Yesterday we put together a double bed from IKEA in the room we now call the boys’ room, the same room where we put together a crib from IKEA decades ago, but in fact that was another husband and another time.
My second husband, Michael, and I have three sons between us. Michael is a Southerner, and he and his late wife, Nancy, had two boys. My late husband, Willem, who was Dutch, and I had one. Willem and I actually put together the crib. The boys are now “fine young men,” as my grandmother would say, who have all gone west to live, in Illinois, Arizona, and California.
We are trying to make the room more “grown-up” for when the boys visit, and we say we are saving so many of their toys, books, and clothes for our grandchildren, but that is not entirely true. It is difficult for us to “put away childish things,” not because the boys have asked us to save them, but because these things bear witness to a time nobody else except Nancy and Willem remembered.
The double bed looks good and will be just fine for the boys and their girlfriends. The boys have not complained, and I hope the girls (of course I should be saying “women” by now) won’t mind all the evidence of childhood.
There is a papier-mache volcano from preschool on the shelf made when Willem was still able to walk. And there are those small school uniforms with neckties that the older boys wore in Johannesburg where Michael was a foreign correspondent and Nancy taught art history. Of course we have to keep the buttons that say “Mandela, The People’s Choice.”
There is a pair of wooden shoes and a tin of dried-up licorice on the desk from our first visit to Willem’s family in Holland, after we’d traveled to Lithuania to adopt our son. And there’s that tiny clay replica of the church in Vilnius the cabdriver gave us after that frightening week the baby had pneumonia and Willem finally found antibiotics that saved his life.
As we put together the double bed, I told Michael how my son used to make meticulous traffic jams with his toy cars from his room to what he called “the mommy-daddy room,” and Michael told me how his older son used to say “last day” instead of yesterday and how his second son stood up in his crib and said his first word, which was his brother’s name.
There are trophies on the shelves from every sport under the sun, along with the mortarboard my son wore for graduation from preschool when I wore sunglasses to cover my tears. There are the heavy fantasy books Nancy read to the boys before Michael came home from long hours at the newspaper, and tapes Willem made, reading Curious George first in Dutch and then in English, for when he wouldn’t be there. There are the cardboard blocks Willem put together stacked in the corner and all those carved wooden animals from Africa.
Someday the boys might bring home wives and perhaps children who will play with the toy milk truck from Holland that Willem once raced along the floors of the parsonage where he grew up. Maybe there will be little boys or girls who will wear those school uniforms from South Africa as Halloween costumes.
Last night, before one of our boys arrived with his girlfriend, Michael and I lay on the new bed, staring up at the glow-in-the-dark stars Willem had put up over the crib so many years before. We’re definitely going to leave the stars up for when we put a crib in that room again.
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