Pepin's baby shower happened without us. It was a few days after her surprise birth. Her weight had dropped below five pounds and kept dropping. That morning, a nurse threaded a feeding tube through her nose into her stomach, stripped her to her diaper, and put her under spectral blue lights for jaundice. We were in no mood to party.
The presents started piling up at home. With Pepin stuck in the Special Care Nursery, I put them in her room — the guest room, converted for the guest who wouldn't be leaving for at least 18 years. There was almost nothing else in there. We had a changing table and a pile of cloth diapers that weren't going to fit. Nothing on the walls. Nothing in the closet but some monsters waiting for their moment.
The room was still a mess when Pepin sneezed out her feeding tube and kept gaining weight anyway. A few days later, though she was only five pounds and an ounce, she passed the Car Seat Challenge with the boost of a rolled-up diaper tucked in her crotch. I went home in a panic to clear out just enough space for a baby the size of a toaster.
It wound up taking 10 weeks. The room looked liked a refuge from war, Bonnie and Clyde's hideout if they'd robbed cradles instead of banks, like it was decorated by the Diaper Genie. The carpet was gray, the walls were gray. Boxes were simply pushed aside, their contents periodically raided. The room came together, like life on Earth, from chaos.
I'd come across the kind of parenting blogs that look more like catalogs for Restoration Hardware. There were nurseries, decorated months before birth, with globes and maps and model airplanes as though the baby would soon be deployed in international business. Baseball bats and activity tables and beds like Cinderella's fairy-tale coach, as though the baby were matriculating from the womb to second grade. Pepin hardly seems to notice when she fills her pants, much less decor.
But maybe this isn't about her. Last weekend, we got a new pink rug, hung paper poms from the ceiling, and finally opened the box that arrived long ago from InAnInstantArt, an Etsy shop, with a wall's worth of decals — birch trees with birds. We had read the directions many times in the middle of the night and set them aside; it seemed like a job for a set designer or at least someone with eight hours rest. Or, in our case, a friend from Portland, who came to visit and in three days turned the gray emptiness into a forest appropriate for a baby we sometimes call, in her most feral moments, a wolverine.
We might have skipped it altogether, except this dull chaos wasn't the life we'd envisioned for Pepin — or us. To turn her room into something more aspirational, more creative and child-like, and less like the shipping area of a stay-at-home eBay seller is to acknowledge that she's going to be here awhile. To see a future for her, even if she can scarcely see anything at all.
(Photos: Pepin learning the joys of pooping in the great outdoors and on her father's lap, as the Diaper Genie hungrily watches in the distance.)