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Reflections on my storage room…

July 16, 2012

My project for today was to clean the storage room in our basement. You know the one. You all have “that spot” in your house. Maybe it’s the attic, the crawl space, or just one of many closets all stuffed to the gills with things you cannot bear to get rid of. In our house, that room is the furnace room in the basement. We call it the storage room. Sounds fancier and less full of cobwebs that way, but it’s not really.

If you are picturing a room filled with disorganized chaos, you obviously don’t know me well. My idea of “this is a complete disaster area” would be some people’s spread in Real Simple in an article entitled “Getting Rid of Clutter.” I have plastic boxes all labelled with contents and shelving units perfectly sized to fit them. All the Christmas decorations are stored in similarly sized plastic containers with matching lids and anal retentive descriptions of their contents on stickers adhered to the end (not the top) of the box facing out. It’s sickening really. My kids will likely be in therapy someday about all the things I told them are “a mess” that are not. I have a completely different set of standards about these things, and I’m willing to admit it. Hi, my name is Jenny, and I’m an obsessive compulsive organization nut.

Okay, but still, even in a world like mine, entropy still rules. Order tends to disorder over time. It’s the nature of things. So, today I decided to fight back against the forces of nature in the storage room. I began near the door on the short wall. Start with the easy stuff, right? So, what’s stacked there in a neat row, but old poster board projects. That’s right. Every time the kids did a science fair board at school or created a tri-fold display for the foreign country inquiry report or had to “make a board game to show your mastery of details about Ancient Greece” or whatever, I saved them. All of them. Why? I have no idea. Was I thinking that at some point we would invite friends over for an exciting evening of playing homemade board games about the RCA Dome, the Trojan War, and predator/prey relationships? I don’t know. Maybe I was envisioning that when Kristin graduated from high school, she would want me to display her science fair project on geotropism for all the guests at her open house or the sand map of China with popcorn seeds marking the major cities or my all-time favorite: the poster board of the human circulatory system with pipe cleaners for veins and arteries and a turkey baster spray painted red representing the heart. Yup…real conversation starter that one is.

So, I dragged these out and laughed at myself…and then I’m not going to lie…I kind of got a little choked up as I started flipping through them. I remembered the night of the leaf collection when we realized that if you iron the leaves between wax paper, but you don’t use the right kind, the wax basically melts and adheres to the leaf and obscures it from view. The panic that brought on makes a 911 call look like a telemarketing survey. And I remembered the ambitious African mask project that involved glueing about one million glittery seed beads all over a paper mache face shaped like my daughter’s until we broke the nose and laughed until I almost peed my pants. I remembered Joe’s complete and utter frustration over a project over a novel that had about a thousand parts and was going to be graded heavily on “creativity” and how at 11:30 at night, we all took pity on him and the whole family hunkered down kneeling on the floor of our den whacking out letters and colored backing to “frame” clip art pictures and gluing twigs together around the edges of the board…and feathers…somehow I think there were feathers…

I could hate the fact that these projects consumed hours of our lives that we’ll never get back and then were trotted into school–always on a day when it poured down rain…somehow God knows the day a project is due and sends biblical floods at precisely the time your child is leaving for school. These precious creations were looked at for a few minutes by a teacher with a clipboard rubric in hand and then assessed, stacked or propped up for disinterested kids to look at and “learn from” and then “sent home for you to keep” by a teacher who was sick of the dust they were collecting and how tired they looked. I could hate that they then had to be put somewhere that was respectful of the time spent in creation and not just put out with the trash so that the message to my kids was “school stuff is really important” and that therefore I created this stack against the wall in the storage room for all this really important stuff we would definitely want to pull out at any moment and display…and that some of them have now been there for nearly fifteen years as my daughter is going to be a junior in college in the fall.

I could hate all that, but I don’t. Because when I looked at them today, they brought memories rushing back…of last minute trips to Michael’s to get poster board and colored paper and glue gun refills. Of strategizing about the coolest way to do the project and delight in the process and laughing at the results of our best efforts gone awry. Of confidently comforting the desolate kid who had just cut THROUGH the letter R instead of cutting out the center of it and saying, “We can fix this! Look…see…you can’t even tell.” Of turning two “1’s” into a capital E at five minutes after midnight when you ran out of stick-on letters because you didn’t plan how many you needed for your title even though I told you to. Of pulling things off that were tightly glued to the WRONG side of something or off the edge of it. The mistakes were part of the fun and taught the lesson that problems were solvable and resilience mattered forever. I love that. The projects reminded me today as I stood in the basement looking through them of exactly all the projects taught…and all the time we spent learning it.

As a teacher, I have heard colleagues grumble about how too many student projects are really done by parents. I agree. I hate the science fair project by a seven year old who has built his own centrifuge out of a $2000 electronics set he just “happened to have” around. And the proud dad standing next to him getting red-faced that he isn’t getting to answer the judges’ questions and gnawing through his tongue as he resists prompting his offspring. Yeah…that’s bad. But the other projects…the ones like the suspension bridge built of popsicle sticks that Kristin realized at the last minute was going to fail spectacularly until we all held it while she glue-gunned the hell out of it through her sobs…those projects absolutely rock. To me, they were the best of times and the worst of times, but mostly the best. They were lessons. They were laughter. They were love.

I know I’ll never need to look at these again.
But I don’t think I’m ready to throw them out just yet.
I’m moving on to the Christmas decorations tomorrow. We’ve got WAY too many of those…

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