We have a prolific artist living in our house. She loves to paint, draw, write and color. Our fridge showcases many of her best pieces, and every now and then, so do our walls. More often, though, the papers end up on various tables, desks and floors. Not only are the pages unsightly, they are hazardous as well (imagine for a moment a seven-months-pregnant lady who can’t see beyond her growing belly, walking in socks on the kitchen floor, and then slipping on an unseen giant “Winnie the Pooh” coloring page, and the ensuing rage that will surely follow).
I don’t know why clutter has the power to undo me, but it does. Maybe it’s because I grew up in a house full of clutter—picture newspapers and magazines, unopened mail piled up in every corner—the result of living in a home that was far too small for the six people that inhabited it, combined with full-time working parents who had little time to clean and organize while also raising four children, combined with what may be the slight hoarding tendencies of my very well-meaning mother.
I, however, can spend loads of time organizing and de-cluttering our small house. I have a very low threshold for messiness. Which isn’t to say that our house is always clean and put-together. Our living room, kitchen and dining areas, our most heavily used spaces, are prone to collecting post-tornado-like debris on a daily basis. My husband, who has a much higher tolerance for clutter, often argues, “Why do you even bother cleaning up? They’re [the kids] just going to destroy it all again anyway.”
I see his point. I do. In fact, I sometimes find myself muttering the same thing under huffy breath. Still, I find there is something so satisfying, so necessary, about ridding spaces of clutter. It seems logical, then, that I might want to start with the countless coloring pages that pile up and grace the flat spaces in our house.
I suppose I could neatly stack the papers and file them away in some sort of album, or shoebox. This is something my mother would have done. Alas, she and I have a different relationship with clutter, so into the garbage they will go.
I try to find moments when our little artist is either not in the house, or absorbed entirely in something else, to stealthily trash the pages and create order once again in our home. Two or three times I made the mistake of throwing pages into some of the open waste baskets in our home. The artist, Nora, would then pass by and discover the fruits of her hard work in the dump and yell, “Hey! What’s my picture doing in the trash?!”
I blamed it on her younger sister a couple of times, which wasn’t totally inconceivable, because Frances went through a phase of trashing things that definitely didn’t warrant trashing. There was a span of a few weeks when I had to carefully examine the contents of the wastebaskets before I dumped them into the larger trash because I had discovered, quite by accident, a baby doll in one bin. Thanks to my checking, a pair of socks, a book, and several play dishes were saved from certain death-by-trashing.
“Oh, Franny must have done it,” I said. “Remember when she tried to throw away Baby?” And then, admonishing the younger, clueless sister, “Silly, Franny. We don’t put coloring pages in the trash.” Poor sucker. I know, I’m totally heinous. I then had to pull the artwork from the trash and hang it prominently on the fridge until a satisfied smile appeared on the artist’s face.
Since then I’ve learned to use the trashcan in the kitchen to dispose of old pages. It has a lid which hides its contents well from unsuspecting passersby. But then this past week I made another mistake. I just wasn’t thinking. Minutes, and I mean minutes (I usually wait at least an overnight), after Nora finished a lovely butterfly coloring page, I discovered it had fallen from the magnet which was attempting to secure it to the fridge. Frustrated after finding another effing paper on the floor, I took advantage of Nora’s bathroom break and moved the paper to the trash.
Then, I started cooking dinner. I set my youngest up at the sink to play in some dishwater so she would stop demanding incessantly that I hold her. Nora asked to eat a clementine once she returned from the bathroom and I told her fine. As long it means you leave me alone to finish dinner!
She walked over to the trashcan and used her foot to press the pedal to open the stainless steel butterfly lid (a month ago she didn’t have the strength or coordination to pull this off!). She began peeling the clementine and must have discovered her drawing as she looked down after dropping one of the peels inside. “Hey!” she shouted, sounding appalled. Oh shit. Caught red-handed. “What’s my butterfly doing in here? Who threw my butterfly in the trash?!”
I couldn’t really blame the toddler then. She had been splashing in the sink with spoons and bubbles. And even if she hadn’t been, she lacked the strength necessary to open this trashcan. I quickly came up with some lame-sounding excuses, so my daughter wouldn’t think her mother was the most offensive, uncaring, soulless human being on the planet.
“Oh honey. Mommy must have done that by accident. Maybe mommy didn’t see the butterfly, but instead the other side of the paper. Maybe mommy thought it was a paper she didn’t need anymore, like a grocery list. Here, let’s get it out of the trash and straighten it up and put it back on the fridge. There we go. How’s that?”
Sheesh. She seemed to fall for my sorry ass excuses, appeased for the moment. What will I do when she wises up a bit more and starts to notice that all of her drawings are slowly disappearing day after day after day?
For all my bitching and complaining about these damn papers, I do appreciate very much that the girls are engaged in making art. It keeps them busy for long stretches so that I am able to get things done around the house. And, I do keep the best ones for posterity, though they are very small in number.
Nora colored the Piglet below a couple of days ago. I told her that I liked how the colors were so lifelike, that the watermelon looked just like a real watermelon. And Piglet looked just like the Piglet in the books. I suggested she hang it on the back of the front door since it was too large to fit on the fridge. I rolled some tape doughnuts for her and then walked away. A little while later, I stumbled upon this scene in the bedroom.
I found Nora and told her I thought she was going to hang it on the door. Her response: “Since you liked it so much, mommy, I decided to put it next to your bed so you can see it all the time.” Oh joy.
Whenever the youngest walks into the room now, she looks at the wall, squeals, “Nor-Nor! (her name for her sister), and starts cracking up laughing. If I’m being honest, I guess I’ll admit I do too.