Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The Story of Our Children

I know I am not the only parent horrified by the sheer volume of paper our children bring home from school. One of these years I’m going to save them all and see how many pages we accumulate over the course of one year. I’m certain the stack will reach the ceiling and then the kids can make calculations determining just how many trees have been sacrificed in the name of their education.

But at the same time, I appreciate the communication and I do like to see what my children have been up to. The real issue becomes what to save and what not to save. To avoid drowning in paper and indecision, I developed our bin system. Each of my children has a labeled bin in the mudroom where we deposit papers that we aren't ready to part with because a) they will be necessary for a future assignment b) their author deems them too good for the recycle bin c) they make their mother get misty eyed with pride or wonder or d) their mother finds the paper/art project/unidentifiable object on the floor and doesn’t know whether it is of consequence, but fears being accused of appearing apathetic towards her child’s work of genius. All others fill the recycle bin. Between the massive quantities of paper the school sends home and the even larger numbers of projects produced at home, it’s a wonder we can hold an entire year’s worth in one room, let alone one bin. It requires a will of steel, I tell you.

These bins fill up. So when the end of school rolls around, we spend a morning sorting through the bins. I plunk a trash can, a recycle bin, and an empty “Keeper box”, labeled with this year’s dates, in the living room. I also bring along a permanent marker or two for labeling and dating the things we keep. Then I fetch the overflowing bins and the unenthusiastic children and we get to work. No one is very excited to do this task, myself included, so we plan a reward for ourselves. After the sorting, we went to the $2 movies. (This year the older kids saw Alice in Wonderland and I accompanied the youngest to see How to Train a Dragon. I recommend the Dragon movie – good messages, decent writing, adorable dragons.)

The sorting really isn’t that terrible once everyone gets going. It’s kind of fun to see the things created back in September. The memories unearthed are worth the effort of the unwelcome task. The hard part is deciding what is worth keeping. Each child must think hard about what he/she really wants to save. There is only one keeper box shared amongst all three kids. The bulk of the box is always filled by the youngest child. In fact, I’m not sure my oldest thought anything accomplished at school was worth saving. He did find a few masterpieces created in his free time at home that made it in to the keeper box.

One box worth of stuff seems like a small amount, and it is, but those annual boxes begin to stack up. Here’s where I come in (and don’t tell the kids). Prior to the sorting day, while the kids are still at school, I pull out the previous year’s box. I examine its contents and sort those things in to the individual child’s Keeper box (an under the bed bin that holds all size wonders), tossing out or recycling everything else.

My children are prolifically creative, which I love, but without some kind of system we could quickly become overwhelmed by their creations. Some day when they move to their own digs, I will roll up for a visit, climb out of my convertible, and hand them their Keeper box. I imagine them boring their significant other to death with the details of each project (unless of course the significant other is recently acquired in which case she/he might feign some interest).

The other object I hope to bequeath to them when I arrive in my clean car wearing unwrinkled, unstained, stylish clothes, having taken the scenic route to their abode because I have all the time in the world, is a photo album of their childhood. I say hope because such an album doesn’t exist yet. I’m getting ready to start the album for child no # 1. I even purchased a book just for this purpose. I am a serious scrapbooker who produces annual books documenting our escapades that weigh in excess of twenty pounds each (filled with pictures, paper, buttons, brads, and embellishments – yes – I am one of those people!). But those books are for me, not them. Someday I will have my nursing aide lift each book carefully on to my lap and I’ll flip through them slowly, remembering these days when my life was rich with children.

I want to make each of my children a book to take with them when they launch. A book that illustrates where they came from, how they became who they are, and how much they were loved - a book that tells the story of their childhood. For this you need pictures, of which we have plenty. We take pictures of everything. I even have pictures of my friend Carol removing the stitches from my oldest son’s arm and my daughter, red faced in tears after having her ears pierced. Not to mention thousands of portraits of our gray cat and the chickens with the puffy heads. Pictures of the kids leaf sledding, splashing through the homemade car wash, and flying on the zipline, plus the countless sports teams, concerts, geography bees, and envirothon competitions should fill these books to bursting with stories.

The sheer quantity of pictures rivals the amount of paper the school sends home. Luckily, most of my pictures are now secured inside my external hard drive. My plan is simple. For each year of my child’s life, I will fill four pages with pictures. The album I bought holds between 4 and 6 pictures per page. That’s an album with 36 pages (front and back filled). This seems reasonable to me. Of course, I’ve yet to start. Wish me luck.

If we can do everything possible to safe-guard the memories of childhood for our children, I believe it is a priceless gift. I look back on my childhood and there is much I don’t remember. But when I pull out the school days book my mother carefully filled out in her familiar cursive or page through an album with the clear plastic curling up, my childhood comes back. It’s a window in to who I really am at my core. My diary is another map – one that is funny, embarrassing, and poignant. It reminds me that we are hard-wired from the start. There were clues back then, even if I didn’t recognize them. We grow and change, but who we are begins in our childhood. As parents we must find ways to protect and preserve this precious piece of our children’s story.

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