(Photo: Mary Lynn Bruny).

By Mary Lynn Bruny

My neat-as-a-pin mother-in-law used to like when her grandchildren visited her house and left their grimy paw prints all over her pristine glass doors. She would say lovingly, “It makes me so happy to see those handprints after you all have left and remember our good time together.” I would think, “Lady, how did your son think it was a good idea to marry me? I’m not half as sweet as you.” If it were my house those kids would barely be out the door before I would be de-sticking the joint with glass cleaner.

As a person who takes care of things, it used to drive me slightly batty how often our two sons would accidentally wreck things in our house, something all parents experience. It seemed like there were always dishes chipped, furniture and carpeting stained, and a window occasionally broken. Of course, our sweet boys were always very, very sorry. But somehow they would forget things and once again accidentally swipe their orange Cheetos dust covered fingers on the couch.

What drove me especially bonkers was when something new got damaged before I even paid the credit card bill. We didn’t even own it yet! Could we not have something for 30 days and keep it in decent condition? Apparently not.

I have a tall concrete planter in the shape of a woman’s head. After I bought it I put it on our back deck. Soon after our oldest son was sitting in a nearby chair and started wiggling the top of it with his toes, just being fidgety. “Don’t do that, “ I said, “or you’ll knock it over and her nose will get broken.” The next second it fell over and part of her nose chipped off. My Nostradamus-like prediction brought me no joy.

Awhile back, after having the same cruddy pans forever, my husband and I decided to invest in some decent cookware. I researched this for weeks and waited for a sale to purchase these gorgeous, new shiny pans. Our youngest son burned one to a crisp within the first week. I was beside myself with annoyance. I scrubbed that pan for days using every method found on the Internet, but it still has a ring of burn around the bottom that will be there forever.

One of the things I did not let our kids get their mitts on is the expensive china my husband and I received when we were married. (Remember this? Getting china was something people did before we realized how dumb it is to have overly costly and fancy stuff which in no way relates to how we actually live.) We have rarely used it and it’s in perfect condition.

Now both our sons are out of our house, living on their own, and our things rarely get damaged. When I look at the nose-chipped woman planter it just makes me smile, and I think of our wonderful older son and all the good times our family has had together in our various back yards. (We’ve moved a lot!) When I use that burned pan, I think of all the great meals our delightful younger son has made, and the fun evenings we’ve had eating and drinking and laughing.

Now when I look at our perfect china, I think it’s not perfect at all: It’s hardly connected with any good times and recollections. It’s had no life. I could give it away tomorrow and not care. Instead I’ve decided we are going to use it and let it get scratched and chipped and cracked and broken and filled with memories. And when our sons visit again I’m not going to clean those big young men handprints off our glass doors. Those I want around forever.

By Mary Lynn Bruny. Mary Lynn is a Boulder freelance writer. Contact her at ml.bruny@comcast.net.