Man vs. Family: Kids leave marks on walls — and hearts

If you look closely while visiting my childhood home, you’ll see the imprint of a kindergartner’s galoshes on the sidewalk leading to the front door.

That footprint has been there for 37 years. It even outlasted one of the home’s original owners, my late dad, Big Tom, who used to tease me about how 5-year-old Jody left his mark in 1976.

Knowing my dad, he probably got ticked off that I tromped on the fresh cement. Knowing my dad, he also probably occasionally looked down at that fading spot in the sidewalk as the years turned into decades, laughed to himself and then got teary-eyed thinking about exuberant young kids who used to run wild there. Bet my mom still does.

It’s easy to get mad at children when they do silly things like stepping in concrete that’s curing or decorating the house with Sharpies.

It’s also easy to get a lump in your throat and a smile on your face while fondly remembering all of the different ways they’ve left marks on your surroundings and your heart.

I thought about this concept Sunday night after barking at my 4-year-old son Aidan, who drew a 6-inch dark line at the 3-foot mark on our beige-colored kitchen wall an hour after being chided for coloring our family room windowsill with black crayon.

Kids need to be taught to respect property and must learn that they can’t treat walls like they are scratch paper.

But parents, especially this dad, would be wise to remember that childhood seems to vanish as quickly as scribbles and drawings can be removed from a home.

I’m not really an advice-giver, but I have some for parents on this topic:

• Semigloss interior paint is your friend.

• Permanent markers are not.

• Stock up on notepads and paper.

• Lock up all writing utensils.

• Cherish the creative canvases while the art and artists are still around.

• Think of toddler graffiti around the house as a fun reminder that, as my wife put it, “Kids live here.”

• Keep kindergartners with galoshes away from fresh concrete. On second thought, don’t.

• Whether or not you snap at children for making a mess on the walls, be sure to snap some shots of the memories they made on the walls. Or in the garage. Or on doors. Or in cupboards. Or on cars. Or …

And lucky me! My kids have given us a house full of memorable artwork as souvenirs of the good-old days we’re currently living in:


We haven’t found the marker for evidence, but I’m pretty sure any jury will convict Aidan on this guilty look alone. It’s not just a blob, either. It’s something Aidan called “Cole’s Superpotential.” Either he’s been watching too much Ninjago or reading up on theoretical physics during rare moments when he’s not playing this kind of tag. It was even more disconcerting when this 4-year-old admitted this thought was on his mind as he drew: “I wanted to make our whole house black.”

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I made my kids give me an art tour of our house and, honestly, had never noticed that 6-year-old Sydney’s closet door was marked up with the letters N-O-B-T-E. “When I was a little kid,” she explained, “I was trying to write ‘NOBODY’ so no one would go in there.” The pile of clothes on her closet floor now acts as a trespasser deterrent.

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Good sign: Sydney wrote this “Keep out!” declaration on paper. It reads: “No Boy’s alowd except dad and Jackson and Aidan and uncles.” Phew! Unlike one younger brother, I made the cut!

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My kids don’t limit their artistic talents to the indoors, and they’ve dabbled in charcoal drawing, too. Not long after we did s’mores in a fire pit in the backyard, they enhanced our home’s stucco exterior with the charred wood. Wonder how long that tic-tac-toe board on the left will remain empty.

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Our oldest, Ethan, turns 9 years old soon, so he’s past the phase of treating our home as art paper. But he left his mark on my makeshift theater screen (white laminate) with a hammer back in the day. He recently used our garage door as a lacrosse goal, so that’s got fun polka-dots and indents on it now. Ethan has also done his fair share of drawing on walls, cooking marshmallows against the glass of our natural gas fireplace and wiping gross things on the bathroom.

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IMG_3257Speaking of gross, I’m purposely doing this photo smaller than others. Mostly because that probably wasn’t chocolate spread on our garage wall. Don’t worry. It has been cleaned.

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Screen Shot 2013-11-03 at 5.22.41 PMThis is one of my favorites. Sydney and Aidan decided to personalize our old, boring Suburban while playing in the mud (yes, it’s mud!). I was thinking of ripping the tailgate hatch off to give my wife for Christmas, but it rained before I could do that.

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Screen Shot 2013-11-03 at 11.55.55 PMWhile we’re in the garage, yes, that’s the same Suburban tailgate hatch, now with a large star. And our kids discovered that colored chalk is also good for making handprints. My wife’s Instagram caption: “Handprints everywhere.” What a messy blessing.

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Screen Shot 2013-11-04 at 12.05.16 AMMore from the ever-growing Aidan collection. Left: This appears to be his “No Girls Allowed!” sign for his new bedroom, which is next to Sydney’s. The drawing, by the way, showed up in the room before his bed did. Center: Green scribbles on Ethan’s bed frame? “That,” Aidan said, “was Casper the friendly ghost.” At least he didn’t blame Baby Jack. Right: Our preschooler was pretty proud of this drawing on a basement wall/counter/cabinet: “That’s Buzz Lightyear’s laser.” What else could it possible be?!

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IMG_3264This is Sydney’s handy work in the kitchen cupboard. As you can see, her hand became a little swollen after doing so much tracing.

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Aidan is experimenting with Egyptian hieroglyphics. His translation: “No girls allowed. Only four years old.” If you’re wondering, yes, we are having some boundary issues at our house, too.

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IMG_3253Sydney used to write her name on the walls and tell us that she didn’t do it. I love her penmanship, even if she forgot a y. Bonus: The misspelling is in an inconspicuous spot in her room.

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IMG_3266This is the family room windowsill Aidan colored — an hour before drawing on the kitchen wall and only minutes after he’d been told not to draw in, around and/or on the house anymore upon the conclusion of our art tour.

I got kinda mad when it happened.

I’m laughing about it now.

The teary-eyed part, no doubt, will come later.


  1. Spencer says

    Reading through all of this made me remember my days as a young buck. My best friend and I have so many stories, we should write a book! (hey, maybe that’s an idea!) Anyways, it just made me remember all the awesome times I had as a kid – climbing through the heating ducts of my buddy’s house, getting stuck in them, his mother pulling us out! Making a slide out of mattresses and car ramps in his stairwell, putting holes in the walls trying to kill spiders, and of course, catching his living room curtains on fire during the creation of our homemade blowtorches (parenting note – it’s probably a bad idea to leave 10 year olds alone in a house where bottles of Axe body spray and lighters are readily available.)

    Anyways, great post Jody! Thanks for sharing, man.

  2. Trajan says

    Really great blog post Jod (rhymes with some part of anatomy). Hard to imagine a house without all of the “accoutrements” that give our homes such personality. I still never forget little Natalie writing “I love you” in the dirt on your old Chevy Monza. Keep up the great stories!!

  3. says

    Reading this after finishing Phase 1 of cleaning up the bag of brown sugar my almost-2-year-old dumped all over the kitchen. I’m not even sure how he found it. Earlier today I dumped over a box of cereal while trying to grab it so he wouldn’t dump it out. There won’t be any permanent marks from this one, but I do have an adorable picture of the stick person my oldest daughter drew on the back of our old couch. I really loved that drawing, but I can’t admit that in front of the kids or every available inch of wall space will get marked up. I’ve considered putting a whiteboard or chalkboard wall in their room, but I’m not sure if that will contain the markings or just teach them that it’s really cool to color on walls.

  4. Jennifer says

    You really must invest in some “Mottsenbachers lift off” I swear by that stuff! You can find it at Home Depot in the painting section. LOVE IT! BTW I have heard stories of how one certain brother carved and wrote in marker another brothers name on the white brick of my parents house when the second brother couldn’t even write yet! Oh and the fingernail polish that spilt all over my white kitchen floor….awwww….memories. Good luck

  5. Kristy Genessy says

    Jody, you are a very talented writer! I loved reading this article. It touched my heart and made me cry. Maybe it’s because our kids are too old to even care about writing on the walls because they’re hardly ever home anymore. I will remember to put up the crayons however when you come to visit. :) That picture of Aidan is a classic! His look and pose says it all. Loved it!

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