Some 40+ years ago now, a young toddler took a chance on the arts and grabbed hold of her first crafting device. It was an epic battle between poop and wall and book and crib and brother and dog and diaper and self.
Baby & Poop 1 – Mom 0!
Since I can remember, I have always had a hand in arts & crafts of some kind. I utilized every space in my room as a young kid to express how I felt, who I was, or who I thought I ought to be. Project after project lay askew in a jumbled mess of what any teenager’s room would seem to look like.
I was not an ordinary kid; my imagination usually got the best of me. Daydreams became works of art in prose and drawings. Barbies sat neatly in perfectly constructed designer rooms. Stolen GI Joes watched like a hawk, for the woman I know as mother.
In my mid-20s, I finally was making my way in life by doing what I loved: DESIGN. It only makes complete sense when I look back on my youth and see all of the silly little things that I treasured; what my mother deemed as junk.
Our travels lent me to see things differently. Like the paper placemat from the IHOP we ate at during the first time we went to Disneyland when I was 5: my most valued treasure. It was my first piece of a collection; a collection that I wish I still had to this day. But alas, to her it was all junk.
I collected many things as a kid. My favorite was bugs and critters. I loved how they reacted and lived in the world. My favorite collection was my bowl of tadpoles. Who knew that one day I would come home to my mother screaming for dear life, as 15 or 20 frogs emerged for the first time, slowly making their way to freedom.
It could have been that I didn’t tell her they were there, hidden under my nightstand. It could have been that they were there, hidden under my nightstand in her very expensive Tupperware dish, filled with rocks and plants and dirt and moss. After all, they did need to maintain their natural environment.
EVERYTHING and anything my mother could find, piled along the bottom of my door. Towels stuffed as if a flood was pouring from under the threshold. The broom from the closet bent from frustration. Her face, angry. Eyes wide and crazy. Her screaming at me again, why couldn’t I be like other girls who didn’t play with boy things.
My room was made of several collections; every single piece unique, special, and important to me. It felt as if that was all I had in life, my simple things. They built murals in my room; my floor became an oasis and viewing space of my atrium.
My walls became enthralled with placemats of restaurants that seemed to make my mind leap. Hand-me-down posters my brother thought were lame. Mailers that my parents would have to throw away several times before just giving up. Strings of lights my father thought were broken, and some were. Stuffed animals by the hundreds, sitting neatly in their hammocks made from mom’s good sheets. Stickers earned in school. Baseball memorabilia my dad would let me buy when mom wasn’t around. Broken bits of glass and rock that were amazing in some unfamiliar way.
They covered the painted memory that hurt so much; the room that belonged to her. If I didn’t have to see my pastel pink walls, I wouldn’t have to be reminded of the classification of “girl” I lived under.
These memories ache in me to be freed. Their connection to my life now seems so relevant. As I now connect the memories of my mother, however, I am reminded that we have a major thread in common. I too have faced the unfinished project often.
Sean Childers-Gray is a designer, writer, trans advocate, and educator. This essay was originally published on his Substack, The Shape of Our Dignity.