PULLMAN — Whenever I brought home an original “work of art” from grade school, my mom would grab a magnet and stick the thing to the refrigerator for everyone to see.
Regardless of the subject — a portrait of a turkey sloppily finger-painted in chocolate pudding or a yarn-and-glue Snoopy stuck to construction paper — Mom proudly displayed the ugly artwork of her only son.
I know she’s not alone. Your mom probably did the same thing. The best moms are the ones who love their children enough to hang up their artwork even if it stinks. I never thought about that until a few days ago when un-artistic karma, well, knocked me right in the head.
So, if you, like me, have a great mom, consider this a warning. Because one day it could happen to you.
Here’s how it went down:
My mom, giddy with nervous excitement, handed me what she billed as a “very special, one-of-a-kind” birthday present.
Mom predicted aloud that I would “absolutely love it,” and laughed maniacally as she pointed her iPhone camera to capture the moment for Facebook.
She warned me to be careful tearing the wrapping paper because this present, well, “it’s very valuable.”
I cut the ribbon, gently ripped the paper and I got my first glimpse at my very special, one-of-a-kind, very valuable birthday gift — a framed still-life painting on canvas of a red vase stuffed with twisted branches and decorated with red cartoon hearts that appeared to be tumbling gently from a slate blue sky onto a black table.
You could tell this wasn’t the handiwork of a sophisticated fourth-grade art student because one of the hearts included this inscription — “Mom 2015.”
“Well … Um ... Eh, how does this happen to me?” I asked my sister, Fred.
“You’re the lucky one. She likes you better than me,” Fred said with the kind of sarcasm only an older brother can love.
“No,” Mom interrupted, protecting Fred’s fragile feelings. “It’s just that your birthday came first.”
As I stared at the painting, secretly contemplating how to stash it under the couch without getting caught, Mom joyfully explained how she decided that the fruits of her first painting class would be the perfect birthday gift for her sonny boy.
“I wanted to paint something more masculine, but they wouldn’t let me,” Mom said. “I wasn’t sure about the hearts, but I had no choice. Don’t you love it, though? When I die, you can look at it and think of me. So, where are you gonna hang it?”
As I thought of the perfect thing to say, Mom offered suggestions.
“You have to hang it in your house. You can put it in the living room. Or the bathroom,” she said. “What about the kitchen? Oh, I don't care where. But you have to hang it up in your house.”
I kept quiet as Dad chimed in with a brilliant suggestion, “You can put it right at the top of the stairs.”
I shot him a dirty look.
“Yeah, well, there’s already something hanging there. So that won’t work,” I said. “What about if I hang it in Dad’s bathroom downstairs?”
“What, you don’t like it?” Fred asked, putting me on the spot.
“Do you want me to lie?” I said.
“Aww,” Mom groaned with disappointment. “I don’t want you to lie. I thought you would love it.”
“I’ll take it if you don’t want it,” Fred said, making matters worse.
“You better take it home and hang it on your wall, or I’m gonna cry,” Mom said, sarcastically.
That’s when I realized there comes a time in life when familiar roles reverse and your mom becomes the artistically challenged kid who fingerpaints chocolate pudding portraits of turkeys and gives them as gifts.
When that happens, the right thing to do is grab a magnet, so to speak, and stick whatever pudding turkeylike “work of art” Mom gives you on your refrigerator door.
So, I backtracked to make things right.
“You know what? I could be wrong, Ma. This might be one of those paintings that’s supposed to be viewed from a distance,” I said. “I think I might just be too close to it.”
“Yeah,” Mom said. “It needs to viewed from a distance.”
My brother-in-law, fearful that his wife might take the painting home and hang it at the top of their stairs, carried it across the room and up the stairs.
I took off my glasses and squinted hard for comedic effect.
“See, I guess it doesn’t look so bad way over there,” I said.
Mom laughed and let me off the hook. She loves me that much.
“Say, 'Thanks, Mom,' ” she coached me.
“Thanks, Mom,” I said, laughing.
“Say, 'I love you, Mom,' ” she continued.
“I love you, Mom,” I repeated, sincerely.
“Say, ‘I will hang it up at my house,’” Mom said.
I hesitated for long enough to get one last laugh. Mom snapped a picture of me holding the painting amid the awkward silence.
“Cake time,” my brother-in-law chimed in, drawing cheers from my nephews and me.
When I got home that night, I found the perfect place for my “very special, one-of-a-kind” birthday painting.
I snapped a picture and texted it to Mom.
“He hung the painting!!! Behind the door, near the floor!!! I’m sure the grand cat will enjoy it!! Gotta love my sonny boy!!'” Mom posted on Facebook the next day along with three possibly ironic, cartoon-heart emojis.
Of course I did.
I love my Mom enough to hang up her artwork ... even if it stinks.
This one time. For a little while. Unless someone wants to buy it, that is.
I've been told it's "very valuable."
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