But It’s a Masterpiece!
I couldn’t bear to part with even one doodle, paint swoosh, or collage created by my wildly artistic kid. Sound familiar?
How to be a dedicated patron of your child’s artwork without letting it take over your home
MY DAUGHTER was in preschool only three hours a week, yet she was a prolific painter. Swimming in an oversize smock, barely able to reach the blank paper on the easel, Amy attacked the canvas, wielding fat brushes with the prowess of an exuberant toddler. The results were abstract, of course, and always blue.
“It’s her Blue Period,” I boasted to friends as they stifled yawns, politely examining the art I had taped to every inch of wall at home.
“Like Picasso!” I gushed to her preschool teacher.
“No,” the patient teacher explained. Turns out the reason my tiny virtuoso was churning out one blue work after another was because she only put out blue paint. “They are so little, they can’t handle color choices,” she said, ardently adding, “Next month we introduce red.”
All right, so maybe my kid wasn’t going to have a onewoman show at the National Gallery of Art before she was potty trained. But I, her most devoted fan, applauded every time she arrived home with a pile of paintings. Some critics might see random brush strokes, but I saw a perfect balance of composition, shapes, and texture. In every monochromatic painting.
My squirmy kid’s art career began before screens were the obvious answer to keeping kids busy in restaurants. I brought crayons to keep her happy in her high chair so that
we could have five minutes to gobble down a meal before her whimpers turned into shattering screeches. Amy’s favorite place had brownpaper table covers she could draw on—which explains why there are now crayon etchings on my dining table.
Then came preschool. Dozens of one-of-a-kind masterpieces turned into hundreds. We didn’t know where to put them in our cramped two-bedroom place in New York City. Behind the stereo speakers. Next to our bed. Under our bed. I rolled up countless paintings and stuffed them into my closet. “You’ve got to get rid of some,” my husband insisted, refusing to rent a storage space.
Even the grandmothers in Florida begged us to stop sending so many. “I have no more room on my fridge,” Grandma Sylvia apologized. There were some even I didn’t care for. “My Family,” crafted at age 3. Splotches of color floating in space. “That’s Daddy,” Amy called the huge purple explosion. “Grammy,” she identified a smaller yellowand-blue pattern. Pointing to a tiny gray dot on the bottom right: “That’s you, Mommy.”
Me? All those years of being a patron of the arts for a mini person and that’s all I am?—a microscopic gray speck on the tail end of the universe? The next day, Amy suddenly labeled Daddy as the insignificant spot, and I was overjoyed to be elevated to a large purple blob. I rewarded her with ice cream for dessert.
Slowly, I became braver about paring down paintings. One mother suggested I furtively throw a few of them out in the dark of night when Amy was asleep. Another time, I thought I was clever by crumpling a drawing and “hiding” it in my bathroom wastebasket. Hours later, Amy appeared, tearfully gripping the gem I’d discarded like a dust bunny.
“I found this in the garbage, Mommy.” She looked heartbroken. “Why?”
“Hmm ... I don’t know. Maybe it was—” Dare I falsely accuse Daddy? Feebly, I pressed the edges, assuring her it was even more beautiful than the 20 other portraits of red-haired princesses she’d drawn that week.
Amy began regularly combing the trash, giving me suspicious side glances while rummaging for evidence that I’d thrown away more “objets d’art.” So I lugged home large plastic boxes and placed her creations inside, though I would still furtively eighty-six some while she was asleep, dreaming of mothers who could be trusted. But every time I took a stash to the garbage, I still grieved a little.
Picasso said it took him “a lifetime to paint like a child.” I wanted to hold on to Amy’s precious unself-conscious childhood creativity—even if it was turning me into a hoarder.
By the time she was 5, Amy preferred markers to paint. A girl in a purple dress with pigtails and painted nails, standing next to a flower as tall as she was. “You and me, Mommy. We’re walking to school. We love each other.”
I hugged the picture. And the next 40 that arrived home the following week.
“I draw pictures of you, Mommy,” Amy said, “because I want to be like you when I grow up.” How could I throw any of them away? There must be room somewhere ... ah yes, I think there’s a few more inches of space in the linen closet. Who needs extra towels anyway?