I walk by my youngest son’s bedroom and peek in every night before I go to bed while he’s away at camp. I always have three thoughts.
First, I admire the cool serenity of a room well cleaned, a bed well made and no mess anywhere to be discovered. It is quite satisfying. Needless to say, I spent a few solid hours decluttering, decontaminating and generally fixing up his room once he left for camp. I let it sit for but a day before I stormed in. One friend told me she wears a haz-mat suit when she attacks her childrens’ rooms – this didn’t require quite that level of protection, but close. And four garbage bags later, I had produced a room to be proud of.
The second thought I have is how much I actually miss him and his energy. It has become quite clear to me during this time, his second prolonged absence from our house, that he is the heart of our family. When he is not around, it is both blessedly quiet and also a little dull. I especially miss him while we’re watching the Olympics, which I know he would love. I get a little sad.
But mostly, I think about my own childhood bedroom and how much I adored it. When my parents bought our house, even though it was quite large, my sister and I were still forced to share a bedroom for several years. The color theme was baby pink and brown. It was pretty and serviceable, and there were pom poms on the frilly curtains, but it was not my own.
When I was 12 years old, my sister and I were allowed to move up into our own rooms. While my sister, five years younger than me, was not allowed to choose her own colors yet (and wound up with what my mother thought would be a little girl’s dream – hot pink) I was given free reign to design my room.
What a gift! It was the mid-1970s, so naturally my choices were wild and colorful and mod. Kelly green on the walls, with a green shag carpet that matched the walls exactly. The border of the wood floor surrounding the carpet was a bright canary yellow, as was all the plastic modular furniture. The bedspread was, appropriately, both bright green and yellow, reflecting everything in the room. And my own personal phone, with my own number? Yellow, of course. A teen dream.
I cannot begin to describe the passion I had for that room. I would wake up every Saturday morning and start cleaning, lovingly dusting all of my furniture, all of my knickknacks, all of my books. Turned on the record player, blasted some Billy Joel or, if I was feeling more mellow, Carole King, and spent several hours with nothing but me and my thoughts and my music and my room.
There was the summer of the boom box fiasco when I was 14 – when I defied my parents and took the bus up to Sears without permission so that I could buy a $15 boom box with my own money. I wanted to blast it out my window so that everyone on the block would know how cool I was. When my parents discovered the radio, I was grounded for a long time – but fortunately being grounded meant I could be in my room and still open the windows wide and set my new acquisition to its highest level and inform the street that music radio WABC and Harry Harrison rang supreme in my cool room.
My room was the place where I wrote maudlin poetry, where I talked for hours with my friends, detailing every nuance of my latest crush, where I discovered Jane Austen and Virginia Woolf, and where I allowed my soul to rest. It was where I got dressed, alongside my best friend, for our senior high school dance, in our peasant dresses and feather earrings, and where I sobbed until I couldn’t sob anymore when my first boyfriend decided it was over.
It was where I retreated when my mother decided she no longer was going to live with us, and where I locked out my sister from all my comings and goings, because she was five years younger and I didn’t want to share any part of my hurt and my sorrow or show her how vulnerable I was.
I don’t know if my children have the same affection for their rooms as I did for mine. Certainly when we did a major construction job on our house 8 years ago, one of my biggest pleasures was decorating my three children’s rooms. My oldest son and my daughter (who was only four but who had strong opinions even then) got to choose their paint color. The youngest, who was two, had to suffer with my choices. Today, as he rounds the corner to 11, he still has bright yellow walls and clowns on his shades and we are struggling to get our act together to get him new, bigger kid window coverings.
What pleasure their rooms gave me. I spent hours looking for the right colored sheet sets for each. Placing their furniture. Thinking about how perfect each room would look. I didn’t want to think about the coming destruction, like the day that my oldest got so mad he punched a small hole in his wall (there to this day), or the day my daughter’s big girl desk arrived, shifting the whole tenor of her room, and I sat on her bed while she was at school and cried. Or the slow but sure creeping of the sports stickers onto every inch of my youngest son’s room, along with sports posters and awards.
This past spring, my now 13-year-old daughter learned a new word: “shrine.” That’s because she has transformed her room into a shrine to the ultimate boy band of the moment, One Direction. Every square inch of her room has a poster, memorabilia, pictures, personal musings, and slavish devotionals to the band. Her child's Hebrew alphabet poster with all the animals, along with Taylor Swift and Justin Bieber have been ripped off the walls and lie crushed in a pile in her closet. The One Direction boys have captured her heart like nothing else and yet, there is still something sweet and innocent about it all. The room is still the same pretty light purple color we chose all those years ago, and there are still butterflies on her shades. There are pictures of her friends on her door and her desk, and her priorities are clear.
Just this year, she has started closing her door. My older son started around the same age. We now have two teens who spend much of their time behind closed doors. When I kiss my daughter at night, and I turn off her light and close her door, it’s very dark in her room. I imagine that it gives her heart and her soul the privacy she needs and craves, just as I did at 13. And still do.
Although my children’s rooms have never lived up to the well-appointed and pristine promise of a Pottery Barn catalogue, I think they are serving their purpose well. Each one reflects the child within. Each one is a safe haven – for listening to music (boom boxes having given way to earbuds and iPods), thinking, communicating with friends (now through texting), being happy, being sad, reliving both triumphs and losses, and having a place where they can be safe and secure, and can recalibrate for whatever comes next.
We all need a room of our own.
Photo by dericafox via Flickr