Art or Garbage? The Unspoken Dilemma of Parenthood

art paintings on plates

by Laura Onstot | Laura Onstot, registered nurse and mom of 2 young kids, rarely pees alone, only frequents restaurants with Kraft Mac N Cheese, and blogs at Nomad’s Land. In her spare time, she can be found sleeping on the couch while she lets her kids watch endless episodes of Mickey Mouse Clubhouse. Her parenting advice is questionable, but at least she’s honest.

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One day, after years of illegible scribbles, my child hands me a piece of paper with a carrot appearing object with a smiley face on it. A smile lights my face, “Wow! Can you tell me about your drawing?”

“It’s you,” she said, hands on her hips, clearly aware of the high quality of art she has produced.

I am delighted. “Oh my gosh, you drew a carrot with a smiley face on it, and it is me? Precious! Let me hang this on the fridge.”

10 minutes and 50 sheets of printer paper later, she hands me 50 identical drawings of smiley face carrots.

She carefully watches to ensure I look at and compliment each drawing, then asks, “You gonna hang them on the fridge?”

I only have 10 magnetic clippies for the fridge. Half are currently in use for partially eaten bags of potato chips.

I frantically search through the pile of carrot drawings, but cannot decide which are the best. It’s the same dilemma I face when I take 100 pictures of my child in the same pose.

I shut my eyes and pick five, hanging them up on the fridge. I am so proud of my child and her carrot-looking portraits. She has a future as an artist, I just know it.

The next day, child presents me with a piece of paper. On it, are two carrot figures, holding hands, smiley faces on their pointy tops. My heart melts, “Can you tell me about it?”

“It’s me and you, holding hands because we love each other,” she replies, batting her eyes.

My heart explodes.

“I love it!” I say. “Let me hang this up on the fridge!”

I throw away one of the half-eaten bags of potato chips that have been in our pantry for approximately 6 months. There goes 25 cents worth of chips, but, so worth it to hang this masterpiece.

The fridge is jam-packed after yesterday’s carrot human situation. I debate whether I should take one of yesterday’s carrots down to make room for today’s picture, but I can’t figure out which one is the worst, of the five identical pictures. Also, I feel the intense stare of Picasso, waiting for her picture to be hung. I can’t throw away one of Picasso’s pieces IN FRONT of Picasso. That would just be… Rude.

I find a spot on the bottom of the fridge and hang up, “Mommy and Me, Loving Each other.”

Picasso is pleased with the picture placement and requests 100 more sheets of paper so she can destroy the rainforests draw 100 identical copies of “Mommy and Me, Loving Each other”

Picasso is not organized; she doesn’t hand me all 100 drawings in a stack. She hands each one off as she finishes it: while I’m folding laundry, peeing, and trying to do yoga. Her drawings can be found everywhere. Marker dot eyes stare up at me as I use the toilet. They stare at me sideways while I write. They stare at me.

She wants them displayed, all 100 portraits.

Now I’m in trouble. I only have 4 more half-eaten bags of chips to clear up extra magnetic clips. I start eating a bag to clear up space; I cannot waste 25 cents worth of chips. I serve piles of chips for lunch. “Mommy, can I have an apple?” the youngest asks. “No! Eat your chips! We must clear up a fridge clip for Picasso’s work.”

I fail to recognize before the chip binge that even if we have a clippy, there is no more space on the fridge.

What should I do with these adorable drawings?

Picasso’s little hands ball into dimpled fists. How could I not honor her best works with fridge space? The excuse, “I’m sorry babe, but 100 sheets of paper WILL NOT fit on the fridge,” doesn’t work. It’s too logical. We are heading toward a full-blown meltdown.

A bright idea pops into my head. “I know! I bet Grandma would love one of your pictures!”

She brightens, “Can we put it in an envelope?” She loves envelopes. “Sure!” I say, “What do you want me to write so Grandma knows what this is a picture of?”

“This is Mommy and me, loving each other,” Picasso states, getting less and less original.

I write, “Grandma and Me, Loving Each Other” below the carrots. Picasso can’t read and Grandma won’t be able to tell the difference between carrot-me and carrot-her. Picasso licks the envelope for an obnoxiously long time and insists on placing the stamp, slightly crooked. Once it is in the mailbox, Picasso returns to her post at the kitchen table, ready to crank out drawings to mail to every human we have ever met.

The situation is bad, but I don’t know that it is about to get worse. Preschool is ahead.

———

On the first day of preschool, I pick up Picasso and a heavy stack of artwork. My art collection multiplies exponentially with each passing day.

Every surface of our house is covered in Picasso’s work. I am terrified that if I throw something away, she will figure it out and be devastated. So, I start a stack. I keep it in the pantry, high on a shelf she can’t see. It’s the “Throw away eventually” stack. Each day, I put her preschool artwork up there, waiting to see if she ever asks where a certain drawing went.

Person painting on white paper. Is it art or garbage?
Photo by Anastasia Shuraeva on Pexels.com

6 months later, the shelf is sagging under the weight of, “The Stack.”

I am relieved that I have never been asked to find a piece of missing artwork; relieved that Picasso’s memory is short-term enough to forget her previous billion pieces of art.

I begin to plan my disposal of the artwork. It will be after she is in bed. It will go directly into the outside trash can, because we all know how traumatic it would be if she opened the kitchen garbage and found her entire collection of hours of labor, trash. 

One day, husband, looking for a new bag of chips to open despite the other 20 bags of open chips, uncovers the stack and innocently asks, “Hey, what are these pictures?” In front of Picasso.

“Oh, nothing,” I remark, shooting husband the look of death.

“What?” he asks, searching for clarification on why I would be so upset about his innocent question.

Picasso immediately perks up. She can sense that I am trying to hide something from her.

“What pictures?” she asks.

“Oh, just pictures,” I nonchalantly reply, blood pressure creeping up.

“Lift me up so I can see!” she demands, getting feisty. Like a lawyer, about to make a big break in a case.

I shoot husband another death look, then heft the stack of pictures down.

“Why are my pictures in the cabinet?” she asked.

“Because, I love them so much, I want to keep them forever,” I reply.

This answer satisfies her. 

I wait another two months to ensure she forgets about them, before sneaking them out to the garbage can late one night.

————

Picasso continues to find ways to make each drawing more precious than the last, more impossible to throw away.

Her most recent artwork is, “Jesus’ Family.” If I throw it away, I will probably go to hell.

I’ve gotten a little less sneaky, a little bolder. One day, she saw one of her pictures in the trash and was devastated. “WHY WOULD YOU THROW THIS AWAY?” she wailed, mortified that her own mother didn’t like her work.

My pulse quickens. “Silly, me,” I laugh, “That must have fallen in the trash can when I opened it!” I fish it out and return the now strawberry-stained art to her.

I live in fear. Fear of being discovered. Fear that I’m throwing the wrong one away, fear that I should have kept the carrot with eyes that were closer together. Fear of Picasso.

The artwork grows with Picasso. One day it is “Mommy and Me Loving Each other” and the next day, it is a sheet I find under her bed with an unflattering portrait (of me, I presume, given the beady brown eyes, brown hair, and a large frown) with the words “Bed Mom”….which if you know anything about preschool spelling, means “Bad Mom.”

It captures her phase of life, in chronological order. Picasso’s favorite color is pink and so any drawing that has a person with a pink shirt is her. And any time Picasso is drawing, her little sister requests a pink shirt. Picasso never gives her a pink shirt. It is a power move. Picasso also frequently leaves little sister out of her family portraits. She hands me a picture of me, husband, and her. “Tell me about it,” I say, crouched down at eye level.

“It’s a picture of our family, because we love each other.”

“But where is little sister?” I ask.

“Gone.”

—————

Last week, Picasso found her pictures in a recycling bag. “Is this where you keep all my art?” she asks.

“Well, not all of it, but most of it,” I reply.

“Oh,” she says, apparently satisfied.

She doesn’t know where it will end up. And she’s never gonna find out.



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