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Treasuring macaroni art and other child’s gifts

Published March 09. 2018 10:29PM

“When a child gives you a gift, even if it is a rock they just picked up, exude gratitude. It may be the only thing they have to give, and they have chosen to give it to you.”

— Dean Jackson

I tried to get a jump on spring cleaning last weekend. First up, the overflowing bin of papers, pictures, important papers, etc., etc., etc., that is sitting on the buffet in the breakfast room. I try to keep up with the kids’ backpacks and school papers daily, tossing everything I can into the trash the minute it comes into the house.

This pile, however, is the spot for things I’m not sure about, or things that I definitely need to save, but don’t have a place to put them yet. I usually try to go through this pile once every three or four months, but somehow, it’s really gotten away from me.

When A was little, I fell victim to the first-time parent trap of saving every scrap of paper that he doodled on. When it became clear that his artwork could live in our house or we could, I got more selective in what we saved. The Wonderful Husband also installed some bulletin boards in the main hallway. We established a system of allowing the kids to display whatever they wanted to on these billboards, and then after a month or two, either pitching it or deciding if we really needed to keep it. Ninety-nine out of 100 times, the item got pitched.

I am a saver though, and the kids have definitely inherited the pack rat gene. Admitting that we have a problem is a step in the right direction, and we’ve managed to keep the “treasure chests” to one good-sized tote for each of them. So, the process is that anything that I deem worth saving from the pile in the breakfast room will eventually make its way into the tote. And, 50 years from now, my kids can open the tote and dump the dust crumbs out and wonder what I was thinking.

As I weeded through assorted certificates, photographs and a few bills that I probably should have paid a month or two ago, I came across the Mother’s Day project that E had made for me last year. Perhaps it’s been a bit more than three or four months since I’ve gone through this pile. It was a colored bouquet of flowers, and each one of the flowers had something special that she liked to do with me. Obviously, this was destined for the tote, and I enjoyed both her phonetic spelling and the fact that most of the things we like to do together are either cooking, baking, or eating our cooking and baking.

I put it in the “save” pile, and continued plowing through the pile. After I got through it all, I put the “save” pile on the steps to carry up to the tote, which I keep in my extremely large storage closet, or as some people call it, bedroom. Later that day, as I ran up and down the steps doing other chores, I eventually remembered to grab it and put it away. However, I did not notice that one of the flowers had come off the bouquet.

Sometime over the next two days, this little scrap of colored paper made its way up the steps, and into the bathroom, where over the course of two days’ ablutions by five people, it got dripped on, stepped on, squished, crumpled and torn. So, by Monday night when I scraped the pieces off the bathroom floor and deposited them in the garbage can, I didn’t even realize what I was doing.

The 7-year-old who had poured her heart and soul into the project did, though. As I stood up from picking the pieces off the floor and tossing them, I was staring right into some eyes that had the big, fat, “you have just destroyed a piece of my soul” tears in them.

“Mommy, you just threw away my macaroni flower about when we make macaroni together. (Macaroni had been spelled mak-uh-rony.) I will tell you what, there is nothing like the big fat tear guilt trip. UGH.

So, of course, I did the equivalent of a dumpster dive and started picking the pieces out of the garbage and trying to put them back together.

“No, it’s OK. It’s garbage anyway,” the guilt trip known as E continued.

I’ve gotten plenty of the “you’re the worst mom in the worlds” and equivalent statements over the years, and most of the time, they roll right off my back. I’m completely immune to any guilt trip that starts out with anything at all resembling “everyone else is doing it, too.”

I’ve had plenty of situations where my heart might melt a tiny bit on the inside but I continue to mete out punishment on the outside. So, guilt isn’t really something I feel a lot when I’m parenting. But she got me on this one.

E is forever making little notes and cards for her friends, her teachers, for me, and I tend to be aggravated more by the paper trail she leaves in her wake, but this was a good reminder of how much gratitude she is filled with and how much I need to slow down and appreciate that it’s not as much about the words on the paper as it is the meaning and the memories behind the words.

Liz Pinkey is a contributing writer to the Times News. Her column appears weekly in our Saturday feature section.

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