"Where's your masterpiece, honey? Check the trash."
It all started out innocently enough. My husband and I welcomed the birth of this plump, adorable baby boy who grew into a wonderfully spirited little guy. Our child loved to draw, make letters and color. And with every creation, he would run up to either of us and proudly show his work, bestow it upon us, if you will. It was as if he were saying in this silent hand-off, "Here, fair maiden of snacks and king of the lawnmower. I give to thee THIS. I knoweth, I knoweth ... 'tis lovely, isn't it? Do not weep, for more greatness will assuredly follow and fall upon your lap. This I promise unto you." The kid kept his word and I had the files of artwork to prove it.
It started with lines. Then it moved to scribbles. The scribbles took shape. Shapes morphed into various colored shapes. And finally there was an 8 ½ x 11 piece of paper with all of it -- lines, scribbles, shapes, and color with content. And if we couldn't understand what we were admiring, then our artist would happily move us through the picture, pointing out himself and us, perhaps a dragon and definitely some random swords and cannonballs. It was precious. Heartrending even. And then with every day, more fine artwork entered our household, and soon I had portfolios stuffed with the worthy keepsakes and ... well, how do I say this ... crap, I guess. Yes, let's just go there. The portfolios were filled with lots of crap.
Now this was cute crap, mind you. It was biodegradable crap like Froot Loops necklaces. It was high-carb crap, such as the uncooked macaroni noodle fresco. Paper-weaving crap, clay crap. And our son went to this wonderful parochial preschool and kindergarten, so there was even holy crap. And then my husband and I added one more plump, adorable baby boy to our lives, another one who was, as you might guess, every bit as wonderfully spirited and drawn to crayon and paper as his older brother. Soon we were swimming in keepsakes and mementos -- and drowning in more crap.
New York Times reporter Michael Tortorello wrote a piece a few years ago about parents who find themselves up to their ears in their kids' artwork. He asked Dr. David Burton, a professor of art education at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, how much kids are invested in keeping all of their art throughout the years. "Once they're through with it, they may lose interest in it very quickly. The process is more important than the product for the child."
But what about me, the mom in this process? Burton is probably right that my children and yours probably won't care much about their artwork later down the road, but I have to have some proof of what my children were like when they wore little Velcro tennis shoes. I need to hold onto some documentation on how they saw the world through much more tender eyes.
During our family move last year, I tossed at least 95 percent of what they produced, but I kept some pieces that can still make me melt and remind me how much I love my two boys, who now sometimes dismiss me, wave me away and provide an alphabetical list of what's wrong with me. (Oh, Handprint from 2005, where are you?) I had to keep William's drawing of a tree, a birdhouse and its two feathered occupants. The birds are settled on the tree branch outside their birdhouse watching a TV ... with antennae. And I will forever hold onto George's drawing of a boy named Ian throwing "nutsy balls" in his fight against the invading Martians.
Burton offered some advice in the Times article for parents looking to hold onto some but not all artwork that crosses home and hearth's threshold: Store a child's art in two boxes. The first one will serve as a temporary file for recent creations and the second is a kind of permanent strong room, which holds a few selected works, perhaps spanning five to 10 years of your child's artistic journey. Each piece can include a makeshift museum card, where a parent writes the title of the piece, the age of the artist and the date. If you're really into it, you can even add the story behind the picture in a sentence or two.
In the end, I have been successful in winnowing down the collection of my kids' artwork. Did I feel insensitive? A bit. But did I feel liberated? Most definitely. I have room to park in my garage. I have storage space in my pull-down attic. All that and I still have my fair share of lines and scribbles and shapes to pore through when my kids would rather hang out with a friend than run up to me and reveal their latest artistic triumph. And on those days when a finger-painted handprint might be the closest I'll get to holding the hands of the two boys I love the most, that saved proof of love might just save me from feeling like crap.
So let's have it. What's the one piece of artwork you're saving from your little Rembrandt? Or do you have a photo of something worthy of posting on Facebook, but most likely destined for the recycling bin? We'd LOVE for you to share your kids' masterpieces, along with a few words to caption what it's supposed to be and the age of the child. Later this week Sky Blue Window will share a "gallery" of our top picks of the pics. Please post them on the Sky Blue Window Facebook page.