Fragile balance holds every particle and person in this world together, as if everything is a giant, paper collage of magazine clippings, stickers, concert tickets, newspaper headlines, inspirational quotes, and polaroids, all layered together by a dried out glue stick. At any point, due to some unforeseen circumstance, that glue may become unstuck; everything will fall and paper clippings will flutter to the floor and the world will be in shambles. It is in our feeble efforts to reconstruct something out of the remains that we find value and meaning.
It was in the third grade that my teacher assigned our class with making paper collages for our mothers in celebration of the upcoming Mother’s Day. The desks were filled with craft supplies, and each student went to task, gathering his or her markers, glitter, and scissors. Carefully, with the utmost precision, I had selected the pink construction paper and upon it traced my two hands one by one. I can remember outlining the hands in thick, black Sharpie and searching through seemingly thousands of Real Simple magazines for photos of purple flowers, dogs, lipstick tubes, the beach, watermelon, and mothers and daughters gardening together. Sticking them together with a purple glue stick, I placed each clipping closely within the lines, being careful to iron out any creases in the paper with my fingertips. Finally, I completed my masterpiece by writing a charming poem, titled, “Why I Love You,” which I printed neatly in the space surrounding the hands.
After I eagerly presented Mom with that cluttered collage on Mother’s Day, it hung dutifully on the refrigerator for five long years. It cycled through a remodeled kitchen and a fancy, new fridge that dispensed your ice cubed or crushed, all with the push of a button. It saw me go through elementary and middle school, and through cycles of friends, hobbies, and sports. It could be seen in the background of plenty of family photos and a multitude of home videos, remaining pink and proud in the kitchen, unable to be missed. All of this changed, however, one fateful November day.
My parents had informed my younger brother, Aidan, that he would soon be getting braces, and, in his anger, he had released his wrath on all of the house. He carved his initials into a wall, he tore holes in the window screens, and he threw objects across rooms. All of these acts he was of course punished for, but I did not see my mother get truly upset until my brother decided to go one step too far. In the middle of the afternoon, as I sat at the breakfast counter working on homework, Aidan rushed into the kitchen and began to tear the papers that were hung with magnets on the fridge. I watched, shocked, as his fists wrapped around my own tiny, third grade hands, ripping the construction paper right in half. Immediately, the bonds in the glue snapped, the magazine clippings fluttered to the floor, and everything fell apart.
Tears began to slip from my mother’s eyes silently, falling softly like raindrops, and my brother, finally satisfied, ran hurriedly from the room. Mom cried and cried, as I meagerly offered, “I can make another one, Mom. Really, I’ll make it just the same. With little hands and all.”
Looking back on this now, it is clear to me why the destroying of that shabby collage had upset my mother so much. It was childish, crumpled around the edges, and I am sure it had been covered in stray pencil marks, yet it was made with pure love—the kind so pure that only a child can possess it. That collage represented my entire childhood, events layered together through pictures of princess crowns and puppy dogs. When it finally was shredded into scraps of memories lost in the past, my childhood was, too. My mother realized, as I soon did, that I was growing up, leaving princesses and puppies behind me.
It is because of this moment that I believe in the fragile balance of childhood and adulthood, in a mother’s relationship with her child who is growing up all too quickly, and in pink construction paper collages. After all, when the glue inevitably dries out and the pictures fall, we will gather them up with saddened hands, and those will remain our fondest memories.