The Things She Carried

I often ask my daughter to clean her room. Her response is often to cry, get overwhelmed, or get distracted. I will not get into how crazy this all drives me in this particular blog.

While she is away for a few days, I think I will do us both a favor and just whirl in with a recycling bag and take care of business. You see, she is an artist. And her main art seems to be some sort of multimedia affair. There is much cutting, shredding, gluing, and taping, as well as coloring. Needless to say, this gets messy.

I go into her room, thinking I’ll mostly throw away a lot of scraps and broken things, like I generally always have. But after I whip the bag open in a businesslike fashion, roll up my figurative sleeves, and start picking things up, I realize that this is not the task I thought it was.

I pick up four sheets of paper taped together. Oh wait, there’s a three-dimensional Smurf house on one! This is the start of a neighborhood.

Smurf House
Smurf House

A little perplexed about where one should keep one’s Smurf village, I pick up a nice, straightforward piece of scratch paper. Uh-oh, this is an essay prompt for Selah’s club. “Draw a picture. Write your overall experience in our club.” I smile that she has used the phrase “overall experience.” She’s seven.

Evaluation Form or Essay Prompt
Evaluation Form or Essay Prompt

At first, I did not take Selah’s four-girl club very seriously. However, it has persisted now for months, and involves elaborate processing of paperwork, creation of flags with crests and mottoes on them…I am not going to mess with club business. Speaking of which, there is also a folder here labeled “Club Business.”

I move toward the two plastic juice containers that have been sitting on her dresser. Before I toss โ€™em, I notice there are beads inside. As I move to dump the beads, I notice this tiny scrap of paper:

Recipe for...?
Recipe for…?
  • 1 star
  • Rainbow
  • 2 tespoon water
  • 1 pink lego
  • 1 tiny pice of crayon
  • 1 piece of brown shugr

She’ll notice if I throw away whatever this is.

Next up, a homemade envelope, with smeared writing on it. That can go. Except…wait…it said Calvin and Hobbes on it. And it is filled with comics she has drawn.

Calvin and Hobbes
Calvin and Hobbes

She aspires to write/draw comics or graphic novels. You don’t throw away someone’s comics.

These scraps and piles are no longer just meaningless shards, or scribbled-on scratch paper. These are plans, schemes, and pieces of elaborate masterpieces. Like, stuff she would miss if I threw it away. My daughter is changing. Like her art and business papers, she has grown more complex.

I have to admit, I can’t clean this room. I guess I see why she has a hard time doing it too.

As I prepare to leave the room that had looked like a chaotic dungeon to me an hour ago, I think about the story, “The Things They Carried,” about what a group of men chose to carry with them in the Vietnam War. These things she values, they tell me about her. I am surprised by my feeling of having a glimpse into who my daughter is. I don’t even know when she had the time to make all this stuff. I don’t know what some of it means, or what she imagines it to be. How well do we really know our kids? They can be so small-scale, and she seems to be a bit of an in-her-head sort of person. But I hope that as we go, I can sometimes take a look at whatever the current version of her Smurf village project is. And I will never read what is in the Club Business folder, but I’m glad that I saw it exists.


More on Selah’s Calvin and Hobbes fixation: Sweeter than I Expected

More on remembering that my children have their own, sometimes secret, lives: Whodunnit?


21 responses to “The Things She Carried”

  1. I feel like you walked into my daughters’ room. I’ve had these same issues. It’s fun to get these peeks into who they are, even if we’re dying to tidy things up.

    1. It is certainly a balancing act! Sometimes I navigate it better than I do at other times.

  2. Oh my. How precious she sounds. I love that this messy task you had to tackle gave you insight into her mind. Coincidental you just posted this because I was talking with some friends about how to preserve (and let go of) art over the years. Ugh, not looking forward to deciding what to save and what to throw.

    1. I am terrible at it. I get attached to too many things. Objects have sentimental value for me.

  3. […] And for those who are irritated by my venting (this clearly happens), I also honestly enjoy many of the other moments. Here are thoughts on trying to clean my daughter’s room: The Things She Carried. […]

  4. My oldest (8) is also an artist/creator/musician (rock star) he has so much in his room it drives me crazy! My husband would like to throw everything away and me, I box it all up and put it in tubs in the attic when he tells me he is done with it (because thats what he would like)! I have 12 bins and he’s only 8! At some point we are going to have to downsize and maybe just make some collage pictures of similar things! The best part is you can pull anything out of ANY of the bins and he will tell you when he made it, what it is, what it means…it’s amazing (to me)! My patience wears thin sometimes (a lot of the time) with three kids (what was I thinking) but I have to constantly remind myself that they are little People and who they are right now and how I react to things helps to guide them to who the will be in the future! I hope that I can always be appreciative of their creativity (even when I would like to throw it in the burn pile…)! Thank you for sharing!

    1. Yes, it’s almost frighting how much better they can keep track of their work than we realize. I never want to throw away something she treasures!

  5. christen martino Avatar
    christen martino

    My oldest is also seven, and I am a mother of three as well. However, my second and third are twins (a whole different scenario)… My seven year old daughter is also an artist of this sort, and her room is much the same. How brilliant they are!

    1. Isn’t it amazing how their minds work? And I so often am in danger of missing it.

  6. Oh my, this was great to read. You just described my room growing up. I’m so glad you didn’t throw anything away! If it helps, I grew into a very tidy and organized person! I’m also glad my mom let my room be “messy” because it was all works in progress. So I’m glad to hear you appreciate your daughter’s creative side! She is lucky to have such a mom like you!

    1. Thank you so much! And my mom liked this post, because it was just like my room too. I also grew up to be clean and tidy–until I had kids!! But I do think she will probably grow out of it. Hopefully. And yet retains the creativity. Maybe I’d rather she had that, really, than tidiness.

  7. This is the sweetest post. What a wonderful thing you’ve discovered about your daughter. My son is 5 and he’s just getting into art and drawing and I love to see what he comes up with. But i too find it hard not to clean up/throw out all of the scrap paper that is of course, extremely important. You sound like a wonderful Mommy! And BTW, we are in the throes of considering a 3rd. Actually, I really want a 3rd, my husband is on the fence. our two kids are 5 and 3……i already feel like with two kids that someone always needs something – but at least with my 5 year old we’re out of the toddler stage – and he can watch out for the 3 yr old (she’s not nearly as accident prone). Anyway…..thanks for your posts. You are funny and I will continue to read!

    1. Thanks and good luck! ๐Ÿ™‚

  8. You have an ability to capture the humor, frustration and awe of being a busy, frazzled yet appreciative mom…mine our 5, 6, and 8…all girls! My 8 year old has the same scenario playing out in her room. Thank you for giving us other parents permssion to sit back and enjoy the chaos!

    1. It’s easy to miss the beauty in the chaos!

  9. oh my THIS IS MY DAUGHTER!!! (except I’d need to mention the cups and boxes of rocks, sticks and leaves she’s collected from our walks;)

  10. I am loving your blog more and more. My eldest is the exact same way. Except that I am not artistic AT ALL, so the fact that she was able to draw animals at age 3 better than I could at age 23 put me in even more awe of her talent. I had to make guidelines about all the various papers that came home from school, starting in PK3: 1. Does this showcase something she’s done for the very first time? 2. Is it a good representation of what she is uniquely capable of at this age? 3. Is it a good example of her interests at this point? (for example, when she was 3 she colored EVERYTHING rainbow.) Everything else went in the garbage. (She’s now in Kindergarten. She has been successfully able to print her letters for 2 years. The printing practice sheets therefore go in the garbage.) One day she asked me, “Why do you throw all my papers away?” (STAB RIGHT IN THE HEART!) I had to explain myself to her, and that I actually didn’t throw everything away, and show her the plastic tub where I keep all her momentos.
    But the at-home projects are a whole different story. How can I throw these things away? One time she started writing/illustrating her own story. It was all the Disney princesses lying on beds in the hospital. The caption was something to the effect of “All the princesses felt weird… because they were pregnant!” I mean c’mon. I can’t throw that away!! ๐Ÿ™‚

  11. […] wrote more about gaining insight into Selah’s world in The Things She Carried, when trying to clean her room filled me with the same sense of awe and […]

  12. […] have already written about my daughter’s room. Basically it’s a mess. It’s a real […]

  13. Katherine Avatar

    I fight with hubs over keeping artwork for my 6 year old. I can’t bear to part with it!! I love your blog. We are considering a third child and I love your story.

    1. It’s so hard to know what to do with it all! Good luck with your family, whether you have another or not. ๐Ÿ™‚

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