Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Extreme Makeovers: Cheaper than marriage counseling?

Someone once told me that if a couple could survive painting together, their marriage would survive anything.
True, that.
We’ve just spent most of our kids’ college savings on an Extreme Bedroom Makeover: Walker Edition. (Ha, ha, kids! Just kidding! Of course we didn’t, really. We don’t even have a college savings for you. Keep those grades up, smarties!)
We’ve spent the better part of three weeks re-arranging, re-assigning and re-decorating rooms for the kids. Now, the boy has a room of his own and the girls are shacked-up together. They look great. I’m talking Pinterest-worthy, people.
An interesting dynamic unfolds when people start decorating together, which is really just a microcosm of real life. In our case, one of us (okay, me) likes to think and ruminate on how things should be. The other (guess who?) hears me say out loud that I might like the idea of stripes, and has the entire room taped off and ready to paint before I can return from the other room with my color swatches.
You have to be careful what you say out loud around a man of action.
“Hold on a minute!” I said, when I happened upon my beloved, poised and ready to stripe the girls’ room in a Parisian Pink. “Dude, Parisian Pink was yesterday. I’m leaning toward Perfectly Pink now.”
He looked at me sadly, brush in hand, as though I was supposed to rush a decision like this. Hello?! These things take time. When I told him I may not even want to do stripes anymore, he seemed to have a small aneurysm.
I get him. He’s a do-er. Maddening as it is for a big-picture gal like me, his detail gets the job done. This is part of the delicate balance that we’ve learned to achieve.
And he gets me, too. I need to ruminate. I’m not just pondering where to put the new bookcase. I’m grieving the stack of board books that will no longer be on the shelf. I’m not just practicing serious Feng Shui with that gimormous van load of donations for Goodwill, I’m weepy that the little size 3T Osh Kosh Halloween sweatshirt, photographed on little Walkers at pumpkin patches all over middle Tennessee, has been relegated to the “give away” pile. It takes me a minute, y’all.
There is also a tricky equilibrium in how to decorate. What I mean by “tricky equilibrium” is I have to reign in my sarcasm—a lot—when other people like to have opinions about my decorating ideas. More than once, I’ve had to take a deep breath and remember it’s not ALL about me. Mostly is it, though. I’m the one pouring over Pinterest and practically getting slapped with a restraining order from Nate Berkus. No one else knows the delicate placement options of a chevron stripe. Well, do they?
I’m barely used to the idea that my husband has an opinion about home decor, but now the children are depositing their two cents. I get it: they live here, too. But do they have to have their own thoughts, ideas and preferences?
Oh, wait. Of course they do. That’s how we’re raising them: to be “independent thinkers” and “individuals” and “self-possessed people.” Damned good parenting. Now look what we’ve done! We’ve gone and taught them to think for themselves!
Now that we’re in the home stretch, everyone is very pleased with the results of their new rooms. My current challenge is letting them actually USE their rooms. I mean the new digs are so organized and pristine. Yesterday I almost cried to find a pair of dirty socks on a brand new hot pink rug. A pair of ill-placed Converse All-Stars gave me dry heaves.
Thinking ahead, I went to share a new idea with my man of action to find him putting the finishing touches on the final room. “I’ve been thinking,” I announced, which always yields a look of sheer terror on his handsome face. “Would this be a bad time to tell you how I think we could re-model the den to include another room?”
“Yes, it would.”
“Okay,” I said, content with keeping it to myself for a while, or at least until the paint dries.
That’s the beauty of ruminating. The idea will still be there when it’s time to do anything with it. And, thankfully, so will my man of action.

Monday, September 10, 2012

9/11 and coffee cake

On September 11, 2001, as the center of the universe lost its pulse for a minute, I baked an orange coffee cake.
   I was getting ready to go to Hana's house for our weekly lesson. Hana, my friend and student, was a young Muslim mother from Iraq and a refugee to the United States; I was her ESL teacher.
   Baking a cake was all I could think of to do. Frankly, it was the only thing I had all the ingredients to bake. (How do I offer some comfort, I wondered? Is there protocol for the world falling apart?) I pilfered around for orange peel. I pulled the cake from the oven--maybe a moment too soon. Oven off and towers down, I rushed to Hanna's. I never did find orange peel.
  We spent the remainder of the morning watching the news, side by side, on her couch. I want to remember us huddled together, holding on to one another--Christian and Muslim, American and Middle Easterner, mothers, sisters, daughters--but I think we probably just sat sort-of close to each other. Our young daughters were playing with toys. We shared a slice of coffee cake and Hana offered something to drink. We shared a lot more than that, too. She was afraid for her family in Iraq, who like so many, had suffered under Saddam Hussein. I wondered silently what it was like for her husband at work that day. I was struck by her gratitude to be in the U.S., despite the distance it put between she and her family left in Iraq. We mourned the losses unfolding in front of us.
   In the coming years I would remember Hanna and that morning spent on her sofa. When people talk about what they were doing when the towers fell, I remember, too. I think about how significant it is to me that, on a day that served to create division and ineffable pain, community happened--on the edge of a sofa, over a slice of orange coffee cake, while our very futures played together on the floor.