Like many parents, I have several ceramic … bowls made by my sons (since these days kids don’t make ashtrays for their parents).  They were presented with great glee and pride by my sons in Kindergarten or first grade and I’ve kept them on the shelf above where I do my writing at home.  Some six or seven years later, my oldest happened across them and said “you’ve still got those?  I’d have thrown them out.  They’re ugly.”  They are both ugly and precious.  All I could think about was my brother.

When my brother was in first grade, he came home with his freshly glazed ashtray and gave it to my dad.  My dad looked at it, asked what it was (as it was somewhere between a jagged plate and a chipped bowl), then set it aside.  In a moment, my brother felt crushed and defeated by my dad’s seeming indifference.  In a lot of ways, it crystallized their relationship, one of those pivotal, defining moments that sent them careening along their respective trajectories with one another.

Which is a lot of pressure to put on an ashtray.

There’s a lot that goes into parent-child relationships, a lot of ways to screw things up.  And I’ve resigned myself to the fact that 20 years from now, both my sons will find themselves on a therapist’s couch talking about their father’s quirky parenting techniques.  But they’ll know I was present in their lives, possibly too present.

I can’t help but imagine that our prayers to God are like the scribbles on pieces of paper that our kids present to us that we hang on the refrigerator not because they are great art or even show potential, but because our children drew them.  Drew them for us.

So I will keep my collection of ugly bowls just like I keep so many of my sons’ drawings through the years.  And every so often I pull them out and remember that my children made them.  And I love them.