Wednesday, March 31, 2010


My #3 son has loved GI Joe dolls since he was a toddler. Pretty early in his life, GI Joes became a regular gift at Christmas and birthdays, allowing him to build up a fairly substantial military force. Over the years, however, many of the Joes became wounded or disabled during combat. This led to creative medical and surgical procedures on Tom's part - a prosthetic leg for one Joe, a mechanical forearm for another. One even had the top half of his head replaced with a large glass marble, elaborate wire "skull", and some creative cosmetic enhancements - looked like something from the Borg.

One year just before Christmas, knowing that new Joes would soon be joining the ranks, I asked Tom to please clean out all the bits and pieces of broken, worn-out Joes from Christmases past. By this time, he had an enormous trunk full of Joes and pieces of Joes - they were practically taking over the boys' room - and I thought he could surely part with those who were undeniably past usefulness.

I was wrong.

A few days after my request to "thin the ranks," I walked into the boys' room to find wounded GI Joes commandeering the place. Tom had sorted through all his Joes, one by one, and had realized that not a single disabled Joe could be discarded. So, he constructed a military hospital that took up an entire corner of the room. He had Joes in home-made wheelchairs. Joes with bandaged heads and limbs, swathed in strips of torn fabric stained with red ink. Joes in bunks and on stretchers. And bins of assorted body parts - legs, arms, feet, hands - just in case the next influx of wounded needed surgery.

Some of the disabled Joes, bundled in flannel blankets, were reading tiny books. A couple sat at a table playing with a deck of miniature cards. Two in adjacent beds were propped up on their elbows, facing each other - obviously engaged in conversation.

I looked at the sprawling set-up with a mixture of amusement and frustration. I had to give the boy an A+ for creativity. But still, the Joes had to go. They were postively taking over the room. With new Joes coming in, it just didn't make sense to hang onto the broken, useless toys cluttering the floor in front of me.

"Thomas! What are you doing?!" (One of those ridiculous Mom questions.)

Tom looked up from among his wounded troops. "I made a VA Hospital," he answered matter-of-factly.

"Tom, you know you are going to have to get rid of all these broken dolls."


"Because they're useless! They're a mess! You've got Joes spread out all over everywhere, cluttering up half the floor. You know you're getting new Joes for Christmas - you can afford to clean out some of these old ones."

Tom surveyed his patients a few seconds, then looked me in the eye. "Mom, you don't keep someone just because they are whole. Because a person is broken or missing parts doesn't mean they don't still have value as a human being."

WHAM. I suddenly felt like a very. small. parent. "Oh, yeah," I managed a whisper. "Yeah, I see what you mean." Out of the mouths of babes....

The VA Hospital stayed.

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