When our daughter outgrew her crib,
we decided that it was time to redecorate the nursery.
Given her blindness, there wasn't much point
in covering the walls with cartoons,
but we thought she might like a big fluffy rug
and some toddler furniture,
and maybe one of those musical night-lights.
At the carpet store, however,
she soon abandoned the deep-shag section
in favor of climbing over the huge rolls of artificial grass
and tugging at the corners of the Persian rugs
stacked on the floor.
Then she found the stack of wildlife rugs.
"Zee! Zee!" she squealed, tugging my hand
and pointing at the garish black-and-white stripes.
She couldn't say zebra yet
but clearly remembered the herd of Grant's zebras
from her birthday trip to the zoo.
"Well, the eye doctor did say
that she might be able to distinguish bold contrasts,"
my wife pointed out.
"It certainly is that," I said,
eyeing the rug a bit dubiously.
It was difficult to make the mental switch.
We had originally done up the nursery
in soft baby shades of yellow and green and lavender.
Catalogs of children's furniture ran to bright primaries
of red and blue and yellow.
Black and white conjured visions of noir films
and ultra-modern yuppie apartments,
not the cozy bedroom of a little girl.
"I'm not sure we'll have much luck matching that rug,"
I said to my wife.
She gave a philosophical shrug
and tipped her head at our daughter
who was crouched beside the zebra print,
"It's her room," said my wife.
"We can always buy unfinished furniture
and paint it ourselves."
So we bought the zebra rug
and some fresh paint.
Then we spent the weekend
taking up the butter-yellow carpet and
sanding the floorboards underneath.
We rolled white paint over the floorboards
and the mint-green walls with lavender trim.
The zebra rug did have a smart black border
that contrasted sharply with the white boards beneath.
We found a white toddler bed,
then an unfinished dresser
and a table-and-chair set
that we painted white.
We added dainty black rings
on all the legs and rungs,
carefully following patterns
on the lathe-turned wood.
The ends of the bed and top of the table
were overlain with broad black stripes,
their patterns carefully copied
from pictures in National Geographic.
My mother sent us a carousel lamp
that projected its painted ponies onto the walls
and played the Brahms lullaby.
It was a total failure.
Our daughter hated the music,
and the finicky mechanism kept failing
so that the rotating carousel jammed
or the whole thing simply turned itself off.
Getting a toddler to sleep
proved a lot more difficult
than getting a baby to sleep.
She could stay awake longer, howl louder,
and demand yet another storybook.
In the interest of somebody getting at least some sleep,
we finally set a bedtime and a limit of one book.
Then we would leave her to fall asleep on her own,
After a week of that,
we were all tired and grouchy
and beginning to think
that neither grandparents nor parenting books
had any idea what they were talking about.
Then one evening,
my wife said suddenly,
"What's that smell?"
I lifted my head and sniffed,
wondering if mold had gotten into a wall
or the toddler had messed the bed.
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