What I Learned from Painting my Fifteen-Year-Old Son’s Nursery

How do you freeze time without stifling growth? Isn't that every parent's question? How do you cling to every unique piece of their childhood yet avoid stunting the very thing you have invested your whole heart into nurturing? For me, it was just a room….and also, it was a fork in the road, and I knew what was at stake with my choice.

I had some ideas, but they finally came together one afternoon while hanging out with my insanely talented photographer friend, Neely. We shared hopes and fears about how we felt our life, family, and businesses shifting.

Her eyes lit up as she shared her dreams: "I want to capture moments. I want to be a fly on the wall for the mundane moment when big things shift. You don't even always know it's a big moment until you miss the shot. I want to catch the shot. It's not the picture you would plan to frame...Until you see the clarity of the picture and you are blown away: it's the moment that captures the essence of your family."

I called her the next day with little resigned tears puddling in my eyes. "I am facing one of those moments, and I don't think it's a coincidence we talked yesterday." I shared with her my feelings about painting over the room: Asher's nursery. You read that right….He is fifteen. It's been an amazing run. It's normal for him to want his room to look different after all these years.

It's not an unhealthy attachment to baby Asher that holds me hostage….His room represents bottomless emotions to me. It's the room where I pushed my skills past their known limits. It's where I can show you belly smudges from my eight-month large first pregnancy. I planned like never before. I studied nature. I bought rainforest books to understand better how layers of nature danced together. Each day I painted, I was more and more shocked by what I could convince my brushes to do.

A whole life lived in this room. Wooden toys. Bouncy balls. Legos, dinosaurs, stuffed animals, board games, and books galore. Music parties, paper airplanes, Rubik's cubes, and imagination. A room in a house I never dreamed we would live in long enough to change.

A powder keg of emotions was finally ignited by a growing man-child who said, "let's paint it grey."

It was a gentle, brave request. He knows how proud I am of his room. However, it is his space, and more than anything else; I want him to feel like home fits like a custom glove. If he thought it was time to change his room, that would be my gift to him. Despite my resolve, I couldn't imagine putting a roller in paint and simply covering a room this impactful in my life. I couldn't handle it. That's where I was stuck. I needed to capture it. I needed to make it fun. I needed to document its value and also validate how change is beautiful and something to celebrate. If only to convince myself.

I love how the Lord sent Neely. A magician with a thousand lenses who was eager and excited to collaborate: It was a chance to show the world and ourselves how powerful and healing it can be to capture the moment. The moment when big things shift…to be a fly on the wall in Asher's room when the mundane holds the power of a thousand emotions. To document the artistic shift from a new mother's love poured out in paint dreams for an unseen baby to a collaborative expression of my teenage son's right now-- when we layer our past success with new adventures—not washing over what was, but building a new layer.

I wonder if the biggest tragedy of parenting is clinging so tightly to the past that we don't allow room for who they were created to become--when our need for control keeps them cramped in spaces they have silently outgrown. We cheat ourselves the chance to watch the chrysalis we have so carefully protected unfurl into the magnificent creature we raised them to be.

So I chose to open my hands and dream up new designs with my growing man-child. His ideas matter more than my idea of perfection. I happily pick up my paintbrush if it means having a son who wants me to help him figure out who he is becoming. I will receive this artistic rendering of himself as a gift, with the same enthusiasm that eagerly grabbed magnets to hang toddler drawings. I will hear his ideas and let him take the lead. I will be his helper and encourager, and guide. We will celebrate a milestone and make change fun. We will make messes, be silly and laugh. I will cling to building a solid relationship with my son more than I will cling to control. There have been tears. What love story doesn't? But it's up to me if my sweetest family memories freeze in time or grow to accommodate more.

Sometimes you don't even know when it's a big moment until it's gone…and sometimes, in my case, you see it coming a mile away. Thankfully a raw vulnerability collided with a friend who had the missing piece to the puzzle. Don't doubt for one second that those tender spots move a loving Father. He gave us a way to encourage and lift each other at just the right time. Artistic growth outside our comfort zones guides us to transform the painfully mundane into milestones. Cry some tears. Celebrate the successes. Document the little moments that could just as easily pass in lonely regret. Embrace change by making it a whole new layer of memories.

Suddenly I saw the fruit of the prayers I had prayed over my baby as I painted his nursery. How could I stand at a crossroads where there is an option to shift towards the future and cling to what he has shared no longer fits? I want to empower him to keep growing. Keep changing. Keep including me in his future. I'll pick up my paintbrush and be amazed at how it can dance to his tune.

Do you know the best part? When I finally said, "whatever you want." That's when he started asking for my ideas.

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  • Debbie on

    That’s a beautiful reminder to enjoy every moment, not just the ones we think are special. Love it!

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