My six-year-old is a collector, but not of dinky cars or hockey cards. He collects sticks. He’s always had an affinity for sticks, but as we’ve gone for more walks and had more opportunity to explore new territory in the past year, his propensity to collect has grown.
It’s not uncommon for him to grab a stick from his stash when we’re heading to the park or playing in our yard. Sometimes they act as walking sticks, sometimes they’re magic wands, sometimes they turn into weapons, but often, they’re just there, like a favourite stuffy or blanket. In fact, he smuggled one into bed one night.
One day, as I unpacked his backpack (earlier this year, back when in-person school was a thing), I found a stick tucked inside.
Me: Hey kiddo, I found a stick in your backpack.
Him: What? Which one? What did it look like?
Me: It… looked like a stick?
Him: OK, yeah, but was it big or small, dark or light?
Me: It was a backpack-size, normal-looking stick.
Him (incredulous and slightly panicked): What did you do with it?
Me: I put it with your other sticks.
He ran outside to check the collection, and after doing a quick inventory, came back inside.
His collection initially took residence on our front porch. The longest stick was about five feet; the shortest about the length of his forearm. Anything shorter than that didn’t seem to qualify as worthy of the collection. Perhaps at that length, they are simply twigs, too fragile to serve any purpose? Eventually I moved collection to the ground beside the porch to get them out of the way, and there the collection sat and grew for many, many months, from fall to winter to spring again.
As the weather warmed, the snow melted to reveal the wonders of spring—but also the darn stick collection. And wow, there were a lot of sticks. With the change in seasons, we also began to have some fires in our backyard fire pit. One crisp afternoon, I spotted my husband heading into the backyard with his arms filled with sticks—yep, the stick collection.
“We’re out of kindling,” he said. “I’m going to burn these.” I gave it a moment’s thought, decided it would not be a big deal all these months later, and nodded in consent.
Big mistake. Huge.
Later that very day, my son approached me with a look of bewilderment on his face. “Where are my sticks?” he asked.
My eyes widened slightly as I realized what was about to occur. “We burned them,” I replied, quietly.
The look on my son’s face said it all. He was dev-as-tated. His lip began to quiver and the tears began.
“Why—why would you do that?” he managed to sputter.
I couldn’t answer. Clearly, we simply hadn’t realized how important they were to him. But how could I have missed it? To us, they were just sticks but to him, they were so much more. I thought back to our backpack conversation and wondered, Was each stick unique and memorable to him? Was his collection actually a way of cataloguing the completely banal year we’d just had? Were his sticks as exciting to him as my most prized possessions are to me? And we’d literally burned them away.
We aren’t monsters, so we of course apologized profusely, validated him, consoled him, then distracted him. You’ll be relieved to hear that he’s since moved on. From the incident, that is. Not from sticks. He’s been building up his collection again and we’ve been mindful of showing more interest and taking him more seriously.
This passion is most likely a passing one, but still, I have a new respect for it, and for all his interests that might appear unimportant on the surface. I found a pocketful of rocks in the dryer the other day, so comparatively, a stick collection seems pretty reasonable.