There’s a tickle behind my nose from tears that are trying to breech my self-control. My stomach aches like someone punched me in the gut. The lump in my throat is choking me. I feel like throwing up.
I tell myself there’s no reason to be so freaked out. She’s not dead, not missing, not even moving across the country. She’s only five minutes away and comes over almost every day for heaven’s sake.
It’s just a bedroom – not the end of the world.
But it’s hard.
The week after College Boy was dropped off for his first year at school Teacher and I cleaned his room – and boy did it need it! We sorted, tossed, and boxed; only leaving out things we thought he’d need during breaks and summers. For the following two years his room stood empty while he was at school, except for weekday afternoons when a daycare child napped there.
It wasn’t until we found out that Peanut was on the way that I was forced to admit how silly it was to have a bedroom sitting empty nine months out of the year when the girls were sharing one room and the three younger boys were sharing another room. That summer Teacher, my Dad, Uncle Jay, and College Boy worked like madmen to redo the basement a subject I keep putting off writing about so College Boy would have a place to live when he was home from school.
Angel Face didn’t complain about giving up her place in “the Girls’ Room” for her niece. She happily moved into College Boy’s room and made it her own by hanging lime green sequined curtains, a Beatles valence, and papering the walls with pages ripped from magazines. The space her bed and dresser had occupied were filled with a crib and petite dresser, and all was well with the world.
For a while.
It wasn’t until a little while after Princess and Cowboy were married and moved into an apartment of their own that I was forced to admit it was silly to have a whole bedroom unused – except for Peanut’s naps – when the three boys were crammed into the smallest bedroom in the house.
But who would move?
I was totally enamoured with the girls’ room. Not only is it the kind of room I dreamed of having when I was teen, Teacher and I put twice as much love as time and effort into redecorating it for our girls. Remembering how the four of us worked together to create the pistachio, bubble gum, and lavender confection that was the girls’ room gives me head-to-toe warm fuzzies.
I really didn’t want to give up the girl’s decor so I hoped that Angel Face would move back into her old room and let Jo-Bear take over College Boy’s room. Besides, that room is dark jade green; perfect for a boy so we wouldn’t have to paint!
Angel Face wasn’t on board with my idea. For the past two years she’s spent countless hours decorating, arranging, organizing, redecorating, reorganizing and rearranging. She totally loves her room so I wasn’t surprised that she didn’t want to move – nor can I blame her.
So who was going to move?
I debated. I deliberated. I worried. I weighed the pros and the cons. Teacher wisely stood back and let me go through the necessary mental contortions until I came up with a plan.
I asked Jo-Bear if he wanted to switch rooms or stay where he was.
I suppose I could have anticipated his answer because it’s the only room he’s ever known, but I was still surprised when he said he wanted to stay in his room. He didn’t care that it’s smaller, that it has only one window, or that the decor is Noah’s Ark.
A wise mama knows how to influence her kids – at least some of the time – so it was easy to get the little boys excited about moving into a different bedroom. They were happy to have a new room, Jo-Bear was happy to have a room to himself again, Angel Face was happy to stay in her own room, and all was well with the world.
For a short while.
At first I was nothing but excited. I looked forward to finally seeing the floor of Jo-Bear’s room, to being able to determine who made what mess, to little brothers staying out of big brother’s stuff, to the end of three growing-bigger-every-day boys crammed in a teeny tiny room.
I started dropping little hints to Princess about cleaning out her room, but she was passively resistant. While waiting for her to get used to the idea I took small steps: emptying her garbage can, washing the dirty clothes that were under the bed, packing up the things Peanut had outgrown.
As the summer waned and the the beginning of the school year – my self-proclaimed “D-Day” – approached I attacked her room with an enthusiasm usually reserved for chocolate and Teacher’s Mexican cooking. I labeled paper grocery bags: Recycling, Garbage, Charity, Things for Princess to Sort, then filled them to the brim. I hinted, teased, cajoled, reminded, nagged, then finally dragged her upstairs to work on her room.
“This is hard, mommy,” she said over and over.
“I know,” I replied, “I know.”
I really do know.
The cleaner her room gets the harder it is to keep going. Memories flood my head and my heart as I see the last remnants of her childhood awaiting their fate.
The stick-on flowers that Teacher was so proud to find because they perfectly matched the paint and mirrored the girls’ personalities.
The teddy bears that are loved too much to be given away but not enough to be taken to the apartment.
The shelf and bulletin board that I can’t bring myself to take down. Somehow, taking things off the walls seems more final than putting things in boxes.
Her bed is the hardest to look at.
I remember when she was young, sleeping buried under the covers with just the top of her tousled head peeking out and one arm flung across her favorite stuffed bunny… surrounded by thick books as she worked tenaciously on an important paper… propped up in the corner; love and exhaustion filling her eyes as she nursed little Peanut.
It’s so hard.
But I’m the mom. I’m supposed to do the hard things.
And so I do.
I take a big breath. I square my shoulders. I press on.
When it gets too hard I step away.
I play with Peanut or read a book to the boys. I take some time off, then I go back to it again. I’m the mom; I’m supposed to do the hard things.
Instead of thinking about how sad as I am to see the end of Princess’s childhood, I concentrate on how excited I am to see her beginning her adult life. Putting aside my wistfulness over the bubble gum, pistachio and lavender color scheme, I focus on where to put the boys’ furniture and wonder what color scheme they’ll pick. Hopefully something that will match their bunk bed so we don’t have to repaint that too!
Mantra swirling through my head I fill another bag: “It’s just a room, it’s just a room, it’s just a room…”
The memories don’t live in any room; they live in my head.
And in my heart.