A ROOM OF HIS OWN
Whenever I try to write, I stare at the blinking cursor on my alabaster screen, and beckon it to inspire me with a new topic or a new story. It rarely does. So, inevitably, I start searching through the files in my computer of pieces I wrote long ago but either never managed to publish or never had the courage to show to an editor.
This piece is one of those. I'm publishing it here because it's one I want to be able to dig up in the future and show my son, Luca, who will turn nine this June. I still sneak in on him at night and stare at him as he sleeps. But, these days, I'm marveled at the length of his limbs and the baby fat rolling off his beanpole body. It's in those quiet moments at night while his face is rid of a grimace towards his sister or a sneaky grin towards me that I see the same, lovely boy who will always be my "Uca." He shares a room with his sister now, and I think he'd much rather have a room of his own as he did when he was two, before she came along.
Here's the piece, written almost seven years ago, when we were living in Brussels, and when I still felt like a very new mother with a very new baby:
My son’s bedroom occupies a quirky floor of its own between the ground floor and the first floor, branching off our townhouse like a tree-house. The four yellow, wooden letters stuck to his door announce who sleeps behind it. But the letter “L” often goes missing, leaving just “Uca,” which, until now, is how my son pronounces his name. He peels it off; we tape it back.
My son’s bedroom is a patchwork quilt of squares of our lives haphazardly sewn together. While my husband has the last word on where to store the wok in the kitchen, I’m in charge of our son’s room. In trying to create an oasis for my son, I’ve also made it one for myself, often retreating to it in challenging moments of motherhood. Here, I am reminded that a two-year-old is more entitled to a floor fit than his mother.
Luca and I are both growing up in this room. In it, I’m continually put to test as a mother. I have clocked many hours changing his diapers in this room, and often tapped my foot nervously while taking his temperature during flu season. I have spent countless nights rocking him to sleep in it and cursing its creaky floorboards as I transfer him from my chest to his bed. I have ignored his screaming protests to stay longer by his side before bedtime, and wrung my hands as I wait for him to fall asleep on his own. I have reluctantly stood outside his door as babysitters occasionally put him to bed, and envied their ease in lulling him to sleep. I have thrust him into the arms of my husband when I want nothing more than to be relieved of night duty. In hair-tugging moments, I have firmly sat him in his mini-director’s chair for a few reflective seconds.
Yet I peak in on him every night while he lightly snores, and revel at how angelic he looks tucked into his sleep sac. I groan every morning when he crows with the roosters – yet I am consoled that I no longer have to set an alarm clock.
I fill his bedroom’s picture frames with photographs of people who are guiding us both as he grows up. The collage of photos from his first year glues grandparents on top of aunts and uncles on top of godparents. I hang up prayers in Italian that his great aunts want him to recite before bedtime. Two framed posters show caricatures of cats and dogs dressed in various athletic clothes with names of their sport typed in Italian at their paws. Little did I know as a teenager that these exotic, Italian posters that hung in my bedroom then would hang in the room of my half-Italian son now.
His bookcases once held volumes on Roman history and Italian politics next to binders of newspaper articles published with my byline from my days as a journalist in Rome. Now, he can select Goodnight, Moon, Curious George or Pimpa from their shelves. A poem written by my husband’s colleague anticipates the excitement we felt as new parents before he was born. A photograph of us when he was just three days old shows me looking tired but relieved to have my new son asleep on my shoulder.
The chest of drawers on which we change his diaper was a gift from his grandparents from an antique shop in Brussels. I fill its drawers with generous hand-me-downs and adorable clothes that I have spent too much money on and know he’ll grow out of too quickly. The room’s rug comes from a trip to Iran where I sipped tea with my husband while a salesman flipped multicolor carpets like pancakes in front of us.
At the center of his room are two beds. The first is an all-white, wooden crib with a menagerie of stuffed animals perched around its edges as his gatekeepers. The second is an imperial-style, wooden bed squeezed into the room’s tiny alcove like a boat’s sleeping quarters. His father slept in this bed throughout his university years. It’s now the special place on which we read our son his bedtime stories.
On it, he pats his two-year-old hand no bigger than a sand dollar on the blue-striped bedspread, ordering us to sit down. He listens with the intensity of a telephone operator to stories of naughty George and adventurous Babar. Eventually, after rubbing his eyes, he clings to me like a koala bear, and faintly repeats each name of the long list of family and friends that I recite to him every night in a simple prayer. I sing him to sleep, digging up a cappella ditties from my college days.
Every night, I shut the door with a sigh of relief that another day has ended peacefully and brought on some sort of lesson learned for both of us.
Soon, we’ll have to transfer him from the little bed to the big bed. But, for now, imagining what lies ahead of us as parents, I’ll happily settle for dilemmas such as super-gluing the letter “L” on his bedroom door. He won’t be “Uca” for long.