OK I made that up: it’s basically a way of dressing up the fact that I couldn’t decide what colour to paint Freddie’s room, so I let him choose.
But, making meaningful choices is a life skill, so I reckon it counts towards ‘independence’ of a sort; or at least towards instilling the notion that he is a ‘big boy’ who can do some things for himself.
We moved into this house just over seven years ago, in the immediate aftermath of Freddie’s birth – one of the effects of having an unexpected third child was that living in our old house became untenable.
The house we live in now offered the best compromise between what we needed and what we could afford. Pretty much all we’ve done so far is put up a few safety gates to keep Freddie either in, or out, of various areas; but we’ve got to the stage where Freddie can open them, so we need to rethink.
Freddie’s bedroom is what most people would describe as the ‘box room’, and the previous occupants of the house did indeed use the room for storing boxes (I’ve no idea what was in all those boxes. I’ll make up a story about that one day).
For all conventional things, however (I’m sure they were all conventional really) they had handily installed built-in cupboards along the full length of one wall, with mirrored doors (to bounce the light around nicely in this tiny room, of course. Why else?); there was, though, a slight hint of sadism in the way a man whose wife was only 4’11” had installed the clothes rails so high up that even my husband, who is 5’10,” can barely reach.
The walls, as befits such a restricted space, were painted in a ‘nice’ shade of pale peach silk. Nice for an old couple, offensively bland for a little boy.
To minimise disruption to Freddie, we decided it would be best to get everything we needed assembled in the garage beforehand, ready to go, so that we could get the room done inside a weekend. It was a bit like making an extended episode of Sixty Minute Makeover, but with just two of us doing the work.
There was a lot of available space in either side of his built-in cupboards, but it was designed for hanging adult clothes, not the assorted plastic rubble of childhood.
A good system of boxes, I reckoned, was what I needed to keep everything contained and organised, but accessible, inside what is essentially a giant wardrobe. But it had to be affordable (meaning dirt cheap) and preferably not involve a trip to Ikea.
Luckily ‘dirt cheap’ is pretty much exactly what I got. The local council had just given every household a set of spanky new tubs into which to sort our recycling, according to new, obtusely arbitrary classifications.
So I took the old sorting boxes, which we had purchased ourselves, and scrubbed them to within an inch of their reasonable use tolerances, first with bleach, then with steam.
The apertures in the front into which you posted recyclable items would be ideal for little hands to reach in and pull toys out.
Fortune smiled on our enterprise in more ways than one -- I found, quite by accident a set of brightly-coloured, sturdy, but inexpensive set of drawers, in Aldi when I went in for a pint of milk (you never come out with just a pint of milk, do you?).
They just fitted neatly in the space alongside.
Next, a lonely, rejected peanut-shaped stool fell off the back of a lorry on its way to landfill. There was nothing wrong with the stool, it just didn’t fit in with the swanky new decor in its previous surroundings.
I lavished some attention on the poor, neglected thing, shaving the surface of the fabric with a disposable razor to remove some slight pilling, then I vacuumed it, and washed it over with carpet shampoo.
It is now Freddie’s faithful bedside companion; it holds his lamp, his night-time drink (due to hypotonia his mouth hangs open when he’s asleep, and his tongue gets very dry), and should he flop out of bed it stands ready to cushion his fall, its thick upholstery minimising the risk of injury.
Being brightly striped, it also looks very jolly.
I admit I did restrict his choice a bit; I went straight to the aisle with the extra-durable, own-brand paints. He indicated a poisonous shade of blue called ‘Cyan’.
I offered him a few alternatives to consider, picking them off the shelves and holding them out for him to inspect, to make sure that it was a ‘meaningful choice’, but we kept coming back to the blue.
The weekend came and we emptied his room, laying his mattress and bedding out on the floor in ours, so that we could carry on working in the evening. We had envisaged letting him ‘help’ by having a go with the roller, but he had other ideas, and decamped to his grandparents’ house, after Nana came round with an offer of fish and chips (she certainly knows how to lure him away, which is why I refer to her house as ‘the gingerbread cottage’).
While Daddy moved the clothes rail in the other side of the wardrobe down to a level where Freddie (and I) could see and reach the clothes, so that he can help himself to the things he wants to wear (thus aiding independent dressing), I spent most of the morning cursing the blue paint as I tried to get it to adhere to the silk finish underneath.
But as I did the second coat that evening I noticed that it was the same kind of blue as the outer rim of his ‘time-teacher’ clock, and his aeroplane light fitting.
Once the final coat of paint was touch dry, daddy mounted some wooden cubes on the walls, to display some of Freddie’s favourite things neatly in a place where he could reach them.
We call them Knobbe boxes (not in Freddie’s hearing) because, yes, they came from Ikea, and Ikea items always have amusingly improbable names like Knobbe and Flapjacke.
Let’s face it, the one good thing about visiting that store (unless you happen to like the meatballs) is that you can have a laugh at the product names. But on this occasion we didn’t have to brave the store or the meatballs, as the boxes had been hanging around in the garage ever since a previous expedition.
By Sunday evening we were ready to move everything back in.
And that was the fun bit, because now we could add the one or two little extravagances that we had allowed – a colourful angle-poise lamp with a switch in the base that Freddie can easily reach over and turn on and off himself; some sensory lighting in the form of a white ‘tree’ with colour-changing LED bulbs; and a big map of the world wall-sticker with a write-on, wipe-off surface. We can mark on it the places where friends and relatives live, or originally came from, and the places we’ve visited on holiday.
I think he likes it. The down side is that he can now put on his Christmas jumper whenever he wants to!
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