knick-knacks as reminders

September 3, 2012 | 51 Comments

zebra toy

Knick-knacks are the signature of my youth. All flat surfaces in my childhood home were veiled in cutesy, wooden, brass, paper, glass, trinkety, dust collectors.

And guess who had to wipe, move, and reposition brass elephant statues and wooden shoes from holland and porcelain bells from England and decorative glass plates on stands? Good guess, but no. Not my brother and not my sister; they were nonexistent assholes. All child labour fell my way.

My mother is very into clean. Like, Martha Stewart meets Howie Mandel. So, this dusting business happened once a week, minimum. And oh god I dreaded it. In the summertime I would leave dusting until just before my mom was due to arrive home from work, letting it linger and loom. The chore would cut into time I had set aside to tan or read sex scenes from mom’s hidden smut novels. (The hamper in the bathroom, buried under towels; really, Mom?) (Auel’s Clan of the Cave Bear series was juicy!). And if it was during the school year, I could be found dusting on Sunday, making it less of a funday.

How sorry for me are you feeling? Very, I know. I likely only did a tenth of the dusting, but my cantankerous inner child reluctantly acknowledges this.

If art takes a knick-knack form, it’s turned away at the door or has a short lifespan in my adult house. I now dust as often as I move.

Having a child just about did me in. Have you seen the gobs of knick-knacky shit these small humans come with? It’s disgusting. And they get attached and weird when we suggest the throwing out or giving away of their whatnots. I used to wait until Emma was at her grandparent’s to go through her room, gather piles of forgotten trinkets, and bag them up, out of sight, before her return. When she inevitably inquired about something I was sure she’d never miss, I’d shrug and play dumb.

Yes, Emma, I lied to you. Repeatedly. Send your therapy bills my way.

My mom married Brian when I was eight. I think it was in their first year he flew back to Windsor, Ontario to see his family. Or maybe they were still dating and I was younger. He was gone for a week or two and came home with presents. My mom opened hers to find a gold necklace, and I was all cha-ching!

I opened my package to find a small, ceramic zebra. A MOTHERFUCKING KNICK-KNACK THAT I WOULD HAVE TO DUST. What a complete bust. I pretended to love it because I knew I’d be grounded for anything less.

I locked souls with Brian the day we met; we skipped the Winning Over your Step-Child phase, plunging heart first into togetherness. It wasn’t until later, when he became an unbending ally to my mother — never speaking up for me, even when I needed him — that I began to see him as an opponent. As years passed the steps separating our togetherness grew and stopped being travelled.

My ceramic zebra has survived the purging of my moves and I have come to love it. The sight of it stirs me. It reminds me of some things:

  • That kids can be narcissistic, ungrateful assholes.
  • That I was loved and remembered by someone I adored, even with 3000kms between us.
  • That being an adult and in relationship is hard and I didn’t always know that.
  • That I need to stand up for my kid or I could lose her.
  • That dusting can wait, and if can’t, you move.

I don’t speak to my mom or Brian. It’s been eight years. The zebra also reminds me that when I feel ready, I’d like to try again.

I‘m doing the NaBloPoMo challenge this month, using the writing prompts. This one was “Write about one object you see at this exact moment.” After staring at everything in my living room for fifteen minutes, nothing sparked. I remembered my zebra and found it upstairs. When I told Steve, his response was, “So, you’re starting the challenge with cheating?” Yes, Steve, I am.

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Join the conversation

  • Degan

    I didn’t speak to my mom for 7 years. Then one day I decided to call her. I don’t know what your situation is but I decided that I should give her the benefit of the doubt and that maybe all the cruel judgemental crap she dealt me was the best she could do. She shows her love in weird ways now that I would never recognize if I wasn’t looking out for them (or any possibility of them) and it’s often more work than reward but I know she’s trying really hard and so I try really hard too.

    • Shannon

      You mentioned this when we hung out, Degan and I was impacted by it. I love this, “…it’s often more work than reward but I know she’s trying really hard and so I try really hard too.” It’s so full of love.

      Thanks for sharing your story with me.

  • Annabelle

    Oh man this is so fantastic. I love that you keep this zebra, even though the lessons (and people) it reminds you of aren’t necessarily happy ones.

    I haven’t really spoken to my father in about two years (and he’s never met Theo). This post hit home really hard.

    And, of course, it’s beautifully and intelligently written <3

    • Shannon

      Such amazing words from someone whose writing and spirit I have quickly come to admire.

      Sounds like we’d have some things to chat about over coffee. Wish it were possible!

  • Jade

    I know this isn’t really the point of this post. But I hate dusting so much, I only do it when it builds up into a white blanket. And I do it with a tissue.

    • Shannon

      It’s TOTALLY the point. Dusting is the hatedest. Ug. I’m glad to hear I’m not alone.

  • Lynne

    I no longer speak to my family and this time I think it’s for keeps. Since I moved away from Toronto 10 years ago things have became increasingly tenuous. We’d speak, then have a horrible fight that would absolutely tear my soul to shreds…then not speak for months before I’d get suckered back into attempting some form of relationship with them…then we’d have a horrible fight, etc. Lather/rinse/repeat-type of thing. When my last attempt at being part of the family blew up devastatingly in my face earlier this year my friends staged an actual intervention and advised me that enough was enough. That I should allow myself to mourn the loss if I needed to, but that ultimately it would be healthier if I just severed this completely dysfunctional relationship from my life and moved on. I guess it’s just heartening to read that others have been through similar and eventually did re-connect. I don’t hold out much hope that my mother will ever expend enough effort to try and make things work–she’s much more comfortable playing the victim and denying being in any way responsible for our estrangement–but who knows. Perhaps one day I’ll feel strong enough to pick up the phone. Right now it’s still all about self-preservation :(

    • Shannon

      Oh, Lynne. Wow. This sounds SO similar to my experience. “We’d speak, then have a horrible fight that would absolutely tear my soul to shreds…then not speak for months before I’d get suckered back into attempting some form of relationship with them…then we’d have a horrible fight, etc. Lather/rinse/repeat-type of thing.” I could have written that. Thank you for sharing this with me. For being brave enough to share it here. I’ve met people with similar stories to mine and yours over the years, who also made the hard call to take a break. It’s not easy, that’s for sure. And it’s not widely accepted as an option. “Family is forever!” I’m sure you’ve heard it all, too.

      We really need to connect. Our hearts already have. <3

      • Lynne

        Ohhhh yes–I am well familiar with the whole “You have to love them, they are your FAMILY!” stance :) Most people who have great (or at least workable) relationships with their own families tend to hold this view. I don’t begrudge them that for a second, but I think it’s unhealthy to hold onto things that hurt us just because prevailing wisdom says we should. I’m lucky and glad that my close friends recognized what it was doing to me and were supportive of a break. And YES–we need to hang out. Immediately soon.


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