When I finally got my head around my unexpected pregnancy with my son, I began to ruminate on what kind of nursery he would have. I realize how very ‘first world’ this issue is, but nevertheless it was going to be a big deal for me/us, as it would set the tone for what kinds of gifts we would receive. If I chose something traditionally cute in theme or color palette, I would get the kind of gifts, specifically clothing, that had contributed to my several-year reluctance to have children in the first place. Garishly colored onesies and pajama sets emblazoned with asinine declarations like “Little All-Star!” for boys and “DIVA!” for girls, or “Daddy’s Happy I’m A Boy”, with its sinister implication that Daddy, the knuckle-dragging dictator, would have been considerably disappointed if the helpless babe popped out with girl parts instead of an all-important penis. I had to send a message: we’re not a traditional family, and we’re not into what Target thinks is cute.
Intending to do all of the nursery artwork myself, I considered my strengths. I’m quite handy with an abstracted zoo animal, but I worried that would warrant jungle and safari themes, which are not the most egregious, but some well-meaning people don’t know when or where to stop and I didn’t want the poor boy receiving jungle gifts for his college graduation. I needed something that was not already in the zeitgeist so it would be hard to find and therefore hard to mess up or overdo. Granted, this would mean it would also be hard for people to get right, but I didn’t want ‘all x all the time’ anyway; I was perfectly content in being the sole provider of the chosen theme. Then it came to me, and it came from Anthropologie. My friend received a gift card for her birthday, and the card came housed in a coin-purse sized monster. It was odd, creative, and actually quite cute, and I had my theme.
Cut to my grandmother, who is a better seamstress than all the other grandmothers you know. She wanted to help with the nursery so I tasked her with bedding and picked out a funky spotted print. She then made me pick out a different fabric to go on the inside of the crib because she feared my child would go cross-eyed having to look at the funky spots so much. She was completely serious. I obliged and told her the theme was monsters. “Monsters?” Yes, and I showed her the anthromonster. “But not scary monsters, right?” (She would be the first of many who, upon hearing my idea, needed to make sure I had two brain cells to rub together so as not put giant, fanged terrors over my infant’s bed. (Deep breath.)) I said, “no, only cute monsters,” and left her to her assignment. I had no idea what she would do with the theme, but knew the quality would be impeccable. I worried that she wouldn’t be able to connect with the oddball part of it, that I would get Barney instead of the Where The Wild Things Are/Pixar/pseudo Asian hybrid i had in mind. She was, after all, a granny. An 80 year old retired elementary school teacher and seamstress, Reader’s Digest target consumer, and lover of the Bonnie Hunt show and America’s Funniest Videos. I was worried.
Needlessly, it seems. I forgot that my grandmother was not just a generic sweet-little-old-lady, but also the creator of my mother, who created me. Oddball creativity doesn’t just show up in someone, it germinates out of generations where it may lie latent, hidden under the doldrums of schoolteaching and greatest generationing type war-winning and baby-booming. My grandma had funk. It just needed to be asked for. She created a handful of monsters, some she discarded for not achieving her standards of cute or quirky. She even questioned whether one was funky enough, which I immediately texted my siblings about, because I don’t think I’d ever actually used the word ‘funky’ in explaining my vision to her. It’s funny when you hear your Bible-reading grandmother say, in total seriousness, ‘I’m just worried that it’s not funky enough.’ My grandma has intensely high standards for anything she crafts, so she really was concerned. I assured her, through my glee, that the particular monster was perfect. And it was. All of them were. I love my grandma and I’m proud of her being able to dial up the quirk for my son and I. I learned to trust her artistry, and as it turned out, everyone else grasped my monster theme and we received many handmade gifts adorned with marvelous monsters. Had I chosen Elmo or Pooh, I doubt those people would’ve been as inspired to create instead of just purchase. I suppose the monster moral of the story is to not just get out of the box, but to invite others to join you.