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Destinations, Dreams and Dogs - International adventure with a fast-track family (& dogs) of Old World values, adopting the Russian-Italian-American good life on the go…!

Our Children the Trash Collectors

Our kids love to gather any cast-off item they may find–from wrappers, to clothing labels, to a broken earring on the street. If you’ve never had anything in life, the flip side is that everything must be valuable. And now our homes are their dumping grounds.

Stashes in their closets, under their beds, in their pencil cases and purses:  all give testimony to the fact that they are possessors of things. In a flash of philosophical awareness, the trash somehow validates them. They have junk, therefore they are.

I have trouble enough in this area, myself. My goal is to reform and not buy ten of every item as my Depression-era father did when we were growing up. We laughed at him, but now the tables have turned.

I don’t believe that it’s conscious stockpiling on my part, simply the effect of managing several children on a once very organized person’s brain. I am scattered and more forgetful, not remembering what we have and what we don’t. As winter approaches, I have lists in my wallet of which one needs a black turtleneck sweater, and which ones have outgrown last year’s snow boots. At least these are usable supplies, rather than junk.

Maybe it’s a certain calling that my children have. At the rate they are completing their lessons, I’m sure we’ll be saving a bundle as we skip the college costs. Perhaps they will discover trash collecting to be a very viable career track (at least if they can navigate eBay), and that they are currently honing those packrat skills.

As Petya and I were studying his French lesson the other day, there was a photo of the rag pickers of Paris. Personally, I would have a photo of a Chanel girl and her pooch at a cafe’, enjoying a croissant and cafe’ au lait. Mais non, for our course, we have the rag pickers. Could be there’s a future in junk, and if there is, my kids will find it. At least they’ll be able to greet their clients in four or five languages, and be dressed for Wall Street, while they sweep Any Street. “If you’re going to be a rag picker, do it with panache” is my new motto.

I remember the utter mortification and humiliation I felt when we were bringing Petya home via Moscow. He combed the street for any coins dropped by elderly and tremoring blind beggars. Rather than drop the kopeks into the man’s cup, he scooped them up like a vacuum-driven streetsweeper and placed them in his kourtka’s pocket for safekeeping.

Onlookers glared at me, while I shrugged my shoulders. Never saw this child before in my life. Hopefully, would never see the onlookers again, as well.

Walking into Red Square and leaving Tverskaya and Manezhnaya behind us, we passed Kilometer Zero, from which the distance to all the cities of Russia is counted. There many stood, one by one, inside a circle with a bronze plaque, making a wish and throwing a coin over their shoulder. Move over, Trevi Fountain. Traditionally, there are babushkas combing the pavement for the coins until our son came along and practically knocked them down to grab his own few gleanings.

“Petya,” I explained, “we don’t do that.”

“Why not, they’re throwing money away!” He leapt and caught many a coin before it could touch the ground, or before his new parents could corral him back to the hotel, where we made him wash his filthy money in the bathroom sink. He was flabbergasted at our reactions about to the same degree as was I concerning his behavior. The only way we moved him from his money-making spot was to drag the boy from the scene with promises of morozhenoe (ice cream) doing the trick, even on a freezing cold day.  We were hoping to avoid any encounters with the notoriously not-amused Russian police.

Our second son, Pasha, had interests tending toward packaging, whether a cardboard box from the occasional Happy Meal, or wrapping paper from anyone’s birthday presents. None was to be discarded and each found a niche underneath his bed. Which led to his bedroom smelling like hamburgers, and driving the dogs crazy.

Whereas Petya had a hankering for the outdoor collecting (broken tools, computers, and bugs to follow), and Pasha took to packaging, the girls gathered tags and mementos. Mashenka loved anything having to do with new clothes, remembering ratty, rough, and ripped rags from her past. Little did she imagine that in our neck of the woods, we paid designers “many dollars” as she would say, to distress duds of their own design. So she collected tags–whether price tags, or labels indicating the name of the company producing the clothes.

The young girl collected them with a passion, so much the better if a hip person’s face graced the valuable ticket-! I found the tags stuffed and stored here and there around her room, and felt free to abscond with them after six months or so of being stuffed in an odd corner of her closet. Perhaps she was keeping a running total for the Russkies of just how much her rich parents would spend on an orphan (12.99 + 4.98 + 15.97…), in order to justify jacking up their own facilitation fees at a future date.

Sashenka had her own tastes which tended to hoarding napkins, paper plates, and paper cups from birthday parties, and visits to any geographic or historic location offering souvenirs. For her, it was truly to remember the moment, reveling in a special time, and reliving it again and again in her mind. She had never celebrated one birthday before she did with us at age nine, so it was understandable in a way.

Hopefully, the children will not grow up to become trash collectors or rag pickers. Instead, it’s not a far stretch of the imagination to envision Petya as an environmental watchdog, Pasha working in industrial design, Mashenka giving herself to marketing of some sort, and Sashenka as our very own special events and party planner. There’s treasure in that trash, after all.


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