When Priorities Don’t Mesh

For about thirty minutes, no sound came from behind the closed door of our seven-year-old granddaughter’s bedroom.

Standing Guard
Standing Guard

My grandmother instinct began sending warning signals.

Her papa and I had agreed to stay out after eliciting promises that it wouldn’t be forever and that she wouldn’t paint the walls.

But I couldn’t imagine what activity was taking so long. Since our house is on the market, I was sending Mary Ellen mental messages that whatever mess she was creating had better not be too difficult to clean up. She sometimes sets up a zoo with her stuffed animals or a shop with items from the toy box. She frequently makes up games or writes a play to perform. None of that should have taken so long.

Just as I started down the hall, she appeared looking a bit uncertain. “You can come in now.”

It’s always a good idea to prepare my husband for unpleasant surprises, so, on the chance that one waited for us in the bedroom, I told him to stay in the office and I would let him know when it was safe to enter.

I peeked around the door jamb and couldn’t speak. Mary Ellen looked at me expectantly, obviously hoping that I liked what I saw.

I sank to the carpet and tried to make sense of it.

The mattress from her white double bed stood on end next to the closet. The Ariel comforter and sheets still covered it, and the bed ruffle hadn’t moved. Our fifty-pound second grader had dragged a three-row rack holding pink, yellow, and green plastic tubs full of toys around the foot of the bed and across the room. She had pushed the five-drawer chest—to make room for the toy boxes—the other direction around the bed so it blocked the windows. She apparently had removed the lamp, My Little Pony castle, and stuffed animals from the dresser before she moved it and then replaced the lamp and animals. The castle, which is prime real estate, lay in pieces on the floor. I stared at it.

“I can put it back together easy.” She sat and started to work. “See?”

I turned my attention to another part of the room. She jumped up paced in a circle.

Three shelves of My Little Ponies still stood guard above the bed. I had the fleeting sense that they were dismayed. At least she hadn’t taken them down. The nightstand stood in a corner. The bed was no longer quite centered, and Beanie Babies peeked out from under it.

“Did you try to move the bed?”

“Yes.” She looked disappointed. “I needed help.”

I looked again at the mattress and chest of drawers, silently thanking the universe that she hadn’t hurt herself.

Marshmallow, the big white cat, entered and inspected the sight. His tail twitched, and his ears perked up. He meowed, using his most strident voice, and left.

Fortunately the carpet is soft. I knew I’d be there a while. “Why?”

Mary Ellen fidgeted. “The animals on the dresser scare me at night.”

“We can move them.”

She twirled. “No, I like them there.”

By that time, I knew there were more layers to peel back before the truth appeared.

“How about turning over?”

“No, I’m more comfortable facing them.”


She looked away from me. “The Kleenex box scares me.”

That was such a stretch, that I figured the truth couldn’t be far behind.

“This was a lot of work. Why did you do it, really?”

She shook her long copper hair, threw up her hands, and answered in a voice that left no doubt this was a serious matter and that she expected concurrence. “Everybody in my class has a TV in their room except me! I’m making space for it.”

Big sigh from me.

“I’ll help you put everything back. You may watch TV in the other room but not at bedtime. The rule hasn’t changed.”

Her eyes pleaded with me for just a moment before answering in a voice that dripped with resignation. “I’ll do it myself.” Then sheer determination. “I want to get strong.”

We helped–then enrolled her in basketball.