The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, March 30, 2007


Around Home
Construction paper, destruction dreams

I never used to think of myself as a person who had a problem with clutter. I always put pieces of mail into the recycling as soon as they have been read. Household items are returned after use. Each pair of gloves and every scarf has its own designated spot in the coat closet.

Indeed, clutter was never an issue until my elder child reached preschool. It was five years ago, but I distinctly remember asking the questions I thought were important at the time as we visited various schools in and around Carlisle prior to his year of entry. I inquired about teacher/child ratio, the size of the playground, the approach to discipline.

I didn't ask about art projects. If I had it to do again, I'd look for a place that was philosophically opposed to kids creating art. There just isn't enough space on this planet for the stuff preschool classes can create with construction paper. My children come home with piles and piles and piles of art projects. Entire landfills' worth.

I keep wondering if anyone has yet developed the concept of a green preschool, an environmentally friendly place where the kids do not end each school day with sheets of oak tag, trailing feathers and glitter. Surely there must be a school at which all drawings and writing exercises are done on dry-erase white boards. The kids finish their work, due admiration is paid and the whole project is wiped clean for use again the next day. Art projects would similarly be constructed, viewed, and deconstructed, the materials re-sorted into properly labeled bins.

For particularly exemplary creations, a digital photo could be taken as a way of preserving the work. This scheme would have the additional benefit of teaching kids that their output most days is going to be average at best, and only occasionally will they produce something truly worth keeping. As a writer who watches most of my words get highlighted in huge chunky text blocks and then deleted — either by myself or by a ruthless editor — I think this would be an undeniably useful lesson to incorporate early on.

For now, my solution is to spend a great deal of time sneaking masterpieces from the kids' backpacks directly into the recycling bin. We go to the Transfer Station only every couple of weeks, so if it happens that the kids are looking for something they made, I can almost always sneak it right back out, undetected. But in fact, they seldom look for their creations after they get home. They're much more interested in the process than the finished product.

On the other hand, when they do catch me discarding their projects, they get insulted, so I try to avoid that scenario. Sometimes, I'm successful, other times not as much, and one time several years ago was downright traumatic for my son.

He had made a lion mask at preschool. I let him wear it around the house for a week or two before I threw it away. Unfortunately, the materials used in the project were diverse enough that simple paper recycling wouldn't do; this had to go into the trash. Past experience has taught me never to throw away art projects onto the top of the pile; inevitably, the child who created the project will be the next one to open that particular garbage bin and will find it there.

And if just-completed art projects are messy, art projects that have been retrieved from the garbage and are saturated with coffee grounds and bacon grease are a lot worse.

So I buried the lion mask deep. All the way at the bottom of the bag. My son forgot all about it until two weeks later when my husband was loading the truck for our semi-monthly trip to the Transfer Station. Four-year-old Tim let out a shriek. It turned out I had pushed the lion mask a little too far down into the trash. His leonine face could be clearly seen pressed against the translucent white plastic bottom of the trash bag, looking utterly desperate to escape. Now I make sure to bury in the middle.

I know it sounds unsentimental, but I honestly don't think stick drawings of flowers and smiling suns are going to do that much for me in evoking my children's early years when they are older. I have journals, photo albums and baby books that I rely on to serve that purpose. Every few months, each child produces something unusual or special enough that I choose to file it away: the valentine that Tim wrote this year in Spanish, for example, or the picture Holly drew of our family in which she managed to duplicate not only my husband's very large belly but her brother's famously protrusive ears.

So the kids do know I value their work, just not every last shred of it. Meanwhile, I'm getting really good at sorting the recycling and clearing out clutter. And I've learned a few things in the process.

Rule number one: Never shove your child's artwork to the bottom of a translucent white garbage bag.

2007 The Carlisle Mosquito