Meet my children, the pint-sized interior designers.
Ages five and nearly-three, the boys took on the role after my husband and I decided to throw in the towel and live in a house where toys, books, laundry (clean and dirty), chicken nuggets, shoes, stained carpets and reams of paper rule the roost. After all, why bother decorating when everything in the house -- suede furniture, rugs, toilets, curtains, blankets and walls -- will be left limp and brutalized by the time they enter middle school.
So we did what any sane parents would do. We gave in.
Mind you, this is a fairly recent decision. For years, I assumed our regular suburban split-level house would somehow be miraculously transformed into gorgeous living space worthy of a "Dwell" magazine cover. Each room would be fitted with expensive furniture made by several European designers whose names I can't pronounce, and scores of striking black-and-white photographs would litter the muted tone, Martha Stewart-sanctioned walls.
My dream house doesn't have to be perfect - not in a "Stepford Wives"way, but it would certainly be sophisticated and polished. As opposed to what's really happening at Chez Neal, where half-finished projects appear wherever the eye falls. The paint job in the master bedroom I started eight months ago? Nowhere near done. I seem to recall owning a few halfway decent framed posters and paintings. But they're languishing in a forgotten nook in the storage room instead of hanging on one of the many barren walls.
My kids' rooms are the most barren in the house; each has only one or two perfunctory pieces of furniture. They sleep there, but our family really lives in three rooms -- the kitchen, family room and basement.
It's there where we feel free to tuck our feet beneath us on the battered sofa, roll around on the frayed carpet or eat together at a perpetually cluttered kitchen table. If I were a peppy HGTV show hostess, I'd describe my house as "lived in," which is a polite euphemism for "disorganized, with small children."
And, surprisingly, that suits me fine. No, I don't live in tidy, proper home, but it is a happy, comfortable and "loved in" one. I have been in houses occupied by adults, children and pets that were immaculate. And while I envy those who have the control to sustain that, I just don't think I have it in me to care that much. Of all the things to worry about, living in a perfect house slipped out of the Top Ten long ago.
It helps not to have a blanket "Don't touch; don't enter" rule for the kids. I've thought about instituting one, usually after something has been broken. There's a reason everyone's great-grandmother kept her good sofa covered in plastic; She didn't want it ruined because it was too expensive to replace. But just because I don't own a vacuum-packed Ethan Allen recliner doesn't mean that my children can't learn the same blue collar lesson that's held me -- and others -- in good stead. Value yours -- and other peoples' -- property. Also, understand that breaking Mommy's nice things will make your life very, very difficult indeed.
What makes my kids' de facto interior decorating style so special is that they've made me see that pleasure can reside alongside imperfection. Stuff in a house only has meaning when memories are attached.
After all, what good is a sectional sofa if it can't be pulled apart to morph, Maximus Prime-style, into a pillow fort.