On painting day I open the bedroom window as wide as it can go, letting in a mild harvest breeze. Autumn again, autumn already: the aspens on the mountainsides are beginning to turn; the early morning carries a chill. I shiver as I remember the crisis that was building in our household this time last year. We’d just gotten the blunt results of Thomas’s cognitive evaluation. Christine’s depression was in a tailspin, making school attendance impossible. And my own mental health was quickly deteriorating.
Shaking off the memory, I pry off the paint can lid with a flathead screwdriver. The bright shade of lilac takes me aback for a moment. Maybe too bright for bedroom walls? It’ll dry darker, I remind myself. And besides, this is what Christine picked out. I promised her she could choose.
After flipping on the ceiling fan to chase away fumes, I pour some paint into the tray and slide a fresh roller into place, eager to get started before my happily playing kids start pounding each other. But as I raise the saturated roller to the first wall, I hesitate again. Although this has been Thomas’s room for more than a year, the lime green walls look too fresh to paint over. (Unlike his brothers at age four, Thomas doesn’t dry his soapy hands on the walls or mark them with contraband Sharpies.)
But this isn’t Thomas’s bedroom anymore. The other day we lugged his crib down the hall to his brothers’ room, making space for ten-year-old Christine to invade with her piles of books and clothes and plush cats. Which in turn made it possible for the teenage boys downstairs to have separate testosterone-laden lairs. Although not ideal, the bedroom switch serves the greater good.
Still, I sigh as I roll a swath of bright lilac across the green. I spent many carefully saved hours and dollars to decorate Thomas’s room. It was the only spot in the house that even vaguely resembeled a Pottery Barn catalog. Last summer, when the rest of the main level was in chaos from laying hardwood floors, I would visit this room for periodic breathers, savoring the vibrant colors and the palpable newness of everything in sight. The area rug–a perfect red circle–punctuated the room like an exclamation point.
But Shmi Skywalker was right: you can’t stop change, any more than you can stop the sun from setting. (Suns if you’re on Tatooine.) The bedroom switch is not that big of a deal, although I hate how Thomas’s circle rug clashes with the muted earth tones of his new digs. But weightier changes are on the horizon. The fall equinox has passed; the summer light will quickly wane. After only a brief taste of mental and emotional stability, Christine and I must walk a thin line through the winter months once more. And with uncanny timing, the challenge of Thomas’s disability, which we’ve slowly absorbed over the past few years, is erupting again: born with Down syndrome, he was diagnosed Monday with PDD-NOS, an autism spectrum disorder.
The problem with past pain: it makes future pain seem inevitable.
I cover the lime green with broad strokes of the roller, trying to avoid the deeply rutted path of fear. Be reasonable, I order myself. Despite the gathering clouds, we are not doomed to revisit last winter’s crippling storm. Christine and I have better therapists and more effective medication on board. Thomas has a new, highly skilled support system in place to manage the complications of his multiple disabilities. And even if change overpowers these safeguards, change itself will eventually rescue us, ironically enough. Every setting sun must rise again.
That’s what I tell myself, over and over, as the lilac paint dries to a gentle shade of June.
Okay, your turn. When has change thrown you for a loop? What have you learned from enduring difficult change? How can we be both hopeful and realistic as we face daunting challenges?