

Have you tried wearing gloves for the housework and gardening? Nails always seem to get noticed for some reason.

Brian said...

Without nails , how do you get rid of your itches ?

Does your friend's daughter have bras to match ?

And perhaps she could use the knickers, several at a time , as a modern chastity belt .

I have seen a variety style act that involved several overlaying sets of underwear -- with humorous comments as each pair came off
down to a single pair + pasties.

Funny rather than titillating


debra said...

#2 daughter has always had what she has alway called ,"my collections."
From books to marbles to gel pens to stickers. Now she tells me at least once a month that she needs underwear. "How can this be?" I muse.
"Didn't we just buy some?" She then tells me that they are torn, or too small or something (she hasn't grown for some time). I recently went upstairs to get something and looked into her room. NOW I know why she can't find her underwear---it has something to do with the dresser on the floor...

Angela said...

I thought I was the only mom with a secret stash of scissors and chocolate and clean towels and brushes and eyeliner. What I find so embarrassing is when I lose something and I blame my teens for taking it and lo and behold, I have it. Ugh! Glad to know I'm not alone :)

Carolie said...

I just love your stuff, Mary. I save yours for last of the blogs I read, like dessert, as I know that your blog never disappoints. (Of course, sometimes I only have time to read one or two blogs, and yours is always a finalist.)

I think when my husband comes home from deployment with an insane amount of underwear, it comes from a different motivation than that of your friend's daughter...unless she's buying as he does, to avoid doing laundry!

How interesing that your youngest collects rocks and stones! She'd be right at home with my mother, whose piles of stones looked like haphazard gravel, until one realized she could tell you the where and when of each individual rock. Mom comes home from every trip with pocketsful of stones, and has been stopped in customs more than once until she could convince the officials that she simply liked rocks!

As for your eldest, I may have to visit, just to give her the challenge of my raggedy hands. Either we'll discover she has miraculous gifts, or I'll scare her away from the Beauty School path with my horrible cuticles.

Mary Witzl said...

I've got a massive seashell collection myself, and when I go to the beach I always cart home dozens of rocks for my garden: I've tried resisting this urge, but I cannot help myself. And how I envy you that fossilized frog!

As for the gloves, I always start off with them on for gardening, but you cannot properly weed or plant seeds with gardening gloves on, so off they come. I will admit that I've never worn them for housework. Maybe I don't do enough of it to warrant wearing them...

Brian -- Oh, don't get me started on bras! It used to be that a decent one cost a lot. Now, you can get a really good bra for next to nothing, and as my friends and I wash our daughters' clothes, we gasp at the variety, the quality, and the frivolity of their underwear. I feel like a Puritan washing for Mata Hari.

'Modern chastity belt' is a real oxymoron! And what sort of variety act was that?

Debra -- Your daughter has the same shopping fever that my eldest has, and they obviously share the same idea that wants and needs are one and the same. I wish I could send my daughter to some place like Sudan where she could see what deprivation really is. Right now she imagines that it's not being able to afford everything she wants. And for what it is worth, mine has her chest- of-drawers laid out all over the floor, too. Apparently, having a bird's-eye view of all her finery helps her keep track of it.

Angela -- As I write this, there is a box of chocolates somewhere in this house that my husband asked me to hide a week or two after Christmas. My eldest has gotten wind of it, and wants it NOW. If I don't hide at least some chocolate, I never get any.

What you describe -- getting so used to having your items swiped that when you misplace something yourself, you blame others -- has happened to me. I wish I could blame them for it; I'm sure it's partly their fault for making me hide everything in the first place.

Carolie -- Thank you for your kind words!

I understand your mother's craving for rocks -- and my daughter's. I share this rock-acquiring passion; I have carted home so many rocks that I've worn holes in my pockets and given myself a sore shoulder. But my rocks go into my garden. If they went into my room, I'd have trouble finding places to hide my nail scissors.

I'll bet my cuticles are worse than yours! I've recently started going to work again part-time and must put on nylons every day. I almost have to put on gloves first -- my hands tend to shred the nylons. But here's a great little rhyme which was probably penned to help some woman get over hand vanity (and perhaps get out of doing her nails): 'Beautiful hands are ones that do / work that is honest, brave, and true.' Did your mother ever quote that one to you? Mine did, and I keep telling myself that and trying to ignore my kids' disparaging glances. In fact, I have started caring for my hands now that I'm back at work, but it's a real headache. Next they'll want me to start having facials.

Carole said...

It is funny what tickles one's fancy isn't it. It also makes for easy gift giving.

I too have a box of rocks. These were acquired as we moved from one church to another. When we visited the homes of people to say goodbye I would ask for a rock to remember them by. Children loved this and would scamper outside trying to find the best rock to give me. I have genuine arrowheads, quartz rock, slate, agates, heart shaped rocks, rocks of nearly every color. But mostly I like them because children get so excited to give them to me.

-eve- said...

Oh, that was a relaxing read! I collect everything, almost! Once I have more than one of it, it becomes a collection, and I just add to it whenever another one comes along *eg. shells, boxes, paper bags, etc* I don't have any varnish either, but suddenly it does sound exciting to have so many colours to choose from *assuming one had the time to keep changing the colour*. But wow. 75 pieces of underwear..... LOL!

The Quoibler said...

My son adores stuffed animals. My husband is disgusted by the collection (which is threatening to turn our house into a very odd zoo.)

I personally also collected "stufties", so I think it's cute. Heck, they don't smell as bad as nail polish (no offense to your daughter!)

I used to collect clocks, but I was too lazy to keep them all running. Now, I collect paper. I swear I cannot go into a store without buying some kind of paper product -- notecards (that I never send), post-it notes, et cetera. Then, I can never find the stuff.

Kappa no He said...

I think my big collection was pictures/posters of rock stars. My room was wallpapered top to bottom and then I'd start putting new pictures over the old, but only taped on top so you could still flip them up and see the old version of Robert Plant (or whomever).

This post did make me feel I'm not alone. Thank you!

Kara said...

i'm sorry, i'm still trying to get passed the first sentence. where do you PUT that many pairs of skivvies? i that some sort of compulsive purchasing thing? like me with gummy worms? but those are consumable. this is just too too mind boggling.

Charlie said...

Not only is this a great post, Mary, but the comments are a scream too. Here are some observations:

1. I have never had a teenage anything and I don't want any. It's tough enough hiding stuff (food) from the dogs.

2. Someone who has 75 pairs of dainties in effect has 150: Just turn 'em inside out every other day.

3. Most all of us, from childhood onward, are human squirrels: We find something to collect that almost always means something to us.

My grandfather started me collecting stamps when I was a boy, and I still collect them. It's amazing how, after fifty years, they've multiplied: Remember "tribbles" from the old Star Trek TV show?

4. There are also human packrats, but they're the people who are too damn lazy to throw old crap away and store it in the garage and the attic instead. Balderdash. They're just slobbish, that's all.

Kind of like teenage girls.

Mary Witzl said...

Carole -- Your rocks sound like they'd beat my rocks any day. Agates, quartz, and heart-shaped rocks sound lovely, and better yet, you have a memory for each one. I've gone for smooth rocks mainly, with streaks of color in them. I've got blue-streaked rocks out where I grow my lobelia, lavender and forget-me-nots, and pink-streaked rocks near the London pride, pinks and white-and-salmon tulips. Yep: a color-coded garden. A little embarrassing, but there it is.

Eve -- I have to say that my daughter's collection is pretty: the nail varnish bottles all look like shiny jewels. But I'm with you on the box collection (you ought to see mine) and as for paper bags, well, I'm famous. I've got a zillion from Japan, a few from the Netherlands, a couple from the Chinese market in Cardiff, and all sorts from the States. I'm a veritable bag lady, and unlike boxes they hardly take up any room!

Quoibler -- It pains me to do this, but I have to side with your husband. Stuffed animals are damned bulky! When we lived in Japan, my kids' rooms got so full so quickly that I finally had to warn people NOT to send them as gifts, and when they ignored my warnings, I'm afraid I culled them. I would feel each gift, and if I found that it was suspiciously soft and squishy, I donated it to charity before my kids could fall in love with the item. Sounds cruel, but they each have half a roomful of these things. A desperate measure, but it helped save my sanity.

Kappa -- I had a modest rock star poster collection myself. My best friend gave me a poster of the Rolling Stones in Danish, which absolutely thrilled me even though I didn't much like the Stones. I had that up for years.

And you ought to see my eldest's posters. Actually, they are ALL you can see in her room: her walls are completely covered with them; you can't even tell what color the paint is.

Kara -- I know, I know! My own daughter's collection may not have hit 75, but it's pretty formidable. And when it comes to toiletries, we have enough to stock several drug stores. Take my word for it, though: this compulsion to buy and buy lavishly is very much a part of the teen zeitgeist.

Mary Witzl said...

Charlie -- Our posts crossed!

I blush to tell you this, but in my attic right now are two old saucepans that are, like, my best buddies. They are way past use, but I just cannot bear to throw them away. I knew them way back when and they've seen me through good times and bad -- yes, yes, I'm one of them: a packrat! Making many difficult and expensive) international moves has largely cured me of this terrible tendency, but then we moved into a Victorian flat with huge amounts of storage space and the temptation to save crap has become too great. I will blog about this sometime, especially since you praised my writing and have only encouraged me.

As for turning one's knickers inside-out, I've heard this tip before, but my kids would scorn it. They seem to change theirs several times a day.

Church Lady said...

I just have to say I love your writing!
I have boys. Their collections are different.

Katie Alender said...

I've tried so hard to stay away from collecting. In junior high, I had calendars, all over my bedroom walls. It took forever to change them all, and eventually I threw away the old ones and pared down to a single calendar.

Nail polish is the worst. I guarantee you that your daughter will have a bucket of ancient nail polish in ten years, following her around like an unwanted ex-boyfriend.

The Quoibler said...


That's so funny about the stuffed animal thing! :)

If I threw my son's away (even before he saw them), the person responsible for starting him on this path (HIS GRANDMOTHER) would flip out!

She'd ask, "Where is that new stuffed animal I sent?" And yes, she'd remember, she'd care, and she'd be pissed off.

Now, if I lived in Japan, I could EASILY head off problems... heh, heh, heh! Maybe my family should move to another country? :)


Christy said...

Hm. This underwear idea has merit. Think of it! You just wear them until you're out and then you do one whole load of just underwear. No sorting, no pulling them off of staticky socks. Just wash, dry, stuff in drawer. Repeat in 2.5 months. I'm thinking that girl is smarter than she looks.

Ello said...

Ha! My kids have lots of underwear but that is because I'm always making them change their underwear. It's my ocd thing. So they all have over 20 pairs of underwear.

Kim Ayres said...

I remember you telling me about the 75 pairs - I still have a hard time trying to get my head around it.

Maggie has always collected odd shaped bits of wood, shells and sea-glass whenever we go to the beach. We always come back laden. However, now she use the excuse that she needs it for her artwork.

Mary Witzl said...

Church Lady -- Thank you for the compliment. You're no slouch of a writer yourself, so it is all the more appreciated.

I've seen boys' collections, but believe me: there's plenty about my girls' collections I have not divulged. That old snakes-and- snails vs sugar-and-spice dichotomy doesn't really apply anymore, or certainly not with my kids and their boy counterparts. I'd tell you all about it, but there are some things you really can't blog about.

Katie -- Your calendar collection is funny! I hope that my kids will have something similar to your calendar experience and learn that they are only making more work for themselves through their insistence on collecting.

I will be looking forward to that bucket of used, dried-up old nail polish. Wonder where I'll have to go to recycle it?

Quoibler -- Here is how you deal with that granny: if, after you've politely warned her, she points out that her gifts are not in evidence, invite her to sort through and organize your son's stuffed toys on a DAILY basis. Any sensible woman will decline, of course, and get the idea.

No, I couldn't have done it either. Thank God we lived so far away from home. And, sadly, both our mothers were dead decades before we even got married.

Christy -- Don't you hate touching static-crackling socks? I am spared the worst of it because we do not have a clothes drier, but I get my fair share of socks tangled up with each other, socks that will not part company with dish towels, etc. If I had even more space than I already do, I'd wash underwear and socks separately from everything else. But I can't say I'd relish the idea of pegging out 75 pairs of pants all in one go.

Ello -- My kids would LOVE you! A woman who encourages her kids to change their underwear more! My two need no encouragement. They would both happily run through six pairs of socks in one day too.

Kim -- Oh, believe me, so do I! My own kid isn't far off this number, but in her case it's because she cannot bring herself to throw out her old pals -- all the stuff she's had since way back when, for pity's sake! So says the woman with a crawl space full of old pots and pans she can't bring herself to discard.

-eve- said...

Oooohhh.... wow.... *envious* ;-) But going to Japan this Thursday, so can collect loads too! they're famous for their paper stuff, aren't they...