Every afternoon I drag my kids and their backpacks out of the car, and we come inside for a snack. As the girls eat, drink and talk with each other, I begin the arduous task of going through the piles of paper they bring home. I “oooo,” and “ahhh” in all the right places. We talk about how they could have done something better, and I set aside extra special achievements for my husband to look at when he comes home, and then I wait.
I wait for the girls to finish their snack, and leave the room before hurrying to the trash can. I dig down underneath whatever refuse lies on top and start stuffing sheets in the trash. I am a horrible person, I think. What is wrong with me? What type of mother throws away her child’s preschool and kindergarten work? And if I feel guilty about it, doesn’t that mean it’s wrong?
I hear footsteps and drop the lid to the trash can, panicked. I hurry back to my perch in the corner of the kitchen and casually lean against the counter as my 4-year-old walks into the room eyeing me suspiciously.
“Hey, Emma… what, um, what are you doing?” I ask nervously.
“I’m just frowing my trash away,” she holds up an empty yogurt container.
“Oh, I’ll do that for you,” I snatch her garbage out of her hand and quickly throw it in the trash before she can see in the can.
She eyes me warily as she backs out of the room. I smile widely and wave before collapsing on the counter as the adrenaline wears off. That was close.
I began chopping onions to start cooking dinner when I heard it.
“Momma,” Aubrey, my 6-year-old wailed, “Who threw my work away?”
“Um… I don’t know honey. It must have been an accident.”
Aubrey digs her papers out, spilling onion skins onto the floor. “I worked so hard on this Momma! You have to keep it.”
While she stacks her food-stained papers on the counter, I feebly try to explain to her that I can’t keep everything she brings home. We simply don’t have room for it all.
“Aubrey, if I kept it all we wouldn’t be able to walk through our house. There would be stacks, and stacks and stacks of papers everywhere. It’s like this show on T.V. called ‘Hoarders.’ The people on the show don’t throw anything away and their houses are disgusting. There is trash and bugs everywhere and they have to have somebody come to their house to clean it out and take away truck loads of garbage just so they can live in it.”
Aubrey’s mouth fell open as I talked.
“And I don’t throw it all away. I keep the extra special stuff you make,” I said, pulling out a new pink file box full of all the things I couldn’t stand to see buried under onion peels and carrot shavings. Aubrey and Emma each have a box full of finger-paintings, handprints and pages with their name written clearly for the first time. Sadie, my preschool drop-out, is only two years old, but her box holds mementos of her dark and stormy past: disciplinary slips from preschool for biting.
It has become easier since “my talk” with Aubrey to throw away extraneous paper work she brings home, but it wasn’t until Sister Wife (my best friend with whom I share everything but clothes and husbands) posted on Facebook that I realized I wasn’t alone. Wifey had had “the talk” with her son and explained to him that unless they wanted to be on “Hoarders” they had to let some things go. Comments poured in, one Greenwood, Miss. mother wrote that her son won’t let her throw anything away, “He is so offended if he sees it in the garbage. So I pile it up, save it for after bedtime and walk it all to the alley.”
As it began to dawn on me that I wasn’t alone, my shame begin to lift and I realized I was probably sitting on The Learning Channel’s next hit reality show, “Little People Big Hoarders.” I could see it in my mind. Houses stacked floor to ceiling with alphabet sheets and corn dog sticks. Nervous parents darting down darkened alleyways digging through trash cans whilst repeatedly looking over their shoulders, praying their children don’t catch me.
I could see myself sitting on a couch, talking directly to the camera, “I don’t know how we ended up here, I’m just glad there is someone who can help me.”