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Infernal Artwork

The women who guide my son through preschool are more evolved human beings than I am. They have unlimited capacity for appreciating his every tiny accomplishment, every endearing utterance, every minor scribbling, and random stroke of a glue stick.

They send home stick sculptures and pudding paintings, stencil sketches, and piles of scraps that he spent the morning snipping with safety scissors.

I make the requisite fuss at pick-up: “Wow! Look what you did! You’ve been busy! What a cool … submarine-dog?” But stumbling to the car, arms full, I begin to panic. Where is all this delightful-evidence-of-self-expression supposed to GO?

I resent the mountain of masterpieces that amasses on my kitchen counter daily; there, I said it. Since sentimentality breeds clutter, I’ve tried approaching the problem with pure pragmatism, but it taught me this: The saddest eight words in the English language are “Mommy, why is my drawing in the trash?”

It’s true. I’m going to hell. But I won’t be alone.

“We have a daughter who is prolific,” Northern California mom Kat McDonald told me. “Anything left behind in the car I throw away. I usually have to shred it because our daughter will cull the trash.”

Some moms toss the stuff when the kids are on vacation. Jennifer Untermeyer of Colorado does it after they’ve gone to bed. “I feel a tiny bit guilty,” she said, “but it passes after a glass of wine.”

Some things are worth saving, of course — worth preserving in a time-capsule that your kids can reminisce over when they’re grown. But what to keep?

Most parents agree: 3-D projects have to go. Take a picture, if you must, but kick that diorama to the curb and quick, or you’ll be buried by Junior’s seventh birthday. Anything made of feathers or food must go, too. Let the kids help sort the “keepers” from the recycle-bin-bound.

“It’s important that children learn to let go and organize important possessions,” said New York City mother-of-three Sara Lise Raff. “Forming emotional attachments to inanimate objects may lead to a guest appearance on Oprah’s ‘Life as a Hoarder’ episode.”

When it comes to whittling the heap, moms say time is on our side. Hide artwork in a folder for a month and then go through it with your kids; you’ll find the Crayola creation they cherished in October may have lost its appeal by November.

Beware, though. Clever kids can anticipate — and thwart — the purging session. “My daughter has gotten clever and now writes ‘To Dad’ on things so I won’t throw them away,” lamented Californian Marty Guise.

Here are some other composition-coping strategies I picked up from moms around the country:

• Hang a wire across your child’s room and clip her new artwork to it for a week. Then save the very best in an accordion folder, under-bed box or binder with plastic sleeves.

• “We covered the entire wall of our boring laundry room with kid art, and it looks great,” said Denise Gavilan of Virginia.

• Technology’s a lifesaver — and space saver. Take a digital photo of your child holding his art, or have him explain it on video, to give the piece context for years to come.

• Save your favorite art as screen savers or scan and display them on an electronic slide-show photo frame. Have them laminated as placemats or create a coffee-table book of them on Shutterfly. “It makes a great gift for your child,” said Nevada mom Carolina Moore, “and it won’t track glitter or sequins through your house!”

• Reincarnate the artwork as wrapping paper or scrapbook backgrounds. Or give it away. “I snail-mail my son’s grandparents a subscription to his ‘Artwork-of-the-Month Club,’ ” said New York mom Sky Khan. “That way some of these precious pieces find their way onto someone else’s fridge.”

Published inColumnsParenting

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