You’ve got to kill your darlings.
That’s a saying we attribute to many writers, including Mark Twain and Stephen King. It’s a call to erase useless words from prose.
It also means you’ve got to sneak unsavory treasures out of your children’s rooms when they’re not looking: The Aquafina lava lamp. The wine cork (where the heck did he get that?). The lockpicks my middle-born son fangled from paper clips.
I wondered for years how they pigeonhole so much garbage. One day my firstborn son spilled the secret at an intersection where silhouettes waved at me from behind their tinted windows.
“It’s too bad you picked me up so early,” said Firstborn with a sigh.
I shot him my explain-yourself look.
“I just mean, I only got like 30 seconds to hunt for supplies on the playground,” said Firstborn, who likes gypsum and empty containers.
I inhaled so hard my lower lip flapped.
“You know not to pick up needles, right?” I asked.
“I know, Mom. I know.”
“Right,” Firstborn gritted.
That evening, he sanitized a razor blade and fixed it onto a flexible plastic piece to make a carrot slicer.
I gibbered about safety and emergency room visits, and ran off to purge the boys’ rooms.
The Husband is more sympathetic. He’s an angel. Like a huge, brick-built — bald — angel. In flannel.
“Aw honey. Don’t throw away their special stuff,” said The Husband.
“I’m gonna PURGE the dross from this wicked place,” I said.
The boys’ bedrooms are black holes buzzing with dread like an alarm clock just before it wails.
The Husband persisted, so we made a deal. I would go through their nasty little dens when the boys were distracted, grab all their garbage and hide it someplace for two weeks.
If after two weeks they didn’t whimper or seek after their lost booty, I could throw it away.
Angels know how to bargain.
The twins sleep almost nose-to-nose in the room the sun torches first each morning.
The older two boys sleep in bunk beds, which is super fun until Firstborn rains foul socks down from the top bunk, and Middleborn squeals like a hog stuck in a homemade chute; and I smack myself on the forehead — but not too hard, because concussions are a waste of time.
Normally their bedrooms resemble a text-message emoji war the little, feisty twin had Tuesday with my editor on my phone. Little-Feisty sent my boss a reaper emoji. My boss sent back a poop. Little-Feisty volleyed back a ghost, but my editor won the battle by sending three gifs of a marionette projectile vomiting.
But the boys’ bedroom floors are magical when they’re clean. I can sprawl there and read Rudyard Kipling or hear about Firstborn’s favorite YouTube jiu-jitsu sensei.
A clean bedroom floor is a weary mother’s solace.
Yes, the world is a mean place, tapioca pudding is often undercooked and knaves twist others’ words to make a trap for fools. Also there’s a boy in this house who can’t tell when he’s shouting, but I don’t know if that’s a structural thing or if it’s all an act to throw me off.
I love to round up all their treasures and sneak them to the dumpster in a reinforced bag.
And that’s what F. Scott Fitzgerald or William Faulkner or somebody meant when they said, “kill your darlings.”