Father and daughter
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“When she thought I was a superhero”: On crappy art projects, our kids’ pride in their work, and how they’re always getting bigger 

Every day, both of my kids come home from school with a pile of crap of which they are very proud. My daughter – who is four – comes home with a melange of slime, paintings, drawings, and prizes for good behavior (granted, she comes home with those last ones less often than the others); My son comes home with the craft of the day, which typically revolves around the season, so his folder in the fall contains things like actual leaves and acorns, while in the winter there’s an overabundance of cotton balls.

They both come home proud of their artwork, though calling what they do art is like calling a series of farts a “symphony.” Not all of it is bad. For Father’s Day last year, my daughter drew me as a superhero and, though it didn’t look like me at all, it still made me smile. I try very hard at home, at work, and in all other facets of my life to be a superhero for both of my children.

I loved to draw and create as a kid. I would fill up sketchbook after sketchbook with drawings. And my daughter is actually pretty darn good at it herself; my son still has some time to work on wielding a paintbrush.

But, like most homes, we don’t have room for all of this artwork, so we keep the really good stuff on a wall in the room in which they play most often and toss the other ones directly in the trash. This, of course, has to be done with secrecy and tact, so it winds up being a task that’s completed after bed on the night before the trash is being picked up. We’ve been caught more than once.

“Who threw my stuff from school in the trash,” my daughter asked, aggrieved more than upset one evening when she – of all nights – actually emptied the remaining contents of her dinner plate into the trash.

You’d think there was an easy out for this, wouldn’t you? “Sorry, sweetie, we don’t have room to keep all of them, so we only keep the very best. See? We put the superhero picture up and the picture you drew of the family.” We could redirect her to the fine pieces of artwork we have kept and put emphasis on those.

That’s not what my wife did.

She blamed it on me. 

“Daddy must not have known we wanted to keep those,” she said, and my daughter put her hands on her hips in anger while staring daggers at me. I just shrugged and vowed to blame a future garbage disposal on my wife. Not the next one, but sometime when she will be completely blindsided.

In a way, the school work they bring home is a microcosm for their childhood. It’s fleeting. Pretty soon, they won’t be bringing home hardened macaroni necklaces and poorly-drawn hearts on a handmade Valentine’s Day card. They’ll be bringing home math homework and the trials of difficult days. They’ll be bringing home that special brand of angst and uncertainty. They may never bring home school work with the same level of enthusiasm. 

We should be encouraging and embracing even the crappiest of art, right? We should be celebrating the youthfulness in the misdrawn dog with six legs or scribbles that are supposed to be … umm, maybe they’re supposed to just be scribbles? We should encourage these things and be entertained by them just as we should be by their inability to do certain things on their own: tying their shoes, putting on their clothes, or “helping” to put the plates away in the dishwasher. Because there will come a day when that changes forever.

Pretty soon, they won’t be bringing home hardened macaroni necklaces and poorly-drawn hearts on a handmade Valentine’s Day card.

Someone once warned me that one day I’m going to pick my daughter up and when I put her down, it’ll be the last time I ever do it. We take this for granted. One day, she won’t need me to retrieve something from the top of the refrigerator. In fact, she’s almost there. One day, she won’t need me to do anything other than the intangible stuff. 

And all I’ll have left is this picture that she drew when she was four, the one that doesn’t look like me at all, from when she thought I was a superhero.    

About the author

Matt Osgood is a freelance journalist based out of Haverhill, MA, where he lives with his wife, their two kids, and dog. While life as a dad certainly provides him with the best material, he writes mostly about sports and booze, both of which provide much needed therapy.

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