Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Sorting Memories

We’ve all seen the list, in parenting magazines and circling the internet. It’s generally a rundown of all of the roles a mom plays in her children’s lives. Chef, Medic, Chauffer, Personal Shopper, Comforter, Disciplinarian….the list goes on for miles. But one job requirement that I never really saw coming, that seems to take up a whole bunch of my time, is organizer.

Not just activity organizer, as you might expect, but personal stuff organizer. Toys, treasures, movies, video games, clothes, papers - it never seems to end. My husband and I had enough of our own stuff when we got married, stuff that mainly I kept organized. Then suddenly a new little person joined our clan and even before she was born she began to accumulate stuff.

I could not yet imagine how much the job of keeping her things in order would dominate my life, back when my belly resembled an over inflated basketball and I had hours to just gaze at the tiny onesies and teddy bears we’d been given in boxes full of hand-me-downs. Then came colorful plastic toys and more stuffed animals, usually acquired from more experienced moms who knew the secret about stuffed creatures breeding in the night. And we won’t even begin the list of equipment, bouncy seats and climbing toys, that soon took over our living room.

As our daughter was joined by her brother, then two more brothers, the stuff pile continued to grow, now including items more likely found in the houses of male children. Wooden trains, plastic guns, colorful Legos, Lincoln Logs, and two kazillion Hot Wheels cars soon covered my carpets, mixing in with six types of Barbies and all of their accessories.

Fortunately I was at home full time and could spend long afternoons sorting and cleaning, usually during naptimes, when no one could protest as I threw out treasured trucks with only two wheels and cap guns I never liked in the first place. Sleepy faces stumbled out of their bedrooms after naps, thrilled to see a wide open floor again, big enough to start on new forts and Lego villages.

Just when I thought I had a system that kept us from suffocating under a pile of plastic and lead free wood products (or at the very least kept us from qualifying for an episode of Hoarders) a new enemy of organization hit. Our firstborn started school.

I didn’t see it coming at first, then sometime late in the Fall I noticed that I no longer had counter space. All of the flat surfaces in the house were covered in papers. Letters about the next PTA meeting. Papers with shaky A’s and B’s and C’s written across them in neat rows. Papers with circled shapes and papers with gold stars across the top. But they, like the dreaded stuffed animals, seemed to procreate every time we turned our backs on them.

So I started some new files. Next to our taxes file, and the one that held most of the car repair receipts (when I could remember to dig them out of my purse and file them) I started a new era of filing, that began with one thin folder, labeled “Meredith, school”.

Vowing to keep only the best and most important papers and recycling the rest, I stuffed that file to within an inch of its life. By the end of the school year I realized I needed to be more hard core. Her brother would be starting school in the fall and if I continued this sorting system, which left me with a whole file cabinet drawer full of kindergarten masterpieces by the time she held that little kindergarten diploma in May, I would need to start buying four drawer file cabinets in bulk.

It’s been hard, through the years, to only keep the very best. I’m a sucker for fun artwork and good writing samples. I have to fight the running commentary in my head, about how this would be a great thing to pull out of my files some day, when my child has become a bestselling author or a famous artist. Imagine how great it would be to display this amazing work of art (he did when he was just five!) at his first art gallery exhibition. She’ll love bringing out this sample of her six year old writing, when she’s hosting a writer's symposium some day. It’s a good thing her mother cared enough to keep it!

I know, I know. It’s more likely that none of these papers will even see the light of day. Until I’m cleaning out the files in thirty years and finally decide it’s time to make a new donation to the recycle bin. But it’s a really hard part of parenting that no one told me about. This judgment call of archiving.

You’d think I would have mastered the skill by now but events of the past weekend are pretty incriminating. All four kids were at grandma’s house. Hubby and I were home. Alone. We were even alone in bed. But not how you think.

He was watching the History Channel and I was perched on my side of the bed, surrounded by papers. While cleaning out my office I realized I had four, yes four, large files, labeled “Sam, kindergarten stuff”. He is my youngest. You’d think I wouldn’t have fallen into the same trap four times. But I have no excuse barring sentimentality.

So happy Saturday night to me. After sorting and purging, and taking pictures of some things so at least I wouldn’t forget their wonderfulness after I’d tossed them in the trash, I finally pared down those four files. And I’m proud to say I ended up with a nice sized pile to throw away.

And only three large files left to stuff back into the file cabinet.

Hey… progress is progress.


Amy Wilson said...

Hi! just dropping by your blog now that we've "met" on mine... I always think the purging is the only time you really look at the stuff anyway!

My personal organizational if/then for my kids' art is that it has to involve their creativity and not the teacher's. So drawings stay, but cotton-ball snowmen that they glued onto a teacher-made template can go.

Too harsh?

just one foot said...

Not at ALL! I even purged some of the early 'writings' when they were very similar to another paper I'd already kept.

My real treasures are when they've written something about their thought processes of their likes/dislikes.

I found a priceless story Sam wrote in first grade that is called 'The Lick'. The whole story was about our dog licking him across the face one day and how it was 'discussding!' and he went and wiped it off but still loved her anyway. It was a FIVE page story about a LICK. He's obviously a better writer than I am already. :)

As you can see from the blog site, I also take pictures of their drawings and then just keep a file of photos, instead of a drawer full of the real thing. (learned this when we started our cross country moves)

When you have more than two kids it's all about self preservation. And not drowning in paperwork.

Happy you found me. I was thrilled to find you. :)

rebecca @ altared spaces said...

We must be joined at the hip. First pictures, now papers. I, too, just went through my closet on "round one" of the paper purge this week and culled.

I didn't have as many as you, and I wasn't yet brave enough to tackle the kindergarten stuff, but I poured through journals and assignments, tossing and keeping until I had a manageable stack.

Who will look at this stack? I don't know. But I'm not yet ready to throw it away.

And you are right about the piles. I haven't seen the island in my kitchen for more than 24 hours at a time in 13 years.

When they graduate do I get my kitchen back?

Katrina said...

I wondered what you'd do with all that time alone! When we moved six years ago, all those elementary school files went into storage boxes--the idea being that, as soon as we got settled again, I'd go through everything, get it all organized. Haven't touched them yet. Maybe I'm still settling. Maybe it's best to let sleeping dogs lie. . .Great post.

theelfqueen said...

I have many times attempted to purge these things...then I remember how excited I was when I found some piece of my own second grade writing and relented... returning the many items to the pile! And it's worse as they get older because it's so much harder to throw away Kindergarten work when said-Kindergartener is now a sometimes-surly, six foot tall (plus) teenager! I have been trying unsuccessfully to get some of it merged into their scrapbooks.

My favorite treasures are from my middle son -- a first grade assignment in which he was to use the verb 'to like' in a sentence - he wrote "I like to poop" - his teacher only corrected his punctuation. It KILLED me when I found it in his bag! Who could throw that away? A second grade self profile in which when asked what he was 'good at' he responded "I am good at getting girls."

Cathy said...

I LOVE to purge! My motto is "when in doubt, throw it out". Sadly the kids know this and I've become the default person to blame when things go missing under accusations of me throwing it out!

I've taken three (one for each kid) file boxes and labeled them with "kids special stuff". About once a year I'll put all the collected stuff into it. They've gotten a kick paging through items I've saved. I think I'm doing okay too because my oldest is going to be a sophomore in high school and his box is almost full.

Good luck! Oh, and my favs to save...anything that says how much or why they love me!

Carrie Link said...

Progress is progress, for sure. Thanks for visiting my blog!