Wednesday, July 13, 2011


My husband and I spent Thursday night (our first child-free night in months, as the kids were spending a long weekend at my parents') picking out flooring and fixtures with the contractor we recently hired to do some updating in our bathroom and kitchen. As with much of my child-free time, it was neither relaxing nor romantic.

I grew up in a house where for most of my childhood problems from dysfunctional toilets to stalling cars were solved with a trip to the library for the appropriate how-to guide, a fair amount of cursing, and eventually my father's own hands. After our evening with the contractor, I felt stressed and agitated.  My husband, who grew up in a family where every dilemma from an unhung picture to a burnt out taillight was solved by paying someone, asked me what was wrong. 

"I just want him to like me," I told my husband of the contractor, "and also to think I have good taste."

"You don't need to care whether he likes you," he explained patiently, "that's why we're paying him money."

The next morning, I started in on the ambitious redecorating project I had planned for the girls' room. As I set to work transforming a heap of leftover furniture into a new bedroom "set" for their room, I examined my motives for turning a sunny and responsibility-free summer weekend into an episode of Trading Spaces.  I decided that my sudden DIY fervor was driven by a need to prove my own handiness and self-sufficiency so that I might feel better about hiring someone to remove the faux-tile and crumbling vinyl the previous owners left behind.

Later, after we'd filled a contractor bag with the mountain of neglected stuffed animals and torn up board books that would go out with the trash, I announced urgently for the third time since we'd started cleaning out the room, "We need to have another child." 

Calmly, my husband dared me, "Sure."

In that moment, as I imagined rolling back the clock to pregnancy, infancy, toddler years, I realized what it was all about, all my priming, painting, drilling, decoupaging, for goodness sake.

I cannot keep Big E from drifting toward tween-hood, but I can take the bed I slept in through my teenage years, the one whose scrolly white metal and brass accents seemed impossibly glamorous at the time, and spray it a suitably little girl pink for her.

I cannot keep either of my girls from growing out of their clothes, their shoes, their babyhood, their toddlerhood, and, always on my mind lately, their childhood, but I can use chalkboard paint and casters to make personalizable underbed storage of the drawers from the little dresser that held Big E's 2T dresses and footy pajamas.

I cannot change the fact that Little E outgrew her toddler bed (or that we admitted this to ourselves about a year late), but I can paste her big sister's old headboard with cute puppies and kittens and varnish it over and over to convince myself that she will always love cute doggies just as she does now.

And the butterfly wall decals that I affixed above Big E's bed.  I wish that I could say that they are about embracing transformation or something equally lovely, but really they are about the constant scorekeeping between the girls, the arguing and accusing and fit-throwing that has me feeling like the kind of angry, yelling, furrowed-brow mother that I had never planned to be.  These butterflies are about how miffed I knew Big E would be by Little E's dogs and the frustration that I channeled into my vise grip on the handle of the race car cart as I pushed the squealing, squabbling girls through the endless Home Depot trip to stock up on spray paint and casters and drawer pulls.

Chalkboard paint and decoupage medium won't keep my kids from getting older every day, just as mourning the passage of time won't guarantee that I appreciate each moment I'm in. And having a baby to reset the ticking clock won't forestall all the growing and aging and changing.

And besides, where would he sleep?

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