by Julia Buckley
When my younger son Graham was four, he would often get fed up with our rules and decide to leave home. This involved some dramatic (and cute) posturing and a stomping trip to his room, where he would pack in about five seconds and come out with his little bag, ready to face the world alone. Generally the bag consisted of all of the underwear in his top drawer and one stuffed animal. I would ask him how he would get along with just underwear, and he would wave my ridiculous question aside.
Then I would wish him well and let him go.
His older brother Ian, a sensitive child of six or seven, never could accept the fact that Graham was just blowing off steam; that he would merely go down about two houses and then end up in our back yard sandbox. Ian would chase after Graham, tears flowing down his face, begging his little brother not to go.
This fed into Graham’s sense of power and drama, and he would go even farther down the block with his built-in brother safety net.
These occasions are ironic now in many respects. First, my sensitive Ian is now a callous youth who would be the first to suggest that his younger sibling should leave and not return. Second, the packing skills of my sons have changed not at all.
The two of them went on an overnight to their cousin’s house this weekend. I reminded my older son several times to pack. “We’re leaving soon,” I told him.
“Okay. One second,” Ian said, examining his phone or laptop or whatever else absorbs his attention these days. “One second” in boy language means “Stop bothering me.”
“Ian! You need to pack. You’re running out of time.”
With a sigh, my fifteen-year-old stood and glided into his room. He emerged thirty seconds later with a bag. “Done,” he said.
“You are not. You could not possibly be finished,” I told him in disbelief.
His little brother appeared with a similar bag. “Finished packing,” he said brightly.
“Let me see.”
The contents of a boy’s bag are a minimalist’s dream: pants, shirt, socks, underwear.
“Did you remember your toothbrush?” I asked suspiciously.
“What about pajamas?”
“Gonna wear this as pajamas.” He gestured to his sweats and T-shirt.
“Well, okay. If you think that’s all you need.” I remembered packing for them when they were little. It took me forever. Making lists, checking off items, double-checking to make sure no scenario went unconsidered: rain, snow, heat, cold. Different shoes, spare socks, light jacket, warm coat.
Now the boys had streamlined the process to a sort of shipwrecked mentality–what they had on their backs, and the first few things they could grab.
When they got home, their clothes soaking wet from a recent snowball fight, I tried to prove that this method wasn’t workable. I asked my youngest, “When you got there, was there something you didn’t have that you wished you’d packed?”
“Yeah,” he said after a moment of thought. “Something I wanted, but didn’t really need.”
“What was that?”
“My fake tattoos.”
My husband assures me that men pack light; that they streamline their lives to minimize stress.
I think I might have to try it, rather than to continue despairing over endless details. Grocery list? Who needs one? I’ll just get what’s on my mind at the moment: chocolate and a scented candle. :)