When the phone call came-I could not have been more nervous. Although it seemed that I had been preparing my entire life for motherhood, the prospect of a stranger assessing my readiness via the home-study process was frightening. As much as people told me to relax and "just be yourself" , prior to that first social worker visit I was frantic. I was instructed to provide pictures of the inside and the outside of my home to accompany my dossier to Guatemala. As much as I loved my home, it just didn't look like a kid house. I was worried that the officials would take one look at the pictures and say "no baby for her!" or something like that. So I went to work.
I bought some toys (after all, I'd need them anyway), a beanbag chair, a toy box, a few Disney videos, and countless stuffed animals, and carefully arranged all my props in the living room. I sunk so low that I put a crucifix up on a wall where there had not been one previously. I put a Little Tykes desk and toy box in one corner- to show she would have a spot to color, draw, and be creative. The nursery already had a crib with bumper pads, a comforter, matching sheets, a mobile, and a matching changing tables, so I threw some extra stuffed toys in the crib. It was summer, so I also renovated the outside of the house, adding some little plastic lawn bunnies in the yard, and mowing the grass so the weeds were not so obvious. I considered, but stopped short of actually putting up a swing set.
As I snapped my pictures, I was confident I had created a house that looked like any kid would want to live in it. Looking back at those pictures, and then looking around at our home more than 5 years later, I just have to smile. Now, let me set the scene I would have created, had I only known.
When I first walked through the door with my new daughter in my arms it was 4 am and she was sound asleep. I carried her to her wonderfully decorated nursery and carefully laid her down in her color-coordinated crib. Yes, my perfect picture was complete-for about an hour. Then reality set it, starting with the crib and its matching comforter, sheets and bumper pad. Little did I know I had a baby that would never sleep in pj's, let alone with blankets, because she was always too warm. Out went the comforter. Too much apple juice? Out went the coordinated, expensive sheets. Did I mention she was already 8 months old by the time she arrived? Out went the bumper pads and mobile. My wild child was only on the changing table once, as I discovered the stability of the floor for diaper changes. Stuffed toys? Still worried about suffocation, even at 8 months, out they went! My real nursery was stripped down to a crib with a second hand sheet, a lamp, and a diaper genie.
For the rest of the house it was a slower transformation. But, over the last 5 1/2 years, it has undergone a metamorphosis that would rival any caterpillar. This is the real picture I would capture on film.
In the middle of the living room is a Barbie tent- stuffed full with things thrown in there to hide them. Several large Rubbermaid containers are parked in strategic places throughout the room-full of unsorted clutter. The coffee table is covered with my computer paper, each sheet with only about three letters or numbers on it, plus several family pictures. Several crayons have been taken and chewed up by our dog Snowflake, who joined our family three years ago, There are about 50 videos by the TV, most not in their cases. The TV appears to have lip-gloss on the screen so the picture is a little blurry. The name Dasha can be found written on both the arm of the couch, in ballpoint pen, and on the front door. Every known species of Beanie Baby is hanging in a Lillian Vernon holder on the closet door along with a several naked Barbies, 2 matching Olsen Twin dolls-also naked I'm afraid, and a few million Happy Meal toys. By the front door are several pairs of sandals, clogs, and Jelly shoes. The toy box is empty, and the little tykes desk has transformed into a vanity-covered with hair clips, pony ties, and lip-gloss. The only part of my original living room picture that remains is the crucifix.
The nursery is now a playroom, an addition on the house creating a new bedroom for me, with my daughter in my old bedroom. Martha Stewart could have decorated my former room, but it now houses a collection of treasures and a decor only a five- year old can appreciate. Currently, wild things are in fashion, and leopards have recently replaced ballerinas on the bed-sheets, pillowcases, and comforter. A Teletubbie poster shares a wall with the N-Sync boys and Brittany Spears.
Outside, the plastic lawn bunnies are long gone, killed by the dog. Two moldy old vinyl swimming pools are hidden behind the house in a pile, along with an almost-never- used "Bubble Mower", and a cheap plastic sled. My rake is leaning against the house, with a miniature purple rake leaning right next to it. A swing set is in the yard now, with long tufts of grass growing around each leg due to lack of time to trim, and bare spots under each swing, worn down by little feet. A rock and pinecone collection is on the front steps, just waiting to trip unsuspecting visitors. On the porch is a plastic terrarium awaiting the next toad or snake that is discovered, and a Winnie the Pooh WELCOME mat greets our guests.
Yes, the presence of a child in a house changes it forever, in a way that can never be predicted or duplicated-it just happens, gradually, in the most wonderful of ways. I know I could never have imagined a more perfect picture.
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