From hoarder to heartless “destroyer of dreams”

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No Heart for Art
by Jen Rouse
The Short Years

I am a crusher of creativity, a destroyer of dreams.

Every single day, my daughters create pages and pages of artwork. And every two or three days, I gather it all up, and fold it up real small, and shove it to the bottom of the recycle bin. And out the door it goes.

I always feel guilty about this, every single time. And yet, if I did not do this, every surface in our house would be covered, covered two or three layers thick, with paintings and drawings and crafts. The sheer volume of creative efforts that come from three little girls in one house is almost impossible to fathom, people.

Our fridge. Sometimes I honestly have problems opening and closing it
because of all the priceless artwork attached to it.

It wasn’t always this way. I clearly remember the first time I forced Beth to color. She was maybe 9 or 10 months old, and I taped a piece of blank paper to the floor so it wouldn’t wiggle around on her, and I shoved a big, fat, orange Crayola into her hand and moved it back and forth across the paper in a wide squiggle. I hoped that she would be entranced by this, that she would get the picture and immediately begin creating on her own, but she didn’t. She put up with my little art class for a few minutes and then crawled away, completely uninterested.

Of course this didn’t last long. By age 2, Beth was coloring like mad, and her sisters followed suit, and now we have an entire craft section of our closet–a six-drawer plastic cart stuffed with felt and markers and stickers and glitter (oh, how I have come to hate glitter) and googly eyes, and more stuffed-to-the-brim plastic bins stacked on top of the six-drawer cart, and two plastic bins full of coloring books in the kitchen, and three plastic pencil boxes full of crayons on the other shelf in the kitchen, and a little round table in the corner of the kitchen that is always completely covered with works-in-progress. I would guess that each child draws or paints or glues something together at least two times every single day. That’s six pieces of paper a day, times seven days per week. It’s 35 new pieces of paper every week. At least.

It is madness, I tell you. Pure madness.

I see these ideas for displaying kids’ art on magazines and blogs. “Create a revolving art gallery of your children’s latest creations,” they say. And they have some cute arrangement involving picture frames, or a wire strung along the wall with clothespins for attaching paintings, and it always looks so cute and neat and pretty. Some moms I know save their kids’ work in boxes or files, so that one day their kids can look back on all their childhood talent. I’ve heard of people who take pictures of their kids’ creations before throwing them away, so that they can have a digital record of said art–and, even, if they choose, print up all the artwork into a beautiful photo book that will be a family heirloom forever. Genius!

But I’ll be honest: I do not rotate the actual art in my actual picture frames on my walls more than once every few years. There is no way I could keep up with my kids. And the digital photo thing? I have not made my actual family photos, the ones that involve my actual children doing actual things, into photo books since 2008. When they ask to see pictures of some thing we did in the past, or they need family photos for a school project, I resort to pulling open the craft drawers, finding some stiff-ish craft paper that will fit into my printer, and printing off pictures from the computer that way. (Because not only have I not created any photo books, I also don’t even have any photo paper to print on).

A few years ago I gave my two older girls bulletin boards to hang in their room, with the idea that they could keep their OWN precious artwork on their OWN personal bulletin boards, and that then when they were out of space, they would be the one to make the hard decision to let something go. But the only result seems to be that they keep a few old pictures pinned to the boards, and there are thumbtacks underfoot in their room all the time.

Because here’s the thing: they don’t want to keep this artwork for themselves. They want to give it to ME. “It’s for YOU, mama!” they cry with bright eyes. They write my name on it. They sign it proudly. And they present it to me with the certain knowledge that I will treasure it.

And so I stick it on the fridge, on top of the other 100 pieces of artwork already on there. Or I display it on my desk. Or I leave it out on the table for Daddy to see.

Some of the ones that I do think are exceptionally creative or beautiful or well-executed for their age I stuff into the cupboard where I keep their baby books, with the intention of actually putting it into said baby books one day, so they can look back and see how clever they were. Some of the ones with especially touching messages I stuff into a little box on the dresser in my room so that when I am old and grey I can look back at them and tear up over how sweet and bright and loving my little girls were.

And the rest…I keep it for awhile. And then I wait until they go to bed. And I throw it away. Because I am heartless, and because I fear that my house would collapse under the accumulated weight of craftiness if I didn’t do something about it. Or we’d get featured on “Hoarders.”

I bet Picasso’s mom didn’t have to worry about getting featured on “Hoarders.”