This last week of summer vacation, my daughters are redecorating the basement.
They are thirteen and sixteen, past needing space for a vast collection of magnetic princesses and plastic animals, the dollhouse closed up and stored beneath the stairs. The collection of pony puzzles and foam building toys and inexplicable plastic parts from birthday-party-goody-bags have been sorted, donated, stored or thrown out. Elmo and Dora the Explorer are long gone. What remains is a small enough collection of things that the basement — home to all things daughter for a dozen years — is ready to become a teenager hangout. They are planning it themselves.
Like many projects, this was supposed to be an all-summer-long plan, but here we are in the last week of summer vacation, frantically painting. I brought paint sample pamphlets from Home Depot for them, blues and reds and greens and purples and yellows. They’re the same kinds of sample cards that their father used to give them to hold while he wheeled them through the store in the oversized carts when they were very tiny, on the one day each week when he’d bundle them quickly out of the house in the early morning so I could get a few precious extra hours of sleep. They still talk about playing with the doorknobs in the store. They still remember the carts.
This week, they finally chose a light blue for the walls of their hangout. My older daughter says “It’s going to be like looking at the sky!”
One day last week, my younger daughter and her friend taped the edges and ceilings to ready them for primer and paint. I heard them giggling down there, laughing in slightly-deeper versions of their little-girl voices, and I picture their five-year-old selves, the kindergarten year when they spent one half-day every month in that basement, playing dress-up on school half-days. Now, dress-up is serious business. My bonus daughter, my daughter’s best friend, is wearing high-waisted jeans and a crop top.
The walls of the basement alternated between a brick red or a orange-ish tan. Walking upstairs reveals this to be leftover paint from other rooms. The red walls needed a lot of primer — double, and thick — and though they lightened with the primer and the sky blue paint, the smell and the clutter and the mess make the room seem smaller. It’s either that, or the girls are so much bigger than I remembered.
Most drenched with meaning is our painting attire. We have a pile of these, speckled with painting projects past: the spare bedroom’s flecks of dark blue, the back porch’s smears of deep mauve, the picnic table’s pinks and purples. I have worn every painting smock in the pile even though I didn’t paint in all of them. I put them on when they were brand new, every one of them, standing with a plastered-on grin and staring my tiny younger daughter in the eyes.
Every time my younger daughter went into the operating room — with the exception of the very first time — I went with her. I insisted on it. By the time her health problems were finally resolved, I had entered an operating room at her side sixteen times, each time donning a protective white suit. Depending on the anesthesiologist, they cheerily called it a “bunny suit” or “special pajamas.” My husband and I referred to them as “Devo suits.” They are something like a soft, felted Tyvec, somewhere between plastic and paper, with a zipper from neck to low-slung inseam. To enter a sterile operating room, I had to wear one, along with a blue fabric surgical cap and blue shoe coverings.
In my white bunny suit, my funny pajamas, my Devo suit, I held my littlest one’s hand alongside the gurney on the walk to the operating room. We talked about any number of things, from age two to age eight, over and over again, that long walk in the bunny suit. When it was over — when I had sung to her until she was asleep, kissed her from under my surgical cap and shuffled out and down the hall in my blue shoe covers, I’d return, escorted by a nurse, to the room where my husband waited, and tear the cap from my head. Gathering up all of our belongings for the wait until her latest procedure was done, I’d stuff the suit into a clear plastic “PERSONAL BELONGINGS” hospital bag.
“Don’t throw that out,” a nurse told me after the first visit to the operating room, “These are great for painting.”
And so, we mostly didn’t throw them out. We have five left — they do give out, eventually, tearing or wearing away — and that is enough for as many people as we can fit in the basement to paint it, to ready it for the next phase of our daughters’ lives. We’ve reclaimed them. We gave them life when they, at one time, represented my fear that our life as a family of four would be too short. Someday, we won’t have any suits left for painting, and maybe by then, my husband and I will be too old to paint on our own. Maybe by then, our daughters will forget where these suits originated. Maybe someday, they’ll be painting a room in their own houses with their partners, and they’ll sigh, wistfully, remembering how much easier it was to paint in those big white coveralls.
“Hey, momma,” my younger daughter asked me yesterday, wiping her splattered hand on her thigh as we poured more blue paint into a tray. “Remember when the doctor called these ‘bunny suits?'”
I smiled. “I sure do,” I answered her.
This has been a Finish the Sentence Friday post, hosted by Kristi Campbell of Finding Ninee and Kenya Johnson of Sporadically Yours. This is Foto Share Friday, where you share a photo and the story behind it.