Reflection can sneak up on you at the most unexpected moments. One would presume nostalgic contemplation at graduations, weddings and funerals. But, I had a moment of surprising melancholy yesterday in Ryan’s bedroom.
Now that he is in sixth grade and almost a teenager, I thought it was time to upgrade him to a big boy room. We asked Ryan, if he indeed wanted a new room and he unexpectedly said yes—as ‘no’ is his favorite way to respond for most queries. We happily showed him pictures of bunk bed/desk combinations and he picked one we all could agree upon.
Next, I spread out the paint color-wheel like a dealer in Vegas and asked him which color would he like his walls to be. He stopped me mid-spread and said with a firm tone, “I still want the tree.” I knew immediately what he meant. When we moved into our house the former owner had hand-painted Winnie the Pooh’s Hundred Acre Tree from floor to ceiling in the corner of the room. It is a definite focal point and apparently meaningful to him and I was almost relieved he still wanted it. Like it would preserve some of his childhood. I also found it remarkable he could convey that he wanted to keep his tree and it most certainly signified an emotion I wasn’t sure he had: sentimentality. This big boy upgrade was proving to be quite eye-opening.
Once the tree was settled, he looked at the paint samples and I learned that he picks paint as quickly as I do. Hey if you see what you like, you just know. He pointed to a brilliant blue called “pool party”. Seemed a perfect color to me, and the name just evoked lazy summer days by the pool. (Someday I will fulfill a life dream where my job will be to envision names for paint colors. I have so many ideas…)
A few days later, I decided to be safe and ask him once more about his color choice. I opened the color wheel to the “family” of blues he chose and again his finger flew to pool party. I was relived he picked he same one and wasn’t randomly choosing color. So, for good measure, I asked one more time before the painters came. I even tried to mix him up, but he diligently scoured the wheel looking for his pool party and again chose it. Done. Plus, I knew if I asked again I would probably get yelled at.
Bed ordered; paint picked: it was now time to clean out the little boy room. I began to find things I hadn’t seen in years: sentence strips for his picture schedules (‘Play with Michelle’, ‘Eat breakfast’, ‘Go to school’), pieces to games he played while in therapy, piles of keys and coins he no longer collected. But it wasn’t until I began to peel off Velcro strips that the memories over took me.
I sat down where his ‘therapy’ table had stood years before and saw the blue line it had left on the wall. Right above it, a large hole that was probably the outcome of one of his angry tantrums. I rubbed the spot and felt a surge of sadness knowing this dented drywall would be patched up and painted over. It worried me those memories could someday be washed away too. The many days he spent there with his therapists working hour after hour; learning his colors, letters, signs, numbers, facial expressions, and eventually his words. All the time he worked in that spot so he could figure out how to ‘fit’ into our world, truly humbled me. I don’t know if I would have worked that hard.
Even though new furniture will sit where he once did; I will remember that little folding blue table where it all started. With people who painstakingly patiently taught him again and again; people who have left this earth and people who still work with him today. I vow to not let a new color cover my memories of the uncertain times early in his life. Because those are the times that made him and us, who we are today.
I hope I never forget how far he has come; and in a few years when he moves out on his own, reflect on this stage and all he has accomplished. I can safely bet I will be just as touched then as I am now.