May 15, 1995 in Features

But That Was My Favorite! Discarding Child’s Art Treasures Requires Care, Stealth

Barbara Brotman Chicago Tribune
 

I pulled the garbage bag out of the pail, then froze, a deer in the headlights, a pickpocket holding someone else’s wallet.

My 6-year-old daughter had caught sight of something through the translucent white plastic. She stared in horror.

“My pumpkin book!” she cried, for that was what she had seen: a booklet of orange and black construction paper stapled together, a Halloween art project she had made in the fall.

“How did it get in the garbage?” she cried, looking at me with disbelief tinged with suspicion.

I stammered my protestations of ignorance. But the suspicion turned to certainty as the awful truth began to dawn.

“I did that in kindergarten,” she howled, her volume rising with her outrage. “IT WAS VERY SPECIAL TO ME!”

At this point my husband joined the prosecution, shaking his head sadly as he fixed me with a gaze of reproachfulness mixed with regret at his inability until this moment to perceive the depths of evil to which I am capable of descending.

All right - roll the video camera and call a lawyer: I confess. I threw my daughter’s art project into the garbage.

Yes, in a brief and futile attempt to clean up the family room, I tossed out the pumpkin book.

And yes, I understood the consequences of my action if discovered, which was why I shoved the thing down from the top of the garbage, never imagining that she would be able to spy it from outside the bag.

I understand the pricelessness of youthful masterpieces. They are snapshots in time, treasured glimpses of the child who would draw God with a pageboy flip.

They are windows to our children’s insides. Photographs show what they looked like; artworks show what they thought like.

For our children, they are relics of their past - connections with the children they once were but have long forgotten.

I believed so firmly in the importance of leaving my own childhood paper trail that beginning in elementary school, I filed each year’s worth of drawings and prized oddities in metal cabinets in the attic. If anyone wants to see my second-grade penmanship exercises, they have but to ask.

And someday these art projects may also serve as a reminder of the love of the parents who saved them. A friend found that out after her mother’s death, when she discovered the felt heart she had embroidered crudely “I love you” and given to her mother at the age of 6. Her mother had kept it for 30 years.

So I do not dispose of these treasures lightly. I frame some; I tack others to the family room wall; I store others in art boxes I have organized for each child with hanging files labeled by age.

Yet still the stuff keeps coming, backpacks full of it. The crush of art projects is such that I have had to cull the relics.

I have two main guidelines: I save no food art (tragically, works in the medium of rice or beans must go); and keepers must be truly original, created wholly or largely by my daughters, not their teachers.

The pumpkin book just didn’t make the cut. Not that my daughter didn’t enjoy making it. But the poem it illustrated was written by someone else, and, in my daughter’s prewriting stage, written down by an adult. Neither the concept nor the idea of executing it in oil pastels and cut paper had been hers.

So I threw it in the garbage. And it was from there that my husband retrieved it from a smelly mass of wet paper towels and coffee grounds as the child sniffled piteously.

He dried it out on top of the toaster. It now sits on my desk, its construction paper pages stained by moist trash, waiting to be filed under “B” for “Betrayal.”

My daughter has forgotten all about it.

The lesson is clear: You have to really shove these things down into the middle of the garbage.


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