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Change Takes Time

So last week our big project was the re-doing of Cora’s bedroom. Declaring yellow “not pretty any more”, she asked for a pink room, offering Maddie her bedspread, lovely vintage prints of wildflowers, and more as she pink-i-fied her room. Cora’s dream? To turn her room into a ballet haven, complete with a sign on the door saying “Do not come in unless you are a dancer!”

All went well to start, as you probably saw in my last blog. We spackled holes, moved out furniture, taped off trim and ceilings, and primed the whole room. Cora chose to sleep with Maddie that night, and we closed the door on her pristine white room, the only furniture in there her big bed covered in plastic in the center of the room. I tucked the girls into Maddie’s bed and said a cheerful good-night.

And then Cora started crying.

Nay, sobbing. Heartbroken.

“I miss my room! I just want my old room back! I don’t want it to change at all!” Serious, serious weeping. Beyond histrionics: a deep, bone-wrenching sadness, a mourning of a death of a beloved.

I truly did not see this coming.

Cora’s been my one to plow forward, to embrace change, to love new adventures. She had a strong bout with separation anxiety for a while, but by the time she was in school she had no problems and never looked back. As we talked about changing her room I said several times, “Are you sure you want to paint it? Yellow is such a gorgeous color, like waking up in a pool of sunlight.” “Yep, I’m sure,” Cora was say. “I don’t like yellow any more. I like pink.”

Cora cried all. Night. Long. As she lay weeping in my arms early in the evening, I said, “Honey, it’s ok to be sad. It’s ok to miss your old room.” I talked about how I’d paint my room as a child, and I loved my new room but would go to sleep crying, missing my old room. Just for that one night. We talked about how much she’d miss her preschool, but how she had to leave it to go to kindergarten. How change is a part of life, and we mourn what’s passing even as we look forward to the new.

I pulled out all my best stuff.

And to be honest, I was sad about the loss of her yellow room as well. We moved to this house when Cora was eight months old, and the whole time she was alive in New York she lived in a sliding-door closet in our room. Doors off, but still – no space of her own. So this pool-of-sunlight room was the place I could first call Cora’s, the place I spent hours rocking her and loving her and teaching her to take quiet moments to herself. I loved that yellow room.

Cora cried so hard and so long that we finally moved her into our room so an exhausted Maddie could go to sleep. Cora finally crashed around midnight, but only after several trips to see her room – “I miss it so much!”- and only after we finally promised her we would paint it any color she wanted – it didn’t have to be pink.

She chose yellow.

So the next day we bought two cans of yellow paint- the exact same shade we gave to the painters four years ago – and proceeded to restore her room to its original glory. Cora worked enthusiastically alongside me and my mother for one entire coat, her arm tiring but her happiness never flagging. “It will be JUST like it was before!” she’d crow periodically.

Here is what we did right, I think: none of us ever sighed or rolled our eyes or made Cora feel bad for the amount of work we were going through to do this. Sure, we could have said, “Too dang bad” and just painted it pink. But that’s not how we parent, and I’m ok with that. Sure, we spent a hundred bucks on paint and primer to make her room look EXACTLY THE SAME – but that’s what she wanted for her birthday.

And saying it’s exactly the same isn’t quite accurate: we did get a few changes in there. Cora wanted to paint her room pink to make it ballet themed, and I had suggested she look at some of my old ballet pictures I had in my room when I was a child, and choose some of those for her new room. After she switched back to yellow Cora absolutely refused to discuss any changes at all- the art would stay the same, the dust bunnies would be returned to their original corners, and so on. But I casually cracked open my childhood box in the garage, and as photographs of some of the best ballerinas of the last century – Maria Tallchief, Rosella Hightower, Ruthanna Boris – came out, Cora began sighing with happiness.

So now she’s got a yellow room, furniture in the exact same spot – but we’ve swapped out some artwork and hung some pointe shoes on the wall.

It’s a start.

And more importantly, to Cora, it’s home.


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