May 25, 2024
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May 25, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

The Short Lives of Painted Pottery

Around once per year I indulge my kids and take them to a painting-pottery venue. I have always enjoyed these excursions because of the creativity it elicits, but don’t always enjoy bringing the creations home. We have a lot of pointless statues—ornaments that sit, collecting dust, one eye accidentally painted to look shut, eternally half-sleeping. Dogs, cats, cupcake-tzedakah boxes, a guitar that is long, hollow, and makes no music…we have had them all, and they have adorned the desks and bureaus of my kids, until I decide they are no longer welcome. This is mostly because they are no longer noticed, touched, and have never really had a purpose, other than the fun of being painted.

And so, I often try to encourage my kids to make something that has a future. A mezuzah, a mug, a dish, a menorah. Sometimes they paint a bowl and it looks garish, and I am forced to use it, longingly wishing the child hadn’t taken my advice and had just picked to make a lawn-gnome that can stand alone in the backyard, until it mysteriously gets kidnapped or something. But my cabinet boasts a few hand-painted dishes that do not really look that beautiful, but still regularly grace our table. I can never really win.

A few weeks ago, we had our annual visit, and I tried to suggest practical pieces. One child chose a mug, another made a glassworks dish, and the third insisted on making a dog-statue, even though she is terrorized by dogs and hates them, but I thought maybe this would be a foray for her into the world of dog loving. I acquiesced, and allowed her to get the useless dog.

She lovingly stroked it with an array of colors, and when it was drenched in its multicolored coat she squeezed puff paints all over it to give it a wild, 3-D fur-effect. We left it to bake for a few weeks until I could find the time to drive back to Ridgewood to pick up the pieces. The kids asked about their projects every day, and finally, when I couldn’t take living without the dog anymore (or, rather, I couldn’t take living with all of the nagging reminders), I went to pick up the projects.

I left the ceramics in a bag in the front hallway of the house, and when the kids shuffled in from the bus, they dug through the contents to admire their stellar creations. Cradled in their arms, they admired the beauty of what they had crafted, and as I corralled the children to get their library books because they were all overdue, my daughter looked at me and asked, “Can I bring my dog to the library?”

I sighed. This usually means that she will carry something for a duration of nine seconds, and then she will ask me to hold her little porcelain dog. And so, I really didn’t want to because I have had to push doll strollers, wheel toy cars, and shlep around an American Girl Doll who was desperate to try going to shul. I just didn’t think I could juggle armloads of books and a toddler who un-shelves every book he sees (I know, the library for sure hates us, but don’t worry, I try to reshelve them myself!), as well as a fragile puppy, and so I said, “That’s fine, but DO NOT give it to me to hold. You’re responsible for it the whole time.” She nodded, agreeing to my terms.

We were in the library for a less than a minute, having just returned all of our books, when I heard a crash. From my perch between two bookshelves, nosing through the J and K stacks of youth fiction, I knew in my heart that it was the dog, plunging to its death on the library floor. I went to comfort my daughter who stood in the long hallway, looking shocked and upset, and had to calm down all of the librarians who came running in hysteria because it might have been the loudest noise ever heard in a library. It wasn’t even that loud, but I guess for a quiet place like a library, it was. And I bet it was the first ceramic dog that had ever been shattered there, too. It was an exciting moment.

“Do you have a broom I can use?” I asked, as they encircled me, their faces in horror. I thought offering to help clean it was the least I could do. I could see the judgment. The library is no place for a dog statue, they probably thought, and finally, they unglued themselves from the carnage and went to get a broom. I bent down, together with a young bystander, and picked up some larger shards to deposit into the garbage.

“I just brought it home a few hours ago,” I whispered to a librarian, as we met at the garbage can. She shook her head in sympathy, feeling the pain of my daughter, who, surprisingly, seemed quite nonchalant. She had no tears, and I couldn’t even detect a hint of a frown. “Don’t worry,” I said, “at least I don’t have to throw it away myself. It’s better this way. I won’t feel guilty.” I was quite content with its sudden fate; she held it, she dropped it, and I was far removed from the tragedy. The dog had a short life, and went out with a bang—a large, reverberating, library bang. It echoed through the tall windows and high ceilings, and there was a subsequent moment of utter silence. That’s more than last year’s dog had.

Sarah Abenaim is a freelance writer living in Bergen County. She can be reached at [email protected].

By Sarah Abenaim

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