“Mom, what’s this doing in the trash?”

“What?! Something you drew in school? How’d that get in there?”

Sound familiar? Please tell me I’m not the only cold, ruthless mother to put her precious offspring’s artwork in the same receptacle as the banana peels and the dirty diapers. Hands? Anyone else?

So what’s the rule? How long am I supposed to keep each scribble and scratch of made-with-love artwork? Before you conclude that I’m totally heartless, I do have a Rubbermaid tub for each child where I tuck away the “greatest hits.” You know, big school projects, artwork that has been laminated or spiral bound by a teacher, or anything with their genuine, tiny handprint stamped on the page. These are keepers.

Like you, my refrigerator is the display case of choice for many honorable mentions. Fraught with dozens of magnets, it beckons to the artist within to create. And create my children do. Loads.

We devour reams and reams of paper every year. I scoop up back-to-school supplies by the case lot when they go on sale in August. When I’m old and gray and reflecting back on these years, I will picture my towheads all hunched over our second-hand kitchen table, crayons and markers littering the surface, with someone whining that they can never find a good pencil with an intact eraser when they need one and could you please find one for me Mom, it’s an emergency!

Their handiwork piles up on that table until it can pile no more. It teeters on the counters and eventually gets strewn all over the floor. I become paranoid that the neighbors might call the producers of “Hoarders” if they drop by, what with the papers on the floor rising to dangerous levels. Soon, I can’t take it anymore and start shoving the sheets into the trash, resolute to have a clean surface upon which to serve dinner. There. All clean.

Most of the time I can get the load of trash out to the curb and no one’s the wiser. Nobody ever asks me what happened to their stick figure portrayal of Obi-Wan Kenobi, number 86 in the Obi-Wan portrait series. They’re just glad they finally have a clean surface upon which to draw again.

But every now and then I get caught; the “trash” is not out to the curb and out of their sight fast enough. Sometimes they discover, to their horror, that I’ve tossed out that day’s Obi-Wan, that day’s masterpiece into the trash of all places, without so much as a backwards’ glance! And to add insult to injury, I even went ahead and tossed cracked egg shells and apple cores on top of it!

Some mother she is, tossing out perfectly good artwork — the kind of artwork that could keep her warm at night once we’ve all grown up and left her…

That’s when I feign total ignorance. “What?? What’s that doing in there?! Hmmm…Clearly a thoughtless mistake! Let’s wipe that off and put it up on the fridge, Honey.”

Am I alone?

I have a friend who takes digital pictures of all her tots’ creations and once “preserved” makes no apologies about sending all the originals down to the dump.

Now that’s not a bad idea. Pictures of the pictures! It sure would save me from all this fumbling and backtracking and clandestine dashes out to the big trash. Now, if only I could find my digital camera.

It’s gotta be somewhere around here, under all these stacks and piles of paper…

Margaret Anderson is a BYU graduate, freelance writer, returned missionary, wife, and the mother of five small children. Read more at www.jamsandpickles.wordpress.com