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Kids' papers and mementos are more valuable to parents, grandparents
My dad mailed me a stack of ribbons I won at an elementary school event I don't remember but they still mean something special to me. - photo by Amy Choate-Nielsen
I like to throw things away.

I like to reduce and recycle especially when it comes to paper but Im fighting a battle I just cant win. My daughter comes home with a stack of paper every day, and it gets scattered across my floor and wrinkled and stuffed in drawers until everywhere I look there is paper. And I just dont know what to do with it because some of those papers hold my daughters sincerest desires, her private thoughts. For example, for St. Patricks Day, my daughter brought home a stack of four-leaf clovers with her wishes written on them: I wish I could have a unicorn, I wish I could fly and I wish I could have everything and do whatever I want.

Thats good stuff right there. Poignant. But if I saved every shamrock, Id be drowning in shamrocks. So I put the papers in a pile of things I should probably purge if I didnt feel so guilty.

I read somewhere that if you want to let your kids know you value them, you should hang their drawings on the fridge, even if theyre ugly. So, each of my kids has a number of sheets on the fridge even the 2-year-old and I cycle them through, getting rid of old pictures when they make new ones. The truth is, I do value them, and I dont think their drawings are ugly, but I dont know where to keep all of those papers.

If I were my dad, I would put them in an accordion folder, 10 accordion folders if I had to, and I would take them with me when I moved from Oklahoma to Connecticut to Virginia and I would only think about parting with the accordion folder when I was about to move halfway across the world.

I know thats what he would do because thats what he did. This week, he mailed me an envelope with a stack of ribbons I won in second grade the same grade my daughter is in now at my elementary schools field day event.

My kids couldnt wait to sort through the ribbons. My son picked them out, one at a time, and asked me what each one was for.

Whats this, mom? he asked me as he held up a pink ribbon with shiny gold lettering.

It says fourth place, I told him. For the three-legged race.

So you had an extra leg then? he asked me with wide eyes. And I explained to him that a three-legged race actually involves two people. He pulled out a blue ribbon, first place for the 75-yard dash, and started sprinting around my kitchen like it was his own race.

Is this a dash, mom? he asked me as he bolted toward the oven and I laughed at his smiling face.

We talked about the purple ribbon I got for winning first place in a "Little Orphan Annie" skit (What is a skit? he asked) I did in 1990. Im glad I have that ribbon, because honestly I dont remember ever being in a "Little Orphan Annie" skit. I dont remember getting a ribbon, and I have no idea where I was or why I did it.

He was most fascinated by the participant ribbons I had.

So that means you won? he asked.

No, it just means I participated I was part of the race, I told him. My elementary school must have believed in boosting our confidence back in 1988.

Anyway, as my son and I sifted through the ribbons, I saw a folded piece of paper in the envelope that I had overlooked.

It was a letter from my dad, typed in a cursive font.

To my posterity, he began, Take your memories and preserve them in journals for your grandchildren to wonder over 60 years from now.

It occurs to me that my parents probably remember that field day in 1988 better than I do, as they watched me leap in the long jump and tumble in the sack race. These ribbons meant something to him, so now, they will forever mean something more to me.

And yes, I have to say, I do feel pretty valued.
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