|Trying on some new wings, circa 2006.
Ever since I started working full-time again, I haven’t had the time to enforce some of my household standards.
Of all the rooms in our house, my standards for Miss C’s bedroom have slipped the most. If we could see the floor — or patches of the floor — and her safety never compromised, I was okay if things evolved in there as a sort of organized chaos.
Until Sunday afternoon.
The room couldn’t be ignored anymore. When school ended two weeks ago, Miss C brought home bags of papers, books, and art supplies, all which scattered like confetti in her bedroom, which was already decorated with piles of clothes, books, more papers, more art supplies, dolls, stuffed animals, and hair bows.
Miss C seemed relieved when I declared we were going to tackle the mess together. She was initially enthusiastic, especially as I made suggestions to move around furniture. She also seemed motivated when I said we would be picking out items to donate to our cellar dweller, Janah, who will be going on an overseas mission in a few weeks to work with impoverished children.
So, armed with a trash bag, a paper bag (for recycling) and donation box, the both of us set out with the best of intentions for a united goal to get Miss C’s room in order. For the first half hour, things went well as we sorted and put things away.
But as timed passed, the process got slower and drawn-out.
Actually, it was pretty painful.
Miss C is exactly like her mother: sentimental to a fault. The both of us attach memories to objects, and we like to hold onto those memories. Fortunately, I’ve had three decades to temper this quality with practicality and my desire for neatness and order, so we’re not overwhelmed with junk.
My daughter’s still figuring it out.
And getting some help and guidance from mom isn’t a lot of fun, especially when Mom clearly doesn’t understand the importance of a memory.
Like the very first handmade kite she fashioned out of paper, glitter, string, and discarded family photo prints. (Pulled from underneath a stack of books on her desk.)
Or her most favorite barrette that’s been hiding underneath her bed, which is actually part of a complete set given by her grandmother last Easter.
Or the plastic bag wedged in her closet, full of all the Valentine’s Day cards her class gave her, along with some still-wrapped candy suckers and some ribbon she pulled off a package she got from family in Ohio.
Nearly everything became a subject for debate and a power struggle. I was caught between wanting to discuss things with her — knowing the stress she was feeling — and respecting her ownership of things, but also needing to move things along and be done with it.
This was not easy for me.
It was not easy for her.
There was a time not too long ago when cleaning up my daughter’s room wasn’t such a battle.
There was the clean-up song. I could intercept the boxes of goodies sent by well-meaning friends and family ahead of time, and de-clutter the toy bins on occasion without her really knowing. The amount of artwork and papers she brought home then was manageable. And though I couldn’t get away with everything — she could always tell if something was changed or removed — there was no feeling of injustice, like I was impeding on her space.
I feel like we’re shifting into a whole new, uncharted territory.
By the time we were done, we were both tired and stressed out. And despite the fact that Miss C’s room was now shiny and spotless, and organized right down to the pencil case in her desk and the top corners of her closet to the space underneath her bed, she was in tears.
“Can’t you be happy you have a clean room now?” I begged.
“I want my kite!” she said between sobs and hiccups.
“You are tired.”
“You threw it away, and you didn’t even care if that memory was important to me!”
“I do care,” I said.
I considered reminding her (again) that her kite was one of 1,000 art projects she’s created, that she had a whole hat-box full of meaningful art projects under her desk, that she could always make another kite (and maybe even one that can really fly.)
But instead, I looked at her red face, and decided not to argue. Instead, I took her hand and led her to the bathroom, where I washed her face with cold water.
Then, back in her room, I brushed her hair and pulled back the fresh, clean blankets on her bed. She immediately climbed in, and and turned her back to me.
“Do you want me to read Good Night, Moon?” I asked, thinking maybe the storybook of her earlier years would be soothing for her to hear.
Instead, she buried her face in her pillow. “Why do you want to read me a baby book? I’m not a baby!” she shouted, muffled by her pillowcase.
I looked to her bookshelf again. “Then how about Little House in the Big Woods?” I asked. She lifted her head to look at me holding the book before returning her head to her pillow.
So for the next 30 minutes, I sat and read the first chapter of the book, which had been a favorite of mine when I was Miss C’s age. Within the first few pages, as I read about Pa preparing smoked venison for the harsh cold winter, she rolled over to face me.
Every now and then, I paused to show her the illustrations inside the novel, but for most of it, she lay still with her eyes closed, “imagining everything,” she explained. When I finished, she smiled, and asked for another chapter. I promised her I’d read more each night until we’re done with the book.
My buddy, my girl is morphing into a tween.
Still a child, but not a little one. Not yet a teenager, but wanting to be one. Wanting to be responsible, but not yet knowing how. Creating her own memories, but not wanting to let go.
Growing up so fast, but still needing her Mom, who needs her just as much to help navigate all this, too.