It starts innocently enough. Dolls sit prettily, if un-played with, in a tidy row on a shelf. Other beloved interests follow suit, becoming opaque or waning altogether. Each past-time is slowly replaced by something that dances across a computer screen. It's "future" time.
There are uncomfortable questions, but even more alarming are the uncomfortable silences. Closed doors, loud music, laundry in heaps.
Even though I'd barely noticed I'd been ending most of our communications with “… in that mess you call a room,” I am not blind to the fact that she is growing up.
But the terror of all terrors – the moment I've been dreading for SIX YEARS – arrived with a request and a ceremonious presentation of the latest Pottery Barn catalog …
“Pleeeeeeease, mom ….”
Did I mention the puppy dog eyes?
“I can't stand pink.”
Of course I knew this would happen. From the moment she picked the Pepto-Bismol colored paint when she was five, I knew there would come a day that same hue would turn her stomach. Every time we pulled into the driveway at night and her walls winked at us from the corner of the house – “Oh look, Ittybit's home,” I would say with sarcasm, a reprimand for not turning off her lights -- I knew I was just one more snide remark closer to a trip to the paint store.
“You realize what this means,” I said with a sigh …
She looked hopeful …
“You will have to clean your room …
“And be nice to your brother …
“And put away the laundry …
“And turn off your lights …
“And pave the driveway …
“Is that it?”
“Oh … and bring about world peace. That's all.”
She squealed and jumped up and down.
Seems silly, I know. But EVERYONE hated that pink. House-guests who were unlucky enough to arrive after the lumpy couch in the living room and the low-rise bed in the drafty sewing room had been snapped up by other visitors would require sunglasses and cocktails to fall asleep in the electric-colored room.
Everyone except for me. I didn't hate the pink.
When I looked in her room, it wasn't the mountain of toys or tangle of clothes that made me sigh. It was the memory of a five-year-old girl who had helped paint every single wall, visible brush strokes and all.
Deep breath. “What is this going to involve?”
She dove right in ... She searched through paint samples, floor plans and fabric swatches. She found light fixtures and room accessories one Google search at a time. Finally, she came up with a proposal I couldn't refuse:
Paint. Move furniture. Make curtains. Dust hands.
And so, when the fateful day arrived – a day that happened to coincide with the last weekend of the winter break and a sub-arctic temperatures – the three of us traipsed off to the hardware store and watched, in rapt silence, as the clerk mixed up a gallon of “Mexicali Turquoise.”
Back at home, the kids jumped around the supplies in excitement.
The rules were reiterated: No whining. No fighting. No horseplay. I WILL need many coffee breaks. And the first person who doesn't listen and/or follow directions is going to have to just sit here and watch paint dry.
There was a roller lesson: “Roll letters on the walls – W and Y works best.”
There was a brush lesson: “Dip the brush halfway, and then scrape both sides against the inside lip of the cup.”
And there was the “Uh-Oh” tutorial: “Keep looking at the floor. If you see a drip, use a damp rag to wipe it up.”
I couldn't stall any longer.
Two and three-quarter hours later – the walls (and parts of the ceiling ... and a few dots on the floor) were a glorious and refreshing shade of blue.
As we stepped back and surveyed our work, I could see Ittybit was giddy. But she could tell I was a little disappointed.
“What's wrong,” she asked wearily.
“Nothing. I just noticed I can't see any visible brush strokes.”