Baby Geniuses: Is it Art?

Letting go of children’s masterpieces and embracing imperfect parenting

Just what are you supposed to do with all your kid's art?

Baby-care classes for expectant moms and dads cover lots of territory. I recall sitting through them, hoping that even with eight months of pregnancy girth, I was blending into the wall as the nurse reprimanded other parents for strangling their baby to death when learning how to put on the onesie. Since that time, I’ve achieved something close to parenting peace, an acceptance that we just have to do our best. Some days our kids are well-dressed, clean-faced, and well-behaved, and we are showered, stylish, and chic. Other days I’m harried, my outfit is embarrassing, my kids have dried snot on their faces, and that kid you heard screaming in the public library? She was mine.

But that class—and even the subsequent years of experience—failed to prepare me for a huge parenting hurdle: kid’s art. Initially, my reactions to my daughter’s pre-school masterpieces were sweet. “Oh, look at the variety of colors she picks! Look at her lines and shapes! She must be a genius! She’s just two and she made this!” And I’d hang it up on a wall or fridge. Her art is beautiful, it’s wonderful, and most of all, it’s plentiful. I want her to be expressive, to play with colors and textures and design. Really, I do. But what the hell am I supposed to do with it? How do we organize it?

On mommy blogs everywhere, people talk about the mothers who photograph all the child’s art and then present the child with a digital album of the year’s worth of art. It’s brilliant. It’s organized. It ain’t gonna happen chez-moi.

But seeing and touching the art means saving the art, which means storing the art. Who has a big enough house? Big enough closets? Enough spare storage?

Right now I have a three-pronged approach. Some art is in cheap ($2) frames purchased from Ikea. I pick our display pieces based on originality, emotion, texture, and brilliance—or they happen to be the right size for the frame. Sure, if it has hand prints and a Mother’s Day poem, you know it’s going in a frame. Beyond that, it’s random selection. For the odd-size pieces, of which there are many, I purchased a bin from Land of Nod like this one. It fits perfectly in my closet. But now it’s overflowing. This other one from Ikea also seems promising. My final approach is to put the art away with holiday decor: Halloween and fall art goes away with Halloween decorations, Christmas with Christmas decorations, etc.

Then there’s the rest of the art, which I discreetly put in the trash. For my daughter, each piece is brilliant, worthy of praise, and meant to be saved for all of eternity. If it’s spotted in the trash, she’ll immediately remove it and interrogate me like a Russian prison guard during the revolution. All that’s missing is the bright light shining on my face after days in solitary confinement.

So after a few years of struggling through how to save art, I went to the resident expert: my mother, who raised four children and moved every three years for my father’s job in the Foreign Service from Herndon to London to Jakarta to Brussels to Vancouver. You’d think my mother would have a brilliant solution, right? Wrong. Maybe all the moving made her a hoarder, because she didn’t have a home, but she had our stuff. Or maybe she’s just as emotionally attached to all the hand prints and odd-shaped faces three-year-olds make as the rest of us are. All those finger prints moved thousands of miles around the world every three years for 35 years.

My dad walked into the room and I asked him what he would have done with it, if given the choice. “Toss it,” he said, without a lick of emotion, as he walked on by. Genius! And guilt-free.

In the end, do any of us really look back on our own original art from kindergarten? Do you? I don't. Let me know what you think in the comments. 

Subscribe to Washingtonian
Follow Washingtonian on Twitter