Friday, October 3, 2008

A Tale of Three Nurseries

The other day, I was driving my oldest son, who is twelve, and two of his friends, home from soccer practice. When we stopped at a light he said, “Guys. Check it.” Stunned, my head whipped around to discover he was talking about a car and not a girl. But still. How did we go from “Binky car,” our etched in stone agreement that the pacifier was acceptable while in motion, to “Check it?” 

I didn’t think I was going to have children. I did not play house when I was little. I did not have dolls. I did not carry around a baby. My childhood lovey was a teddy bear, “Bear,” who first appears in my grainy black and white baby pictures standing guard as I am trying to lift my too-heavy head from the blanket. At that time he was fuzzy and blue and played music. Loyal to a fault, I slept with Bear until I graduated from college. He now sits on my dresser, a dingy gray-brown with raised scars of loving repair. He has one chewed ear, the evidence of a collie that had to be given away. My point is, I wasn’t one for babies. Babies, as far as I could tell, were a drag. I thought I would pass.

By the time I graduated from college, I was coming around a bit. I certainly didn’t want a baby then, but I could see, down the road, maybe. Maybe one. A small one. One you could kind of pick up and take places, like a snappy accessory. To be honest, I didn’t think I’d be particularly good at parenting and I just thought, if that were the case, it might be in everyone’s best interest, the theoretical child’s and mine, to pass.

Mr. Blandings was not the lynch pin in the deal. By the time we started dating, I had already decided, through maturity or clever biological design, that I wanted children. Not usually a believer in extremes, I had shifted from wanting one child to wanting four. I had attended Catholic schools and many of my friends were from big families. Their houses always seemed like a party. Four. Fun. That was the way to go.

Mr. Blandings is the youngest of four, and the only boy, which anyone will tell you, is the catbird seat. There’s nothing in the world that will create a wonderful, empathetic man who is not afraid of women than the doting of four females. Spoiling notwithstanding, there are some benefits. Oddly, he thought two children was plenty. Maybe one more than you really needed, but as my friend says, if you’re an only child who do you have to hang out with on vacation, your parents? That did not seem right.

So I tentatively agreed to two and all that was left was the getting pregnant. My experience with infertility was a flirtation, easily remedied, but it did take a year and I am a bit of a drama queen, so I’m sure it seemed much longer to everyone around me.

When that stupid stick finally offered up the plus sign instead of that menacing and mocking minus I was elated. After we were out of the woods, I couldn’t help but turn my attention to where this little miracle was going to lay his head. Still uncertain of my ability to be a parent I knew there was one thing I could do. I could decorate a nursery; the space would be perfect.

The office of our first house was going to be given over to make room for the baby. It’s the least of the wonder of a wonderful event, but being able to create a room from scratch is a treat. It’s likely, with the avalanche of newly discovered threats, like spindles that are too far apart and lead paint, that nearly everything for the nursery needs to be new. Like the human who will inhabit it.


I was working full time at a job that I had lain awake praying I would have before I turned thirty. At night, after working all day, I would come home and work on the room. My doctor was fine with my painting as long as the paint was latex and the windows were open. Ladders were forbidden. I started with the floor. I couldn’t sand it or strip it, so I primed it and painted it white. Entirely out of character I meticulously measured and taped off a border about six inches from the wall. The cornflower blue stripe on the white was a crisp, fresh base for the room. I primed and painted the navy blue walls a very pale yellow. I had seen an over-scale harlequin design on the walls of a dining room in House Beautiful and decided to copy that on the nursery walls in a blue glaze that I mixed myself. First measuring, then creating the template using chalk string, I taped again. What I hadn’t realized is that I couldn’t just run a piece of tape from floor to ceiling (and don’t tell Dr. Matile, but I was up and down that ladder dozens of times) I had to tape off each individual diamond. For the baby.

Custom valances for the windows, custom linens for the crib. New rocker, and no, I did not have a glider, because gliders then were eyesores and I could not stand to look at one. I bought a pine daybed for the room, so it would be there, familiar, for when he made his transition, three years later, to the big boy bed. Again, custom linens, Osborne & Little, Ralph Lauren and Stroheim and Roman. A consortium of design houses would watch over him at night. He had his own guardian angels of good taste.

After finding the pine dresser, I bought an extra set of knobs so I could retain the original set, but painted buttons on the new set copied from a fabric in the room. A custom cover was made for the changing pad cover as white would never do. My designer had a teddy bear made from the remnants and the room was complete. Waiting. Perfect. For the baby.

Had I had any idea the amount of drool, vomit, urine, dirt and worse that that room would eventually survive I would have covered the entire thing floor to ceiling in vinyl and moved on. When he was thirteen months old I was summoned back from a conference in Washington D.C. I was greeted by a distraught husband and a baby with Rota Virus. If you do not know what this is, drop to your knees and thank a higher power. My perfect angel was producing a seemingly endless amount of ick. In his room. On his bedding. On the rug. And I didn’t care a bit as I waited to see if we were going to the emergency room for dehydration or if he would, eventually, be able to keep down a teaspoon of liquid.

By the time the second baby was on the way, I had quit my job. The job that I had longed for, prayed for, bargained with God for, was not enough to be away from him. Them. But with an inquisitive toddler on the outside and his brother on the inside, I was exhausted. My oldest was occupying the day bed and I certainly did not want to put him through the trauma of changing rooms and acquiring a sibling at the same time. Poor darling. So the guest room became the nursery. Which I did paint. Solid green. Then I rolled in the crib, now clad in it’s tired and wilting bedding and called it a day.

When things began to feel a little tight we moved to the dream house. After assuring Mr. Blandings that I was happy with two children, I pulled the rug out from underneath him and started begging for a third. Begging. Incessantly. The thing was, the absence of connection that had originally led to my insecurity over having children had been somewhat filled with one and two. I was hooked. Like a junky, I was convinced just one more would do the trick then I could quit. “It’s just one more,” I pleaded. “One more human being,” he kept replying until finally I wept, not out of manipulation, but out of desperation and he conceded. Yes, he finally agreed, more sometimes is more.

I had kept the bedding and the valances from the old house, but decided this nursery needed a bit of refreshing. One of Mr. Blandings’s high school friends came to paint giant buttons on the walls of my youngest son’s room. I barely lifted a finger this time. With two small children, seemingly always needing me, the thought of trying to paint, day or night, seemed ludicrous. So our friend came for a week or two to make room in our house and our life for our final, and eternal, baby.

He will be six this February and the buttons still grace his walls. Mr. Blandings and I are wondering if the oldest should move into the smaller room, and the youngest can shift to share with the middle brother. But the oldest doesn’t want his own room. While he’s trying to establish his street cred with his friends, he’s like Wendy in Peter Pan at home. He is begging not to be banished from the nursery. In fact, they are all lobbying for me to move the youngest to create a sort of sleeping dorm of the bigger room. “Why can’t he move in here with us? We want him to.”

So sometimes more is more and Mr. Blandings, never one to take the low road, always points out at the best possible moments what a good idea it was to stretch our limits a bit. But I keep walking by those buttons and knowing that someday soon they will have to go. I packed the bedding away, this time for the last time. I will have the primer out again as the house is quiet and still between the cacophonies of eight o’clock and three o’clock, and one more time I will prepare to paint the nursery myself. Then the Blandings’ babyhood and toddlerhood will be rolled away. I know that none of them knows the amount of effort that went into that first room. Only I know how I used paint and pattern and pine to assuage my fear and build a place in my heart to hold my family for the first time.