Too many times — too numerous to count — I have yelled out to Mackenzie: "GO CLEAN YOUR ROOM."
I have appealed to her philanthropic side and tried to get her to think about those less fortunate: "Get your clothes together for the Vietnam Vets. They’re in our neighborhood.”
And yes, I've even threatened her: "You’re not leaving this house until your room is clean.”
Sometimes she does surprise me. Without saying a word, she will spend a few hours every now and then working on her room. When she is finished, her sanctuary begins to look livable again. Somehow it is not quite enough — the little girl's room that shows signs of wear and tear still needs a more complete transformation equal to her own.
And so it begins.
On a recent summer day, I started cleaning out Mackenzie's room to get it ready for the much-needed overhaul. Anything I could carry got moved into the living room, dining room and any nook and cranny I could find in time to start the project while she is away.
As I prepare my 16-year-old’s bedroom for its long overdue makeover, I feel her presence as I dust off shelves and tackle dust bunnies.I start moving out her signs of years past, as well as her more recent artwork, books and other things to make it easier for replacing trim and prepping for later painting. I hope she is pleasantly surprised to see how far I've gotten when she returns home.
I wonder what she is doing in Venice on this beautiful afternoon here in New Jersey. I miss her smiling face, but I know she is having an experience of a lifetime and is in good hands with Daniella and her family. That makes me happy.
I remember the day Mackenzie chose to move her bedroom downstairs. I think she was about 7 or 8 at the time. At first, I wondered why she would give up a room that was twice the size and hand it over to her older brother. Then I recall that she was afraid to be upstairs by herself.
That was a long time ago, and I’m not quite sure she would feel the same way today. I am certain, though, that I am glad to wake up each day with my girl in the next room.
The small cubby of a room seems a whole lot smaller since Mackenzie continues to collect new memories, discover her talents and explore new hobbies. She makes the best of the little space and never complains. It’s still her own space where she can share secrets, laugh with her friends, or find quite solitude.
I pick up each of her treasures lovingly as I box Mackenzie’s doodads and tchotchkes for safe keeping until the work begins. One lone Build-A-Bear and a stuffed dog sit on a top shelf. I wonder if they were left there intentionally when she packed the others away a few years ago.
I collect a little pink elephant and a ceramic one she made in art class, along with a tattered paper taped to her dresser that explains the symbolic meaning of such a majestic animal — strength, happiness, good luck, loyalty. I immediately think of her.
With one hand, I safely move an antique lamp with a mismatched lampshade she asked to keep when we were cleaning out my parents’ house. In my other hand are two small, carved bears playing chess — a Christmas gift given to my dad one year. There are also reminders of recent months gone by — photos from New York City with her friend, Emily, and the rest of her gang, teenage jewelry and makeup. A few used concert tickets and NYC subway Metrocards are strewn across her dresser. They all have to go for now.
I pick up a pair of my earrings that have made its way to her room, but its O.K. At the same time, I check out another pair that I think I'll borrow one of these days. I like that we share some of our prized possessions.
I carefully remove the photos that adorn the walls. There are more shots of friends and family, her favorite places, and the black and white “artsy” ones she took this past school year. There are souvenirs from a recent school trip that go into a clear box. I must admit, they look a little out of place in their current location. In a few weeks, the Peruvian crafts will fit in nicely when she completes her room makeover.
I package up the box of SAT vocabulary flash cards and “to do” lists that show Mackenzie’s more serious side. There are tubes of paints and blank canvas that get moved to the dining room table, two old cameras, and a small soft cover called “An Artist’s Guide to Choosing an Art School.” Just where has the time gone, I ask.
I think about her cotton candy pink room and how it will soon be transformed into a new sanctuary. Before the school year starts, Mackenzie's room will come to life with a fresh coat of paint she’ll choose when she returns home. I’m looking forward to tackling that project together.
I think about discarding some of Mackenzie’s treasures — with a “she’ll never know” attitude since I know it will be easier to put the room back together again with less clutter. I stop because I simply can’t do it. The treasures are hers and hers alone. I’ll wait for her to make those choices and hope she can part with some of them.
I close the door with a final glance. My eye catches the Native American “dream catcher” she has tied to her bedpost. I hope that stays just where it is as her reminder to follow her own path. I’m happy Mackenzie is already doing so, and wonder where her new dreams will take her.
I’m looking forward to having those conversations — in her new room, of course.