Realize that the hall tree–the first thing people see as they enter your home–is covered with crayon pictures. Become aware that your refrigerator, your kitchen counter, your dining buffet, and your coffee table are hidden under construction paper–a plethora of paper cutouts, paper glued on paper, paper cutouts glued on paper and one lopsided pink paper lantern. Note that collages, spiral drawings, splatter pictures and finger paintings are intermixed with the construction paper projects. Behold the sculptures of clay and play dough and bread dough and painted rocks holding the papers in place. Recognize that other 3-D projects are scattered throughout your home: a diorama displaying dinosaurs, shells glued together meant to be a tortoise but looking more like a tepee, a jar of colored sand once in layers now so shaken that the rainbow effect is mush, a hundred beans glued on poster board to honor the first hundred days of school from two years ago, and a macaroni necklace–your gift from last Mother’s Day.
Know that it’s time to clear these things out if you are to retain your sanity.
Remember the pride in your son’s face as he gave you that macaroni necklace. Recall the sound of the pasta shells clicking together in your office that first day you wore it, and the flakes of paint it gave off that ruined your blouse.
Smile at the paper bag with scribbles that originated in your daughter’s mind. Inhale the imperfections of her immature imagination. Close your eyes and rehear the random hum that she makes when she is deep in artistic concentration.
Pause to reconsider what you are about to do.
Remind yourself that you need to reclaim the living space of your home.
Know that your children will improve in artistic ability as they grow and that what you see now are just early works. Convince yourself these early works will be an embarrassment to them if they become famous artists. Recall that at school coloring is used as a filler of time for when your child finishes a task more quickly than others and has nothing more to do.
Concede that a squiggle is simply a scribble. A doodle derives from daydreams.
Find your camera.
Start with the bench by the front door. Photograph the pictures. Turn off the flash and readjust the light to take the glare off the paper. Photograph them again.
Photograph the 3-D projects from every angle.
Wish you had photographed your children’s faces when they completed each project. Remember their frustration and their pride. Wonder if you praised your son enough for the monster he drew before you dropped him at soccer practice. Know that neither of you nor your daughter will recall the details of her drawing of your family, but you will always remember your shared giggles when everyone’s noses came out looking like balloons.
Download the pictures and save them to the cloud because the cloud is forever.
Choose one or two items created by each child and set them aside.
With a knot in your stomach, put the rest into a plastic garbage bag.
Photograph the artwork hanging on your refrigerator door. Take it down and put it in the bag. Do the same for that on your bulletin board and that on your coffee table. While you’re at it, put away the crayons. Put the macaroni necklace on and take a selfie. Save it all to the cloud. Choose a few more items from each of your children that you believe are the best. Put the rest in the trash bag.
Find boxes that will fit under your bed–one for each child. Put the saved items in those boxes. Leave space for new creations.
Imagine yourself presenting the boxes to your children when they go to college. Immediately change your mind and decide to keep the art through their college years because your son and daughter won’t want it in the dorm. Plan to keep it through their first few post college years when they will likely be sharing living spaces with friends and won’t have the space. Envision giving them to your children as a surprise on the eve of their wedding. Know that their future spouses will cherish a box full of their childhood art because they will love them as much as you do.
Wish that their future spouses could hear their hums and giggles like you did. Realize that they never will. Accept that without those memories, the art has less value.
Trust that they will hear those satisfying sounds from their own children one day.
Put the art-filled boxes under your bed. Promise yourself that come fall you will cull again. When you do, you will only save one thing from each child. Make a pledge that you will only keep one piece of art per child per year. Plan to choose the one thing that they spent the most time on, that they are most proud of, and that you love the best.
Take the art-filled garbage bag into the garage and store it in the corner behind the Christmas decorations. After two days, retrieve the paper plate mask that your daughter made for the upcoming school play.
Three months later, without looking, try to recall any of the art projects that are in the bag. Only remember one. Dig deep into the trash bag. Rifle through the crumpled paper. Roll aside the painted rocks. Know you are close when your hand has flecks of paint on it. Untangle the yarn from a dinosaur tail.
Pull the macaroni necklace from the garbage bag and gently remove a piece of broken penne. Hang it on the corner of the mirror atop your dresser. Make a promise to yourself that you will wear it on every Mother’s Day from now on.
Put the rest in the garbage bin to be taken away.