“I’m so grateful to have a mom like you,” I said today (Mother’s Day) on the phone. “I’m grateful to have you as a son!” she replied. “Then we’re even,” I said. Because she laughed I don’t think she heard me as I quickly corrected what I’d just said, verbally slapping my own face: “No, we’re not even.”
I am almost 40. Some cardboard boxes have moved with me for years each time I change residences. One of them is labeled “Scott Papers 1970-1983″ in my mom’s block handwriting.
I was always reluctant to open it, afraid of cringing inside-out at these records of my childhood self. Then I finally took a steak knife to the packing tape on the box, to locate embarrassing evidence of my youth-era career as a Barbra Streisand memorabilia collector, which I needed for a stage piece I was doing. The mortifying obsessions of a weirdo kid flew out of the box: Barbra, gnomes, Mortimer Snerd, Miss Piggy, Halloween witches… Going piece by piece through the Shrakeiana, I discovered who I used to be. For a month and a half straight I scanned all the items into my computer so I can “use” them as I productize myself into the writer and performer SM Shrake, someone who talks about himself professionally.
I asked my mom how much she had saved. “Ninety-five percent?” I offered, thinking of how bleeping long it took me to scan the stuff. For many of the drawings, she saved all of the “first tries” and exploratory sketches as well as the final product. The box also contained baffling ephemera like playbills from elementary school plays I wasn’t even in, just attended. All of it meticulously divided into large manila envelopes labeled with the year the things were created.
“I’d say about five,” she replied. “Five percent? That’s it?” I said in disbelief. “You created a lot of art, Scott,” she pointed out. I suspect she is minimizing what she did, out of her innate mommish modesty. I would have had to do absolutely nothing else as a kid but draw and write if this is only 5% of my creations. There would have to be 19 more boxes’ worth of this stuff in the dumps of Southeast Michigan.
If her 5% figure is right, then she curated this archive of me quite carefully. But I can’t remember doing anything that’s not in here. And everything that is in here sends me on a reverie or elicits a gasp over refound memories. Unexpectedly, the hundreds of cartoons, drawings, and school essays have endeared me to young Scott. He was actually kind of funny, if I dare say so myself.
Just so: Everything my mom did and does for me is selfless, and priceless to me. This boxed museum of me has ended up being surprisingly, incalculably helpful to my career. It is a box-shaped embodiment of the quiet things a mother does to help her kids.
Mothers! Save your kids’ art.