- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 1, 2006

“Let’s play Desert Island,” I said to Amy. “Pretend you are going to an uncharted island and you can take just three things with you. Go get the three things you would take along.”

This is how I got rid of Amy so I could enjoy some adult conversation with my friend Sarah, who also happens to be Amy’s former third-grade teacher.

Several minutes passed while Amy retreated to her room to find the three items that would define her existence on her remote island home. I wondered — though not aloud, so as not to appear neurotic — if one of her three things would be a toothbrush.

Amy reappeared a short time later, and here is what she brought: her teddy bear, the “All About Me” poster she made in first grade, and a novelty pen that plays famous quotes from the movie “Napoleon Dynamite” at the push of a button.

Sarah and I enjoyed Amy’s explanations for choosing each of her items, then managed to get in another few minutes of conversation when I asked Amy to return her belongings to her room. By then, I think Amy had caught on to the real purpose behind my “game,” so she left us alone for a while. (Moms are sneaky that way, but hey — sometimes we have to do whatever it takes to string together two sentences of adult conversation.)

If I were asked, I would have no problem choosing three items to define my life.

The first item would be an economy-size bottle of Tide with bleach alternative. I buy almost as many gallons of Tide in a week as I buy of milk. When I’m out of Tide, I feel oddly unsettled, as if my purpose in life is at risk of slipping into a mud-encrusted, sweat-infused pair of soccer socks. I wouldn’t want to be stuck on an island without a meaningful purpose in life, and I realized long ago my purpose is laundry.

Don’t roll your eyes when I say this, but my second item for the desert island would be my cell phone. (It’s just a game, so the fact there would be no cell-phone service is irrelevant).

I honestly don’t know how our mothers raised us without cell phones. In fact, it’s hard to recall the days when my land line was attached to the wall of my kitchen, a 75-foot-spiral cord stretched across the room and out the sliding door to the back yard, where I talked on the phone from a lawn chair while watching toddlers in the sandbox.

Back then, I was emancipated by my cordless phone, which enabled me to load and unload the washing machine while talking to my sisters.

These days, I’m attached to my cell phone like an on-call physician or the CEO of a Fortune 500 company. I’m not that important, but tell that to a daughter who can’t find her wallet or a son who calls to remind you to pick him up from basketball practice.

The final item I would choose? Post-It notes. Even on a desert island, I’m a mother juggling the lives of a busy family and an irresponsible dog. No further explanation is necessary.

The real fun in the Desert Island game is to see if you can predict the items your loved ones might choose. It’s a way to assess how well you know someone.

For example, I’m sure my son Jimmy would choose a basketball, his LeBron James basketball shoes and his friend Jon. Come to think of it, his choices would mean life on a desert island would be the same as life here in our neighborhood.

My husband’s items would be somewhat esoteric: A copy of the 2004 Baseball Encyclopedia, a bag of jawbreakers and a six-pack of dark beer. He would insist these items could assure his contentment; he accuses me of overpacking whenever we travel.

Of course, the things we choose don’t really stand for who we are. Still, in our consumer-driven, materialistic world, it’s easy to forget that all our stuff could be left behind — and in fact, some day will be left behind. I suppose that’s what makes the game interesting — the idea that we could take just a few things with us that reflect what we’re really all about.

As well as I know my 8-year-old daughter, I wouldn’t have predicted the three items Amy brought from her room to help demonstrate what she values, and yet they made perfect sense.

The poster shows photos of Amy from infancy through age 6 — the happy first years when memories merge into one undefined sense of childhood. She is smiling in every picture.

The teddy bear’s well-worn fur reflects the loving grasp of Amy and all three of her older siblings, all of whom owned Teddy at one time. He stands for both security and family traditions.

The “Napoleon Dynamite” pen, well, it’s just quirky. Not to mention, it makes her laugh, and we all need to laugh when we’re stranded.

Then again, if we were all stuck on that desert island together, Amy could write a message with that silly pen on one of my Post-It notes and toss it into the ocean in one of her dad’s empty beer bottles.

She’d probably get us rescued in the end.

Columnist Marybeth Hicks, a wife of 19 years and mother of four children, lives in the Midwest. She uses her column to share her perspective on issues and experiences that shape families nationwide.Visit her Web site (www.marybethhicks.com) or send e-mail to marybeth. hicks@comcast.net.

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