When I was a little girl, my sister and I played house all the time. Before we played, however, I think we might have done something unique to our family. We sat down with the Ethan Allen catalog and made a list of what all the rooms in our house looked like. Looking back, it makes sense: one of our aunts is a very successful designer, the other a reowned collector of fine art, and my mother had a knack known to few military wives: she could transform any house into a beautifully decorated home in 48 hours flat. "The way it looked" was in our blood.
The weekend before I was married, my fiance and I went furniture shopping. We didn't go to Ethan Allen. This outing was my first understanding of household budget. We bought a living room set. The couch and loveseat were mediocre, but we both agreed that the tables were heirlooms. One was a sofa table, lovely cherry with graceful legs--I could just imagine a collection of baby pictures displayed upon it. The other table was a coffee table with drop leaves. I'd always wanted a dropleaf table and this one made me feel as if I was indeed moving from playing house to being a real grownup.
I set about decorating that first house, with some help from the experts in my family and the cheerful willingness of my new husband. I remember my mother-in-law commenting that it looked like a little dollhouse. All that first year, as my belly swelled with life, we feathered that little nest just so.
Then the baby was born, a blond-haired, blue-eyed boy who charmed us from the very first moment and still charms us every day. I remember the first time I put him in the stroller to go for a walk. We went with my friend Mary and her baby girl, born just few days after Michael. As we left the little dollhouse and set off down the street, I couldn't shake that feeling of playing house. Everything looked just perfect.
The baby grew. He loved to draw. He loved to paint. He loved a little motorcycle given to him by Uncle David. He was just one baby and his impact on the dollhouse aesthetically was all positive. There was a beautifully decorated nursery where he never slept (he much preferred our bed), but it looked good. And how things looked was still really important to me.
One day, the angel boy took that precious motorcycle and vroomed it across the living room table. The scratches were deep and ugly. I stood there, in that moment, faced with making a decision which would shape my life in our home. Would I yell and cry and banish him from that room (this would have been nearly impossible since the room stood between the front door and rest of the house)? What was I going to do with my expectation that all things look perfect and the reality of life with children? I knelt beside him, told him how much I liked that table, how much I loved him, and how we weren't going to play with the motorcycle on the table again. Together, we moved outside to the deck with the motorcycle. While out there, I consciously resolved to encourage him. Not to encourage him to destroy, but certainly to encourage his expression. With this particular child, that encouragement has meant baskets and baskets of pastels and colored pencils and even a little paint. And there have been reams of paper devoted to his exuberance. Every once in awhile, it has meant scrubbing stray marks from furniture and walls ('though less so as he's grown:-).
The episode clearly made an impression on me. It was nearly eighteen years ago and I remember it like it was yesterday. There have been six more toddlers to follow Michael and several of them have left their impressions on our house. That table has seen more abuse, more scratches, and even a Sharpie illlustration (easily removed with Magic Eraser). The truth is, my house looks nothing like the house of the designer, the art collector, my mother or my sister. But I have more children than all of them put together and my reality is not the Ethan Allen catalog. Every day, I have to consciously decide that people are more important than things.
I still shoot for beautiful, but I'm learning to accept that there is much more to beautiful than the way things look. For instance, I think seven pairs of muddy boots in the mudroom after a day in the bluebells is beautiful. I think that two blond toddlers in the tub with fingerpaint is darling beyond words. I think that a general mess in the kitchen when we all cook together brings the concept of a dollhouse to a whole new level. I want things to look well. But more importantly, I want them to truly be well.
And what of the little boy? He might just have a greater appreciation for beauty than his mom. He's a gifted artist with an eye for style (and a perpetually messy bedroom). He remembers the motorcycle. And he knows my soul. This year, a couple of weeks before Mother's Day, he spirited that old dropleaf table away. He returned it last night. He had stripped that table and then poured his heart into it and painted on the table in an altogether grown up way, making it more beautiful than it ever was in the furniture showroom or the early dollhouse. And, as children often do, he taught his mother a very valuable lesson about what's really important in life.
The table, today, with sunflowers, and bluebells, and busy bees:
And Mary Beth chose these coasters to go with it. Please click on the pictures to see more detail: