I am not a craft person. In fact, I’m an anti-craft person. Around me, cutesy things have a tendency to explode, incinerate, or change their molecular structure. For example, I’ve caught a gingerbread house on fire, sewed sleeves on a pair of pants, and Gorilla-glued two fingers together so that I signed the word “asshole” to everyone for two whole days. I’m pretty sure if Pinterest knew what I was capable of, they’d revoke my membership and ban me from the site.
My artistic inability was never a problem until I became a mom. Because for some reason, modern mothering requires things to be cute. (Check it out! Sandwiches made to look like Bob the Builder! Toilet paper cut into the shape of My Little Pony!)
Sometimes I feel like my crafting ineptitude translates into an inability to parent. My two kids don’t have scrapbooks, handprints baked in salt dough, or a series of monthly photographs to mark their passage through life. In fact, judging by photo albums, my children don’t even exist.
Clearly, I am letting them down.
My husband seems to think he can cure me of this deficiency. The other day he brought home what looked like an elaborately decorated shoebox. On it were the words, “Family – Together Forever.”
“What’s this?” I asked.
“A memory box,” my hubby replied. “You put keepsakes in it, store it till the kids get older, and give it to them so they can remember their childhood. It’s easy. I’m pretty sure even you can handle it.”
“What kind of keepsakes?” I asked, suspicious. If it required a glue gun or puff paint, this was not going to fly.
“Put in stuff you think represents the kids’ childhoods, I guess,” he said. He handed me the box. “It doesn’t have to be fancy. Just do something.”
I can do that, I thought. It seemed practically foolproof. But what should I put in it? The question nagged at me the rest of the morning. I put the box on top of my daughter’s dresser and waited for inspiration.
Later that day, I cleaned out the family Subaru. After pulling out expired coupons and appointment cards from the seat pockets, I surveyed the area under my daughter’s car seat.
The mess was breathtaking. Rubble was so deep there was no height difference between the seat cushion and the foot well. I found three pairs of shoes, six orphan socks, four baby dolls, a stuffed dog, a pair of petrified chicken nuggets shaped like Mickey Mouse’s head, three mangled art projects, and half a box of crayons. And that was just the first layer of stuff.
Geez, this is like an archeological dig down here, I thought. My daughter’s life story as told by car crap.
And that’s when the light bulb went on. I dashed back in the house and got the memory box. Other than the shoes and socks, the whole shebang went in the box. I tossed in the water-spotted brochure from the zoo, the rumpled coloring book from the county fair, the kid’s meal SpongeBob toy, and the ketchup-stained ultrasound photo. I made no distinctions. I saved it all.
When I couldn’t shove anything else in the box, I took my treasures inside. I put them back on the dresser and felt pretty pleased with myself.
The items in the memory box were coated with crumbs instead of glitter glue. Rather than fancy paper, they were backed with granola bar wrappers. The footprints weren’t cleverly revamped to make cars or panda bears. Chocolate smudges marked the pages instead of snowmen or bunny rabbits.
The stuff in the memory box was messy and imperfect because that’s what childhood is.
I wanted my children to know the joy of imperfection. Childhood is getting grass stains and spilling milk. It’s scrawling on walls and trying again when the block tower topples. It’s crashing the bike and scraping your knees. It’s writing with scribbles and making up your own words to Goodnight Moon before you can read. It’s the belief that even though it’s not beautiful or perfect this time, with enough effort and practice, it might be.
These were the things I wanted my kids to remember about their childhood. These were the keepsakes I want them to have. They were tokens of what really happened. And even though it might look better with some grosgrain ribbon on there, I’d rather their memories be honest than pretty.
And if I can inspire that kind of mindset it my kids, maybe I can apply it to myself as well. Maybe I can cut myself a little slack and be okay with being less than a Pinterest-perfect parent. Because even though I’m proud of our memory box, I sometimes feel pressure to change its contents.
For one thing, those chicken nuggets are really starting to smell.
About the Author:
Jess Hernandez is a Northwest native and the mother of two. An aspiring memoirist, she’s married to the bastard son of a Spanish pop star and has a mutant form of diabetes. Follow her on Twitter or on Facebook.