Matthew Gifford

Books and scissors

While picking up the living area before bed, I noticed the contents of my children’s art supply box: markers, paper, pine cones (one of my son’s current obsessions), books, scissors.

Books and scissors! The sight of those two things together should have made me anxious. Books are precious. You should never dog-ear or write on the pages. When you’re done reading them, they belong on a shelf like a museum piece or safely stored in a box. You should never part with a book, in case you ever need to look something up or even reread it someday. And you absolutely never cut them.

I should have felt anxiety. But I didn’t. Something had changed.

My two-year-old daughter seems to enjoy destroying books. For several weeks, the only way to get her to stay in bed was to give her a book to look at. Without fail, she would damage it during the night. She might peel the paper off the cover. Or rip out a part of a page. Or even a whole page. Eventually, she would break the binding apart and scatter the remains on the floor, like feathers from a bird that has fallen prey to a cat. During this multi-day dismantling of a book, she would still ask me to read it to her. Damaged books have some value. We can still read and look at what’s left. And once they were completely gone, I discovered it wasn’t that upsetting. It’s easy enough to find a replacement copy of Dr. Seuss’s ABC.

My kids are prolific artists. We often have finished or partially-finished artwork scattered on the dining table, stacked on the kitchen island, stuffed into bins in my son’s room, and strewn all over his desk and floor. I suspect that a lot of parents feel like they need to save all their children’s precious drawings and paintings. My son thinks we should. Let’s be honest, though; most of it is unremarkable. It’s just practice. Unless you’re a hoarder, you will eventually go crazy, sort through it all, keep the good stuff, and clandestinely throw the rest away. You don’t record and archive every second of your child’s piano lessons and soccer practices. Why is this any different?

A wise man once said:

We all have a limited number of fucks to give

For a long time, I didn’t understand this. I would obsess about every chipped glass, dented door, and torn page. It was exhausting.

And that was before the kids. Immersion in that craziness forced me to come to terms with the fact that things are not permanent. They will change. They will cease to exist. I didn’t realize I had changed until I saw the books with the scissors.

If my kids want to cut up their books to make their next piece of throwaway art, more power to them. That loss is nothing compared to what they gain from the experience of making.️

September 24, 2015

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