One of my favorite reality TV shows is Hoarders on A&E. It's a show that tells the stories of families seeking interventions for loved ones who are hoarding -- people whose homes have been overrun by their acquisitions of a lot of (often) useless stuff. It's classic "train wreck" TV, but I love it. I love that it's so human, that in each hoarder is a story that attests to the tragedy of a culture of mass consumption and extreme waste. Hoarders have an issue with time. They're stuck in making collections of their past and the idea that the future must, and should, be defined by it. They don't see their present living conditions because the present is too filled with other stuff.
I don't hoard. But maybe, I think when watching the show, maybe I could, too. Maybe.
I do hold on to all of my toddler's art. For months, her art -- hundreds of pieces of construction paper and cardboard cutouts of paint blobs and scribbles -- lived on the refrigerator, in kitchen drawers, in a nook called "Art File" on our kitchen countertop, under sofa pillows, and in shoeboxes I said I'd go through to make a handmade scrapbook... someday.
My toddler makes at least 20 pieces of art on a daily basis, so after months of that, it was beginning to become a burden. But rather than throw it out, I'd put it on the fridge. I'd then get attached and be unable to let go. When the fridge got full, I moved some of the art to a "secondary location" for safekeeping. I know: It all sounds so benign and innocent. And it was, kind of.
It's normal to keep your children's art, right? Really -- this is a question. It is normal to refuse to throw away your children's art, because it's for your children's good, right? That's what I say to convince myself as a parent.
Like most parents of my generation, I was keeping her art because I wanted to encourage her "creative zeal." I wanted a confident and creative child who would grow up to be a confident and creative adult who could look at all her art I'd kept and know that, as her parent, I did my best. I imagined that at least she would know that she did have an artistic childhood and that I did my best to nurture it.
This is all normal, right?
But all that art was too much. I hated having to make room for it. I hated feeling guilty about it. I hated that all of it, even the lone scribbles done in haste to rationalize her request for a new piece of paper, meant so much to me. I hated that I was afraid of her seeing me ever throw it away. I hated that it controlled me. I hated that I... was afraid, in fear of what could happen if I threw it away.
My intervention happened a week ago. After watching an episode of Hoarders, I decided to clean off our refrigerator and clean out the "Art File." I removed every scrap of paper, put it in a pile on the kitchen counter, and had my toddler sit down with me to pick out just a few favorites. I figured this task would be impossible... for her, of course. I assumed there'd be tears and protests and lifetime scars from... from her, of course. But that wasn't the case.
Unlike me, my toddler easily parted with her scribbles of family portraits and painted blobs of elephants, revealing that she held no attachment to the art itself or to the idea that her art meant much of anything beyond being scraps of paper that were something fun to create in the moment.
What she taught me that day about time and those scraps of paper was my breakthrough. In throwing away the art, I was able to mentally allow myself to "get" that the art was a projection of something larger. That "something larger" had to do with my anxiety with time and me wanting to prove, years from now, that I really was a "good" mom.
I can now acknowledge that in trying so hard to record and hold on to everything, I missed the bigger picture. It's not the art, the paper scraps, that matter, really. What matters is that she created them and enjoyed herself in the process. The present moment -- that's what the hoarders on TV are likely missing. That's what I almost missed.
I can't predict what will come in the future. I can't control it. I can't make time hold still. I can only embrace it, live in it, and love it. In throwing away most of the art, I became free, free to love this moment, the great job I think I'm doing as a mom, and this moment of childhood that I'm experiencing with both of my girls.
Today my daughter made 20 portraits of her baby sister, but I only kept one that she called her "favorite." More likely than not we'll keep it on the fridge and throw it away when another replaces it tomorrow. Or maybe, just maybe, this will be the one we'll frame and hold on to for years to come. Maybe.
For more by Jessica F. Hinton, click here.
For more on becoming fearless, click here.