I'm putting together the bed again. For Chris and Nick. They're coming home to visit for the holidays. It's one of a pair of simple pine beds they slept in all their childhoods. It's a devilish contraption.
We bought the beds when they were toddlers. They were their first beds after cribs. Lovely polished pine planks that were part of a bedroom playground, part of our fantasy for our sons' boyhoods. Chris started out in a room with a mural of a castle with a prince looking out the window at rabbits and squirrels gamboling among tulips. That's what we wanted for him, for both of them. The beds joined together with a platform that had a wooden ladder and a slide. Over the years, we left the castle mural and the ladder and slide behind as we moved here and there, but we kept the beds, carefully disassembling and reassembling them with each move.
What's the big deal about taking them apart and putting them back together, you might ask. Let me tell you. When the bed is made, the design is elegantly simple: long knotty pine side rails with curved edges and matching rails for the head and foot boards; it looks like it was designed in Sweden or Norway. But, when you take off the mattress, you expose the infernal inner workings. They are as beautiful as the exterior, until you take them apart and try to put them back together. Fifteen perfectly bowed, slightly springy struts to hold up the mattress, laced together with lovely red nylon straps. The struts fit into red end caps (thirty of them) that nestle in the side rails. It's that nestling that's the problem. You can't put the bed together and then insert the struts. They won't flex that much. You have to put them into their little red end caps on one side, where they arch to the floor like half a rib cage of a very symmetrical beast. Then you have to slip them into the other side rail as you hook it to the head and foot boards via wooden dowels and beautifully fitting recessed bolts.
Well, it can't be done. Not by me, at least. I never get more than a couple of struts hooked up to both sides without end caps beginning to rain down onto the floor like red tulip petals (maybe that was the true castle mural metaphor) and me throwing up my hands and, after a few failures, I confess, uttering language I still don't like the boys to hear from their sainted father.
Meg to the rescue. Every time. She's the one of us with the engineering genes. She has a nifty way of sliding the struts on one side partially into the end caps and then fitting them into unattached side rail and carefully lifting and attaching the rail as the struts slip entirely into the caps. It's magic. I never remember it. I never even remember that she can do it. She always just comes to my rescue, as if it were the first time. She's good at helping the males in her life without our realizing how much she is doing. The best kind of love.
We got the bed together last night. Just one. In their old bedroom (which is, in the way of childhood bedrooms, morphing into a guest room) we now have a double bed where one of the boys can sleep. We set up the old boyhood bed in Meg's office. I used the headboard from Chris's bed and the footboard from Nick's. I know which is which because they have plaques on them ("World's Greatest Chess Player," "Star of Stage," etc.) that one of Meg's cousins who is in the trophy business gave them many years ago. That was after castle and slides, in the days of school newspapers and robotics tournaments.
Maybe I should call cousin trophy czar and get updated plaques for the boys. "Start-up Programmer" and "Economics PhD Student." Just thinking about that, about how far they've come (and gone), makes me wonder how they feel about returning to sleep in their old bed. Do they fear some spirit of Christmas Past will possess them when they lie on the mattress on those carefully interlaced struts? Do they look forward to it the way they used to? How does it feel to come home?
I remember going home as a young adult. I think I was like many of us: I looked forward to it in the abstract, loved it for a short time and then pretty quickly got restless to get back to my life as myself, not my parents' child. Do they feel those things? Most likely. For my part, now on the other side of the bargain, when I lace those struts together with those sturdy red nylon straps, struts that are still as taught and polished and lovely as ever, I am lacing together our lives.