Christmas Letter 2008: The Rooms in Our House
The walls in Therese’s room, painted lemon-sweet yellow, are decorated with swaths of fabric, newspaper cutouts of kitten and puppy photos, her own Kindergarten art, and, much to my chagrin, a full-sized Hannah Montana poster. She crosses off the days on her horse calendar, making me wonder what she’s waiting for, or why she needs to mark the passage of time. Therese’s room is filled with hundreds of little lives existing at ankle level. When I put her to bed at night, I need to take big mama steps over the elaborate worlds she has set up, where My Little Pony has tea with Barbie, and knights and Lego men share a pet hospital with the Littlest Pet Shop creatures. In the corner of her room hangs the purple parasol Grandma and Grandpa brought back from Greece this year. And safe on the shelf sits her most prized possession: her Lucky Tooth. The supernumary tooth, which grew out right between her two front baby teeth, boorishly pushing them aside, garnered her not only a full $35 in cash (a combination of the Tooth Fairy and grandparents), but also the sweet gappy smile recorded in her school portrait that hangs on the wall of her room.
Brian’s room is not merely Brian’s room anymore. This year, it became Brian’s and Ronan’s room, as Ronan’s transition out of babyhood became poignantly evident in the shifting of rooms of our house. Brian’s single bed was replaced by bunk beds, and the two brothers sleep stacked and content in each other’s company, somewhat less fearful of the dark. The walls are decorated with Brian’s athletic exploits: his Little League baseball team was the Sidewinders, and his AYSO team was the aptly-named Nuclear Sharks. Other signs of a typical second-grader adorn the walls: Star Wars and Beano posters, favorite paper airplanes, Granda’s drawings of Tempo. The floor is littered with candy wrappers, army men, and a sea of Lego. Brian falls asleep every night with a pile of books sprawled at his side; and although they’re kicked to the floor with a resounding clunk in the middle of the night, he dreams soundly. The dream-catcher on the wall by his head filters his dreams, where he soars above mountain tops, wins gold medals in BMX racing, and hits homeruns out of the park.
For Ronan, the walls boast his world-record preschool reading achievements. He has three or four paper-constructed reading displays adhered to the walls, like an ocean setting with the name of every book he’s read written on a paper fish. The reading displays are a testament to the wonders of Tricia, who has been the children’s caregiver and our family blessing for almost eight years. Tricia has taken on the task of tutoring Ronan in the finer points of the letter recognition and emergent math. Ronan’s pee-wee soccer medals hang prominently next to Brian’s trophies. In the room’s corner sits a basket of dusty plastic tools that my three-year-old insists he has outgrown. Instead, he opts now for the real thing: deftly managing Daddy’s screw gun, his 16-piece socket set, and (shut my eyes tightly) his own miter saw. Ronan is prepared at a moment’s notice for Daddy’s call, “Ronan, we have a project!” At this summons, Ronan transforms into Gabriel’s super-hero sidekick, dropping everything to take up his position by Gabriel’s side, ready to fight criminal disrepair, one power tool at a time.
Ronan’s old room, now the Guest Room, is no longer a nursery. Earlier this year, Ronan and Daddy dismantled the crib and changing table, along with the safety gate at the top of the stairs. I took down the jumping-sheep quilt, and folded and boxed away the baby blankets. The diaper genie, after seven and a half years of faithful service, was unceremoniously dumped in the garbage. The room now holds a single bed ready for visitors, and we’ve had some wonderful guests this year: pipers, uncles, Irish coaches, and Nicholas. But still, when I pass the room, I miss the sweet smell of the nursery, and sometimes I get a little melancholy to think that my babies have all gone.
Gabriel’s room, the room formerly known as the dining room, is his musical sanctuary. This year, I finally surrendered the ridiculous notion that one room should be designated entirely to a single function. The room is now primarily our music room (the children, of course, have been calling it that for years), secondarily a homework room, and thirdly, a place where we occasionally have to eat with proper table manners. This year, Gabriel fashioned a second set of doors to the room so that he might enclose himself in the music entirely. The pipes resonate beautifully now against the new doors and wood floors. Although sometimes in the evenings, when I open the doors to the music room, I find him not playing, but listening, while he designs wonderful and complex millwork and furniture on his laptop. In this quiet cave, left alone with his muse, I find him drawing, drawing, drawing … not unlike his own father, really.
Eileen’s room is the master bedroom, the irony of nomenclature notwithstanding. Indeed, I think the room has mastered me, as little piles of not-quite-finished projects antagonize me from its different corners. It is the room to which I escape to pay bills, to nurture relationships (at least electronically), and to be swept away in a work of historical fiction. But also, it is my Room with a View; from my window I have an unobstructed view of the length of Country Hills Road. This year, I watched the neighborhood hooligans (my children the ringleaders) laboriously set up lemonade stands, organize grand bike parades, design chalk baseball fields, frolic heedlessly through sprinklers, tie skateboards and wagons on long rope to bicycles, chase madly down the street after the ice cream man, and sometimes, late in the summer evenings, throw a simple game of catch.
The garage, as many of you know, is our family’s greatest misnomer. I hear in other parts of the world, people actually park their cars in their garage. But in our house, the garage is our auditorium, our playground, our pub/coffee house, our art studio, our prototype and repair lab. This year, our garage hosted our annual Tionol with a full contingent of top-class musicians playing in front of over 100 people. This year, our garage hosted Therese’s luau birthday party, complete with karaoke, air hockey, bounce house, and a variety of colorful leis. This year, our garage obtained, among other things, a treadmill (useful not only for exercise but also as an awesome Hot Wheels ramp), an air hockey table (useful not only for a competitive game but also as a DYI painting table), and a new fluorescent Guinness sign (useful not only as good-humored party décor, but also for electrocuting your brother, it turns out).
Before I end, I need to speak about one other room in our house. It is God’s room, and thankfully for our square footage, it needs no walls. It is the room in which we kiss one another goodbye every morning, hold hands to say grace every evening, and snuggle to fall asleep every night. It is the room from which we think about loved ones we may neglect to call, cry the tears no one is allowed to see, worry about things we don’t mention. It is the room in which we offer to God our most difficult and our most joyous days. In this room abides these three: Faith, Hope and Love; and the greatest of these is Love.
To our dearest loved ones at Christmas:
in our hearts, there is always room for you.
From our house to yours, we wish you a very merry Christmas.