The House That Built Me
"So, what do you think?"
Paige looked up at her father as if he were insane.
"Well," he prompted with enthusiasm. "What do you think of your new bedroom?"
She stared silently into the empty room for a long time. Moving house wasn't something that five-year-old Paige was particularly pleased about. She'd been quite happy in their old apartment – she wasn't as concerned about size as her parents were. She had enough room in her bedroom for her toys (if you ignored the ones that she left sprawled around the rest of the house) and enough room to run around in the hall even though Mumma told her not to. So when Mumma and Daddy had announced that they were moving all the way to the other side of London to be near Daddy's new job, she'd not been happy. It meant that she had to leave behind the picture of a bunny that she had once drawn on the wall underneath her bed, but she wasn't allowed to be upset about leaving that behind because Mumma and Daddy didn't actually know she'd drawn it and she'd get into trouble if they knew she'd been drawing on the walls again even though all the old people in Daddy's books did it.
But this new room was empty. There was nothing there. No toys, no pictures, no stuffed animals, nothing at all. The walls were coloured in Boring, so it wasn't nearly as much fun as her lilac room in the old home. Just looking at the Boring coloured walls made her miss her old room.
Daddy was thrilled with the new room, though. He liked the big closet in the corner because it meant that he didn't need to bring her old wardrobe from the old house and put it all together again. There was a big window with a wooden bench underneath it, and he'd promised that they would sit there and look at all the stars when it was very dark outside. Daddy had told her about the new big girl bed she would be allowed to have, and all of the new things they were going to let her have for her new bedroom – she'd demanded fairy lights.
But Paige didn't even see any of this. She saw it was a Boring coloured room. She saw a matching Boring coloured carpet. She saw a window without any curtains.
"It's very empty," she finally said.
"Well, we're going to fill it with all your things," he reminded her.
"What things?" she asked.
"Your things that were in your old bedroom, plus all the new things we said that we would buy," he announced, walking them both further into the room and indicating to a chosen wall on their right. "How about we put your bed over here, facing the window? Then you can wake up and see all the birds outside, and you'll be able to see the moon when its bedtime."
Paige looked confused. "We didn't buy a new bed, Daddy."
"Yes, we did," he told her. "You spent an hour jumping on it in the shop last weekend, do you remember?"
At this, her head tilted to the other side, scrunching up her nose and letting her soft brown waves bounce around her. She looked an awful lot like Daddy, Mumma would tell her when she did this. "Where is it, then?"
"It's in the box in the hall?"
Paige skipped back into the hall, looking at the box with keen interest. "It doesn't look bed-shaped."
"That's because it's in little pieces and I'm going to put them all together," Daddy told her.
Page stared at him. "All by yourself?"
"Yes," he nodded proudly.
"Can you do that?" she asked in disbelief.
"I can make a bed, thank you very much," he told her.
But Paige was not convinced. "Daddy, I think you should ask Mumma for some help."
"We don't need to get Mumma to help."
"But Mumma's making me my special cake all by herself. I think she can make a bed too."
Daddy frowned at her. Yes, she decided, she did look like Daddy more. "Daddy doesn't need any help making a bed," he told her.
An hour later, Paige sat on the window seat in her new bedroom. It was slightly higher than her tiny legs, so she'd had to climb up onto it and now her feet were dangling and swinging from side to side as she giggled at Daddy.
"You think this is funny, I suppose?" he accused her.
Grinning behind Bella, her favourite doll, she nodded. "Yes, Daddy."
"It isn't funny," he protested.
"Yes, it is, Daddy."
"No, it's not."
"Yes, it is."
"No, it's not."
"Is times forever!" she shot at him suddenly.
He looked up at her, realising from the triumphant expression on his daughters face that he couldn't argue with 'is times forever'. Instead, he grumbled, looking back at the instructions. "It's not funny."
He looked up, seeing that his five-year-old was now stood at his shoulder, smiling at him just like her mother – perhaps the only physical feature she inherited from her. Other than that, she was his miniature, the same soft hair, the same crinkle in her brown when she frowned, the same gentle blue eyes. Now, though, she looked like her mother and was taking advantage of that by patting him on the back sympathetically with that look of 'its ok, you did your best'.
"I think we need to call Mumma now," she told him.
Mumma had taken one look at the unstructured bed on the floor and cringed. She made no attempt to hide her distain at the situation – she'd left them alone for thirty minutes and already there was sawdust and nut bolts all over the carpet. "What did you do?" she asked Daddy.
"Nothing!" he defended quickly. He exchanged a look with Paige, who just giggled at him. "I just took it out of the box."
"He played with it too," Paige told Mumma, despite Daddy pressing his finger against his lips in an attempt to get her to stay quiet.
"You 'played with it'?" Mumma asked, turning away from the woodwork mess on the carpet to face the two culprits.
"I was just trying to make the bed," he explained.
"With a hammer!" Paige added.
"Paige!" he hissed, as she burst into giggles.
"A hammer?" Mumma cried.
"And a saw!" she added.
Mumma turned to Daddy and sighed. "Paige's lunch is ready in the kitchen, can you show her where it is and then get back up here and learn some basic DIY skills before this house ends up collapsing on us?"
And Daddy would never argue with Mumma about things like that.
Building the bed had been quite easy in comparison to making up the remainder of the bedroom. The chest of drawers had been more complicated and he was sure that he'd never lifted anything as heavy as the mattress Paige had chosen because it was the bounciest. He was sure that children were meant to be discouraged from bouncing on the bed – he himself had broken his arm doing just that when he was Paige's age. They'd managed to agree between them that Paige's room was the priority, and they were happy to spend the night on an old mattress on the floor if they had to, but Paige would never sleep unless she was in a bed – so many sleepless nights were spent with a baby Paige trying to get her to sleep...driving around in the car, pacing up and down the hall...surprisingly, only her own bed did the trick.
After the furniture had been made, it was time to break out the paint. He was glad they had chosen lilac for this bedroom, it reminded him of the bedroom they'd first bought Paige home from the hospital too. Paige had wanted to join them for the painting, so with Mumma in charge of pulling her hair back and securing it tightly out of the way of the paint, she had been given her very own paint brush and designated a corner of the room. Her clothes wouldn't be getting stained by the paint as she was wearing one of Daddy's old t-shirts over her own clothes. It gathered on the ground beneath her, but it meant that Mumma wouldn't have to spend the following day getting pink paint out of out Paige's favourite socks, either.
"You okay, Nige?"
He looked up at his wife of seven years, as Paige went over and pressed all the buttons on the portable radio, searching for what she called 'proper songs'. She wasn't a fan of the classics that her parents listened to. He was a little stunned by the question, but gathered himself quickly. "Of course," he smiled back.
She gave him a sideways smile. "You're doing your quiet brooding thing," she informed him.
He looked back at Paige, who had decided on a radio station which wasn't filled with static and had gone back to painting the corner of the room by the window. The look of concentration on her face was undeniably adorable – the determination not to touch the other wall, even though it was going to be painted the same colour anyway, was something that bought to mind a more advanced image – concentrating on homework. In the fall, she'd start her new school, and it wouldn't be long until she came home with her homework. He was already looking forward to sitting and helping her with them, hoping that she wouldn't feel she had to hide any bad grades away from them – not that she'd be getting any bad grades, she was insanely intelligent for her age.
"I think we're doing a great job with her," he smiled at his wife.
She returned smile. "Our little girl's growing up real fast now, huh?"
"Yeah," he nodded. "I'm going to miss this."
"Painting her bedroom?"
"No, the innocence. I want to think that she'll have this view on the world forever, but life doesn't work that way," he mused.
"Nige, stop worrying about her getting boyfriends," she teased him. "She's five years old, not fifteen."
"No boy is good enough for my little girl," he said defensively. "She's going to be mine forever."
"You're as bad as my father," she laughed at him. "And you've never hurt me, have you?"
"I should hope not," he said surely.
"See, not all guys are bad," she assured him. "Some are good, some won't hurt her. Some will try to, but that's how she'll learn to tell the good ones from the bad. Besides, her boyfriends are going to have to get through me first," she added.
"I just don't want her to grow up too fast," he mumbled. "She's so tiny and perfect..."
A splash of lilac hit his cheek, and he turned to his wife to see her looking incredibly incriminating with a wet paintbrush in his hand. He went to touch his cheek but drew his hand back before the paint could end up on his fingertips. "What was that for?"
"You're being too serious," she told him. "Painting is supposed to be fun."
"So is building a bed, Syd," he teased her back, trailing a line of paint across her cheek before kissing her lightly.