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I Heart Kid Art

Denene Millner of MyBrownBaby

Clearly, I need more people.

And wall space.

Because when it comes to my kids’ artwork, I fall somewhere between discerning, deliberate Studio Museum of Harlem art curator and can’t-part-with-it-even-if-it-is-just-scribbles star of an episode of Hoarders. And er, um—yeah. Let’s just say that I fall more toward the latter on that spectrum. Way more to the latter.

I mean, I’m not ready for my own Hoarders episode or anything. If we’re not counting the 8 ft-tall living room china cabinet, the kids’ playroom, the makeshift basement art studio and the crawl space beneath the staircase, I’m good. But one might take a gander at each of those spaces and assume I have a slight problem when it comes to deciding which crayon drawing/fingerpainting/tissue paper collage stays and which one meets an untimely demise in the shredder.

I promise you, this is a heart-wrenching proposition for me. I blame Romare Bearden, Elmo, and those stupid National Enquirer “Draw This Squirrel and Mail Us the Picture With $5 and You Can Win a Million Dollars” or whatever contests. I think my dad may have let me enter that one, like, twice before he finally broke down and told me maybe my squirrel wasn’t good enough for The Show and maybe we should stop sending our $5—read: his $5—to random people at P.O. boxes. That was some cold-blooded reality. Especially considering I was 10.

I’m not bitter.

But maybe it does provide a teeny, weeny window into why I’ve saved practically every picture Mari and Lila have ever drawn since they were able to half master the pincer movement. I just couldn’t ever find a way to part with their art without feeling like I was ripping out a tiny piece of their little hearts—and mine, too. Sure, that notebook is filled with page-after-page of imperfect circles with crosses attached to them—Mari’s 2-year-old, stick-figure renditions of the people she adored back then. But at the time, the kid said the one on the pink page was me and the one of the blue page was Nick and one of the other stick figures was my mom and Mari’s brother, Mazi, and well, what cold-hearted Mommy Dearest throws out family portraits? And doesn’t your 5-year-old’s ability to draw a really dead-on crayon likeness of Elmo (or 12 or 28—who’s counting?) deserve to be celebrated with preservation? And what about the 2,346 pieces of art they’ve generated each year of their time in classrooms from here to New Jersey? Don’t they deserve to live—to serve as paper memories of school days and favorite shows and teachers and the discovery of childhood abilities?

Yes, after reading the New York Times story, “Mom, You’re One Tough Art Critic,” I recognize how mildly pathetic I am when it comes to the girls’ art. And I do understand that I might be in need of a kid’s artwork intervention that involves me buying a few of these frames and becoming one with my shredder. But really, my inability to throw away my daughters’ work has way more to do with my true love of their art than it does my freakish inability to part with their crayon memories. I wrote in this “Happy To Be Me” post about how my girls’ artwork makes me toss back my head and giggle. Because every line, every fingerprint, every marker smudge, every dripped piece of glue says a little something about my babies—how they were feeling about their mommy and their daddy and their brother and their gamma and their friends and, ultimately, themselves when they poured their little hearts out onto the construction paper.

And so I’ll keep tucking their art in the corners and the recesses and in the boxes and I’ll put the extra special ones in frames up on the kitchen walls and in the hallways and I’ll giggle when I see them.

Because they make me happy.