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Forget sentimentality, toss out your child’s art

Children grow and change seemingly by the minute, and every moment rushes past, soon becoming part of a nostalgic past

For young children, objects hold no inherent value. Photo: ISTOCKPHOTO
For young children, objects hold no inherent value. Photo: ISTOCKPHOTO

We encourage our children to do lots of art projects. They draw, they paint, they build dinosaurs out of paper plates, they make leaf collages, kittens out of colourful clay, anything, and everything. I am a writer, my husband is a musician, and we have a home filled with art and creativity.

Then every evening, after the children go to bed, we throw out all their art projects from the day. I learnt quickly that the longer I hold on to their messy but well-meaning scribbles and projects, the harder it becomes to ever throw them out. An attempted drawing of a dog is just a mess of lines and colours when it’s done but three days later? It’s a relic of the past, of a younger child, of a time that is safely part of history, a brilliant rendering of their maturing brains, how could I possibly throw it out?

Children, especially when they are as young as mine, grow and change seemingly by the minute. I look away and my older child has learnt the phrase “by the way” and is using it to begin each sentence. In the time it takes me to send a short email, my younger child has grown enough to pull open the knife drawer. Their rate of growth means every moment rushes past and quickly becomes part of a nostalgic past.

When I scroll through my phone and look at pictures of myself from last year, I don’t look very different at all. But who is that baby in my arms and how can it possibly be the same person as the child who now stands in front of me asking for a smoothie? My desire to hold on to each piece of art is my desire to hold on to that baby. It’s so sentimental and I simply have no time or desire for sentimentality right now, so that means the art work has to go before I become attached and start trying to figure out ways to get it turned into a necklace for myself.

Another way to beat my sentimentality, I have discovered, is by handing them a white board each. They draw, they erase, they draw, they erase, they understand that everything is fleeting, there is no such thing as permanence, and objects hold no inherent value. I give them a container filled with sidewalk chalk and let them draw on the road, reminding them that the beauty of their work out there is embedded in its inevitable erasure in the next heavy rain. One of them is three years old, the other is two, these big life lessons are likely getting lost in translation, but at least I have less to recycle.

And really, like with most parenting teaching moments, I am trying to tell myself these things. My children still have the luxury of seeing time as endless, of wanting nothing more than to be bigger and older and I want the opposite, to be younger and skinnier.

My three-year-old is starting to develop a vague sense of object permanence so I may soon have to be more careful about what I throw out.

This morning she was looking around the playroom and said to me, “By the way, where’s my balloon?”

I felt a little guilty remembering poking it with a safety pin to let the air out before tossing the shrivelled pink thing into the trash last night.

“What balloon?” I asked.

“The pink one,” she said. “That I had drawn a face on.”

I gave her a piece of paper and some crayons and told her to draw it to remind me what it looked like so I could help her find it. She forgot about the balloon and went on to trying to draw a squirrel and I gave myself credit for good parenting and then thought wistfully about that pink balloon with the face drawn on it.

This is a fortnightly column. Diksha Basu is the best-selling author of The Windfall and Destination Wedding.

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