Family LIfe

Save Only the Best
by Cheryl Butler

It was a typical play date. Our three-year olds were happy one minute and fighting over a Lego set the next. We took turns refereeing the kids as our conversation volleyed back and forth like a smooth game of tennis. With our older children at school for the day, now was our chance to catch up on all the news while we waited for the rest of our playgroup to arrive.

Seconds into our lively chat, the back door opened and a sudden gust of wind blew in with two more of our mom pals complete with their tots in tow. Before a gracious welcome could even be extended, I saw my friend leap up in the air, gracefully I might add, and then swiftly back to the ground as the frantic rush began to gather up all the papers that had just blown off of her refrigerator. When the scurrying finally ceased, she set them in a dilapidated little pile in the one and only empty corner on her kitchen countertop.

Judging by the many hues of primary colors that were splashed across that plethora of papers, I knew that their value was much more than a standard to-do list or a host of recently clipped coupons. There's only one thing that could cause a grown woman to produce such frenzied gyrations on a dirty kitchen floor and that's salvaging her children's artwork.

As soon as the rest of the group had assembled our adult banter officially began. Topics for discussion were always plentiful and often changed gears faster than a thrilling NASCAR race. First up, someone inquired about the papers scattered along the kitchen countertop. “That was my children's art gallery,” my friend sighed. The group nodded and groaned. With display space nearly non-existent most were in the same boat. The key was learning to layer each piece carefully under the strongest magnets, so that when a little Picasso (or a spouse) opened the refrigerator for a glass of milk the papers would stay anchored in place. If you happen to boast a stainless steel fridge, however, you can forget the magnets. That's another challenge all in itself.

The group unanimously admitted to a mandatory routine of saving each and every crumpled project that came home from school and later plastering them onto any flat surface that didn't move. When these spots were all taken the accumulated drawings then fell victim to being shoved (I mean stacked) in remote locations throughout the house.

So far I had managed to be quiet, only opening my mouth either to laugh or to snarf down a few bites of the triple chocolate brownies that we were all indulging in. I purposely avoided eye contact with the others because the subject of how and what to preserve can be quite controversial in the world of parenting. The silence was soon broken though when a mom new to the playgroup implied that my household must have been drowning in a deep sea of art projects given that seven of my eight children were now in school.

Sheepishly I confessed that I don't keep all my children's artwork. In fact, I keep less than 25% of the projects that make their way home through our front door. With my image now tarnished, I decided I'd better elaborate so that I wouldn't be shunned from our group's future outings.

By the time my fourth child began pre-school, I was truly overwhelmed with hundreds of murky finger paintings, cheerio collages and stick figure drawings where body parts were either missing or rearranged. Our suburban home was gradually turning into the Metropolitan Museum of Fine Art, so out of complete desperation I became an S.O.B.—translation—a mother who decided to “Save Only the Best”.

In order to justify my decision, I set strict guidelines that sacred items such as hand-made cards, self-portraits or anything that really tugged at my heart would remain safe.

Surprisingly it didn't take long for my new plan to take hold. The very first piece I parted with was a crinkly brown lunch bag adorned with smudged red apples. After admiring it with my daughter, I set it aside until she went out to play. Minutes later, I gently pushed it to the bottom of the garbage can and operation S.O.B. was officially launched.

Now we view art a bit differently in our house. My kids helped me put together a mini art gallery in their bedroom hall, which continually showcases their most recent artistic endeavors. Everything is secured in sturdy acrylic frames so when there is a traffic rush en route to the bathroom, they don't set sail and land on the floor. We rotate them every few months and the retired projects are then stored in felt-lined containers in our heavenly attic. When the time is right, each of my children will leave home with their individualized art portfolios that safely harbor their exquisite masterpieces.

With my conscience now clear, I resumed eating my brownie. After all, I'll need my energy if I'm going to “Save Only the Best” when my kids return home from school today.

About the Author:
Cheryl L. Butler is the patient mother of eight children under the ages of 15. A freelance writer, she writes the column “Family Zone--It Just So Happens” for several local magazines in Southern Rhode Island and is published in anthology series such as Chicken Soup For The Pre-School Mother's Soul, Chicken Soup For The Chocolate Lover's Soul, and The Misadventures of Mom and Disasters of Dad. She lives in Saunderstown, RI with her go-with-the flow husband, Brian, and their fun-loving brood of five boys and three girls.

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