A girl’s home is her castle … so don’t mess with her

Picture of Kate Moriarty

Kate Moriarty

Kate is a writer and mother of six.

Here’s the thing about living with seven other people: you need to be ruthless with clutter. We accumulate so much stuff so easily that if I don’t get rid of things, we might end up on the 60 Minutes special report on hoarding.

I have a system. Outgrown clothes? The bag in the laundry. That too-small casserole dish? The box in the garage. And then there are those items that require subterfuge. Here’s the thing: we own a lot of toys. Like, a lot. Outdoor toys, dress-ups, educational toys, lego, craft sets, magnet blocks, puzzles. And board games. So many board games. And every birthday and every Christmas, this supply grows.

I love toys, really I do. But I’ve noticed that when there are too many, the kids get overwhelmed and don’t play with any of them. It’s up to me to, um, to curate the supply.

I know what you’re going to say. I shouldn’t be going behind their backs. I should ‘involve them in the process’. Ugh. You’re probably right. But they would want to keep everything and I don’t have time to be administering life lessons in every aspect of my children’s life.

I am not a monster. It’s not like I’m going to throw out toys they love. I would never get rid of Bunny, for example, even though Bunny is in constant need of repair and hosts entire ecosystems in her grubby fabric ears. But when toys are broken or outgrown, it’s time for me to step in. Like some organised crime boss, I quietly ‘disappear’ these items. And, most of the time, I get away with it.

A few years ago, we acquired this castle. It wasn’t up to me. I had nothing to do with it. Another mum was doing a clear-out and wanted to share the love. She beamed at my three youngest.

“Would you like to keep this?” she asked.

The thing was massive. It took all three of them to carry it. And it wasn’t clean. It had acquired that grime-in-the-seams that old toys tend to get. And every time you opened the drawbridge, it made loud fanfare music. But we took it home. I didn’t really have a choice.

The castle was played with often enough. After a while though, it seemed to lose its appeal. We had other large playsets that were more popular. It would seem Plastic Camelot had had its day.

One morning, after stubbing my toe on the drawbridge and setting off the ridiculous music, I’d had enough. I picked up the plastic monstrosity and lugged it to the laundry.

I wasn’t going to get rid of it right away. I was going to leave it there for a bit to see if anyone missed it. And, because I’m the sort of person who takes forever to get around to things, it remained there for several months. Nobody complained. Nobody noticed.

It was a stealth mission when I eventually got to my local Vinnies. I tossed the bag containing the plastic castle onto the pile of other bags. It made one last triumphant drawbridge sound, and the job was done. I thought I’d got away with it. That was well over a year ago. Nobody noticed it was gone. At least, not until last Saturday.

That morning, I walked out of my room to find a ten-year-old and two six-year-olds rummaging in the upstairs cupboard.

“We’re looking for the castle,” ten-year-old Annie announced.

I gulped and went downstairs. Maybe they’d get distracted by some other toy. Maybe they’d forget all about the castle. I started making coffee. Three girls walked past the kitchen and out of the back door. They were making their way purposefully to the shed. My blood went cold.

I sat with my husband at the table out the front and we drank coffee. The door opened and three girls passed us to get to the garage. There were sounds of cupboards and drawers being opened and shut. Oh help!

As I finished my coffee, the girls re-emerged from the garage. They stood in front of me, hands on hips. My husband looked on in interest.

Annie tilted her chin. “Mum, did you give our castle to Vinnies?”

Four sets of eyes were looking at me, three in fierce accusation, one in twinkly-eyed amusement. I went to sip my coffee, then remembered it was empty. I pulled at my collar, gulped, sweated, then stammered out something about ‘wanting to share the castle with another family’.

It was a mistake to tell them while we were out the front of the house. The screaming was enough to get concerned looks from people walking their dogs and tending their gardens. My twins really know how to put on a show.

Annie, however, bravely nodded and holding back tears, said, “That’s okay, mum. I understand why you might have thought we didn’t want it anymore. But we did actually still love it.”

This was worse. This was far worse. Sometimes I do this. Sometimes I get so caught up in cutting back, I get rid of something important. And it’s not just with things. In many ways, the lockdowns helped to strip family life back to the most essential. No more activities. No more events. But some of the important things went missing as well. Many of my prayer habits dropped off in this sparse new way of things and it took me a long while to realise how much I missed them.

Meanwhile, at the outside table, none of my remonstrations had any effect. “It’s just a possession, it’s not a person,” and “you have lots of lovely toys” were both met with increased wailing.

I couldn’t bear it. They were so upset and it was all my fault. That’s when things got irrational.

“We can get it back!” I blurted out. “This brand of toy … it’s everywhere.” I pulled out my phone and flipped onto Marketplace. “See.” There were variations of the castle available for sale. However, if they thought I was paying $150, they had another thing coming.

When faith relationships lapse, they’re never lost forever. Slowly, I’m recovering old prayer habits. Going to Mass at church instead of watching a TV service seems almost normal now. Gradually, I’m remembering to pray throughout the day. Though lost, none of this ever really went away.

As we drove out to the big op-shops (we can always get things back from the op-shop, girls. It’s our off-site storage facility), I had a quiet word with St Anthony. We stepped into the shop. Right there on display in the entrance of the store. It was the same brand of sturdy plastic toy. It was a castle. And it was pink.

We drove from Kilsyth (Melbourne’s outer east) with our new, improved plastic castle. The St Vincent de Paul Society is $10 richer as a direct result of this transaction. As the girls chattered happily about how they had managed to scam their mother, I said a prayer of thanks for all the lost things that have come back to me.

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