I remember the first time I got caught. I was cleaning out my kids’ backpacks on a winter evening when I pulled out yet another piece of construction paper with feathers glued on and a cotton ball sky. My son wrote his name on it in a messy scribble and there was a heart next to the word “mom.” “Mommy, I made that for you,” said my son with pride as I glanced at it and tossed it aside. “Oh baby its beautiful,” I said as I picked it back up. “Do you love it?” he asked. “Yes, sweetheart, I really love it” I replied. And when he turned his back, I threw it out. Later that evening he opened the garbage to find his masterpiece covered in spaghetti and napkins. With a mix of confusion and sadness he asked “Mommy why did you throw this out? I made it for you. You said you loved it.” I felt awful. I wondered, had I just destroyed my child’s incentive to be creative; had I made his efforts seems worthless? I apologized and, of course, I lied and said it was an accident.
So where do us parents draw the line? Everyday, backpacks come home stuffed with arts and crafts that my children took time and effort to make and I rack my brain deciding what to keep and what to toss. Yes, there are some no-brainers. The pictures of nondescript rainbows and words on a page get dumped. But what about the enormous watercolor paintings? The tracing of my child’s hand to make a turkey on Thanksgiving? The toe print picture with my kid’s name on it? How do you throw away your child’s toe print? And if there’s a photo of my kid on it, that thing never sees the inside of a trash can. I put the keepers in a shopping bag but the bag is usually full by February! I feel guilty when I throw things out and I feel like a hoarder when I keep them.
My closet is stuffed with messy mother’s day picture frames, painted sea shells, glue-stick laden holiday placemats and countless handmade popsicle stick houses. I find a reason why everything they make is important and special and I tell myself we’ll all want to look back at these treasures one day.
“Get cheap frames and make an art wall in their playroom” said a friend. But that wall would become an entire room and give me even more reason to keep everything. And that doesn’t solve the problem of the non-hangable crafts. Do I put up shelving for those? Some have suggested taking pictures of the art and making a scrap book of the pictures instead, but that scrapbook would never get made and I’d be left with hundreds of pictures of stick figures. And then I’d feel guilty deleting the pictures. So what’s a parent to do? I know I’m not the only one with this problem… folks, I’ve seen your refrigerator doors.
In searching for the answer, what I’ve come to realize is this: It’s not the actual art that’s meaningful, but instead what it represents. What fills our children’s backpacks are mementos of them being little, crafts made by innocent baby hands that keep getting bigger and growing older. And when I throw out something that those tiny hands made, I’m discarding a keepsake of their time in nursery school or kindergarten. But then I remind myself that these crafts are not what I should treasure. With much luck, my children will give me lots of special experiences to look back on, and memories of those times are what I should really treasure.
When I’m in this mindframe, I know I don’t have to keep everything my children make, even if they made it for me, and I can see the 2 important lessons I’ve learned through all of this: First, the things in my closet can’t compare to the memories I carry with me.
And second, when you throw their projects out, do it after they go to sleep and hide the trash.