“Mommy, I made this for you!”
The six most frightening words in parenting.
Well OK, maybe a doctor’s “Your child is going to die” would be more alarming. But still.
I have a very clear memory from early childhood of catching my mother in the act of throwing away refrigerator art. A finger painting I had put my heart and soul into, tossed in the trash along with Hamburger Helper boxes and banana peels. I was wounded. Deeply wounded. I still wince thinking of it.
I’m very careful about how I handle my children’s artwork. When it’s presented to me, I rave about the texture and the brilliant use of color and light. A museum-quality piece! Thank you, uber-talented child, for deeming your humble mother worthy of such a masterpiece!
Then the mysterious blob—er, “abstract modern art”—is displayed prominently and praised daily for a week. Then praised a couple times a week. After about a month, all commentary is studiously avoided, and anyone who calls attention to it gets a death stare. Finally, when the artwork is forgotten, it is discreetly removed from its position of high honor and subjected to the sorting process.
There is the sentimental value box where I keep the keepers: ceramic preschool hand prints, hand-drawn Mother’s Day cards that made me tear up, stuff like that.
But the routine “abstract modern art” is discarded. If it’s on white paper, it goes into the recycling bin at work, where it is safe from the view of my son and daughter. If it’s not recyclable, it is buried in an outside trash can minutes before the garbage truck is due. Neighbors who witness this are warned not to speak of it.
Most of the time, this tried and true process runs smoothly. But the last quarter of the year is hell.
It starts with High Holidays, when various apple and honey- and shofar-themed art projects trickle in from the synagogue. In October, secular school kicks in with Halloween stuff. This year’s highlight was a pumpkin.
At least I think it was a pumpkin.
It was a vaguely round thing painted orange and coated with glitter. There was a hole punched on top with some purple ribbon looped through for easy hanging.
Thanksgiving brings endless numbers of cornucopias, turkeys and leaves in the fall color pallet.
December is a Jewish mother’s nightmare. Just shoot me. Seriously. Even as the temple is producing menorahs and dreidels with an assembly line efficiency that would make Henry Ford’s eyes pop, secular school is cranking out snowmen, Santa Clauses and, G-d help me, ornaments.
I’m a Jew. What the hell am I supposed to do with ornaments? I do come from an interfaith family that includes tree-loving goyim, but there are only so many of these things I can pawn off on relatives before they start awkwardly shifting the weight on their feet. Well, isn’t this reindeer cute? Sort of calls to mind Picasso, with the asymmetrical eyes and all. But, you know, I still have those lovely foam glitter balls from last year…
I’m not in a position to judge the manufactures of these crises. I teach Sunday school at my synagogue, kindergartners and first graders who have barely mastered the English alphabet, much less the Hebrew alef-bet. When you’ve got a bunch of kids who don’t yet read or write, there’s not much else to do with them but story time and art projects.
Thus, I’m among the diabolical teachers cooking up creations to torment parents, or worse, posting them on Pinterest so others can replicate them or feel inadequate. I’m sorry. I truly am. But it simply can’t be helped. All I can do is promise you that most of the masterpieces my students create will be recyclable.
Courtenay Edelhart is a journalist, Reform Jew and single mother by choice via adoption. She lives in Bakersfield, California, with two children, an obnoxious Chihuahua, and assorted dying houseplants.
Images courtesy of Courtenay Edelhart's private blackmail stash.