Low Concept

Nice Things, and Why We Can’t Have Them

Time for a parent-child summit.

Illustrations by Natalie Matthews-Ramo.

Parents, in light of the recent unpleasantness with the milk and the backseat of the car, we would like to propose a summit in re: Nice Things, and our apparent inability, as a family, to Have Them. It’s a topic that comes up a lot and seems to cause a lot of tension. Perhaps it’s finally time to clear the air.

To begin, we propose that this Nice Things summit be held at the dining room table, not the kitchen table. The dining room table will better accommodate not only all parties to this discussion but also our supporting documentation. What’s that? What’s carved into the table? Well, it’s either a picture of a ladybug or … a butt?

Hmmm, maybe the kitchen table is best after all. Move to transfer the summit over there? Seconded? Great.

We understand your frustration with our “cavalier” attitude towards these Nice Things. We do. We want you to know that you’ve been heard. We understand that the gravy boat we brought to the park was an antique from Gammi, and we admit we probably should have at least brought it home when we were done digging with it. We totally get that the necklace we used as decorations for the Lego house was from your first anniversary. We even understand that the window in our room “can only be fixed so many times” and that we may have to just live with a piece of cardboard in there.

We get it. We do. We’re not saying we’re blameless here.

But have you ever thought that maybe these events aren’t mistakes, or acts of aggression? That in fact they are acts of kindness? Tiny lessons on the road to enlightenment? Perhaps we are not ignoring you; perhaps, rather, our job here is to help you let go of all those Nice Things. Those things of fleeting value, like your only good pair of dress shoes we put in the bath or everything in the refrigerator we left open all night? Is it not possible that we, collectively, are a kind of Buddha, bringing you lessons in impermanence?

Also: Cannot a wall that is covered with crayon still be a wall? Does it not still hold up the roof?

Maybe Gammi’s gravy boat is still at the park, right?

More than this, why worry about the loss of Nice Things? Surely there are other losses more profound. We hear you discuss them every day! You’ve lost all your friends who don’t have kids themselves, right? And the freedom to do fun things after 9:00 p.m.? Not to mention the ability to concentrate for more than five minutes, or remember literally anything. Those are gone as well.

And we don’t wanna point fingers, but it’s not just the kids that are breaking Nice Things. We’ve watched as you melted a plastic knife in the toaster; we’ve seen you run your cellphone through the washing machine. What were all the Things that fell out of the back of the station wagon as you drove away, hatch open, if not Nice ones? Yes, some of these events happen at 6-something in the morning before you’ve had coffee. Sure, the toaster was after one of us woke you up twice in the night because her eyelids were making her nervous, but that still doesn’t actually make it her fault.

And we need to discuss the computer as an example of how inconsistently you apply the label of Nice Thing. At first, we were never to touch the computer, putting it in the same category as your bedside table and the car ignition. Then we were allowed to use the computer to watch educational videos, but only at 4:30 a.m. while you slept on the couch next to us. Then you said we could watch videos alone, but not while eating—which, we’d like to point out again, did not preclude drinking. So of course, when the great apple juice spill of last autumn led to the purchase of a new computer, we began to ask ourselves—if a new one can simply be purchased, doesn’t that make it not a Nice Thing?

We, your children, want to set aside the question of Nice Things and whether or not we can Have Them. We think it is important as a family to move past these ideas, to accept that the world is a changeable place, made even more beautiful by our ability to remain unified in the face of what may seem to be, at first, catastrophic losses.

If you can agree to this, then I think it’s time you went down to the basement. All you will need is a couple of flashlights, your newly elevated understanding of impermanence, and galoshes.