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Homes: Front Porch

A special room of her own

By ELIZABETH BETTENDORF
© St. Petersburg Times
published February 21, 2003

TEMPLE TERRACE -- Cori Lynn McCumber spends most of her free time in her new bedroom.

At 10, she's the proud owner of a jingly new charm bracelet, a guinea pig named Angel and her own computer, which she uses to write short stories for her fourth-grade English class at River Hills Elementary School.

"I like to make things up about my life," Cori Lynn explains.

Cori Lynn's bedroom is extremely cool. The walls are painted with big leafy trees and bright, happy parrots and toucans. Faux jungle vines twirl across the headboard, desk, chair and dresser. The colors run from brown to minty green with musical splashes of pink, purple and yellow.

The guinea pig lives in a cage next to the bed. Stuffed monkeys hang by long furry tails from a fake tree branch.

Cori Lynn won the bedroom in a drawing at Shriner's Hospital on Nov. 6. She has been an outpatient at the hospital since doctors discovered a shadow on a hip X-ray about six years ago. She has since outgrown a disorder that caused her pain and made her limp, says her mother, Diana McCumber, who owns a hair salon in Temple Terrace.

The day of the drawing was Cori Lynn's birthday. What a day.

"I was so excited," she says.

For the new bedroom, two artists from Wacky World Studios in Oldsmar -- which donated their decorating services -- spent three days making the interior look like a Tarzan movie set.

Cori Lynn remembers it well.

"I kept running in and looking at what they were doing," she says.

The bedroom was finished two months ago. Since then, Diana McCumber has noticed her daughter spending more and more time in it.

She knows that Cori Lynn is at an age where she's "crossing a bridge." In fact, they were given a choice of bedroom themes. Both mother and daughter opted for a jungle over a more girly princess look.

"She can grow into this," Diana McCumber says. "She'll still like it when she's a teenager."

Cori Lynn's "Dollie," a bedraggled stuffed toy that her Grandma Nonnie gave her when she was a baby, still sits in the place of honor on the silver bedspread.

But Highlights for Children is stacked alongside a copy of YM magazine. She keeps her room meticulously neat. And she has demands.

"I want my own phone line," Cori Lynn says.

"No way," says Diana McCumber.

Every time she peeks in, Cori Lynn is at the new little computer desk, writing.

"She's starting to think more on her own," the mother says.

Some parents spend money on rooms that are pretty but not designed for imagination. No room to play. Too little storage. That's not a problem in Cori Lynn's new room. There's space in the closet for toys she's outgrown. And she flexes her imagination at the jungle-vine computer desk, where on a recent morning she taps out a short story.

"In my story," she explains, "we all go to the beach: my parents, me, our friends. Someone is drowning, and you know what? I save them."

She prints out a copy and hands it to me.

Another story simmers. A story about Angel, the guinea pig. He thinks he's a rabbit, she confides. She lifts Angel out of his cage and wraps him in a blanket. He sighs and makes little squeaking sounds of contentment. Cori Lynn rocks him back and forth, humming a little, making up another story in her head.

Cori Lynn's stories are always changing.

In her room to grow up in.

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