“The best rooms were all on the left-hand side (going in), for there were the only ones to have windows, deep-set round windows looking over his garden and meadows beyond, sloping down to the river.” ― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit
Growing up, my family disliked shut doors. Any door shut longer than about five minutes would bring my mother’s head through it, usually no knock, to “check on me.” Numerous times I received the advice that there was no good reason to ever lock the bathroom door. What if someone got sick, or passed out, or fell and hurt themselves and the door was locked? How could anyone get help when they needed it if the door was locked? We all slept with our doors wide open. The only phone in the house was in the middle of the kitchen. There really was no space, no conversation even, that was not shared. I’m sure it was my parent’s way of keeping a constant supervision over their kids, and it must have worked in some way as we all managed to make it to adulthood off drugs and unpregnant. However, the atmosphere of non-privacy did wear on my introverted self. Whenever I got a chance to be home alone, I would run to a room, any room, and shut the door, simply to spend a little time behind a closed door. It didn’t matter that I was home alone, I still wanted the door shut. I could not have told you then and I don’t think I can even explain it now, I just wanted a few minutes of space for my own.
I graduated at 17, which led to college, which led to dorm rooms, which led to roommates, which after a decade led to marriage, which led to studio apartments and eventually houses, which after another decade led to my son being born, which seven years later led to me one day realize that I had spent four decades on this planet and never really had a room of my own.
Don’t get me wrong, I have owned plenty of rooms. Owned in the way that the women in my family had always owned the responsibility for the home. I had a long string of rooms which I was responsible for furnishing, organizing, repairing and keeping perpetually clean, but this did not make any of them my own. They were all shared spaces which could be freely tromped through and modified by all the messy people in my life who shared them. I would frequently mark rooms as belonging to others, my husband’s office or workroom, the baby’s nursery or playroom. I would, in my own mind, delineate these spaces as their ownership, even though I was usually still the general housekeeper of said space. In all those years, though, I never remember thinking of any space as truly mine.
Fast forward to 2013, when we had just completed a new sun room on the back of our house which was empty virgin territory, and I watched, initially helplessly, as my husband, son and even the two dogs began to fill the space with the overflowing items from their own spaces. I began to feel a little nagging whimper in the back of my mind. “I want my own room!” My husband already had the front bedroom converted into an office. My son had a full bedroom and closet all to himself. Surveying the whole house, all of which was my domain to clean and care for, I could not find a single inch that belonged only to me. Finally the whimper became loud enough and persistent enough that I felt it was only fair to voice it to all the poor unsuspecting male creatures in my life who couldn’t, without significant explanation, be expected to understand why mom was getting increasingly irritated by toys and books and clothes scattered all over the shared space which had not seemed to bother her previously.
“I think it might be fair if I were to have my own space somewhere in the house.” It was with extreme trepidation that I even uttered such a request, as the self-sacrificial mother in me felt it really was too much to ask, but thankfully it fell on kindly ears. After much family discussion, it was determined that my husband would move his office to the sun room and the front bedroom would become “Mama’s room.”
Such began the long summer project of relocating the office and eventually creating an empty square ‘all my own.’ Oh the dreams and dilemmas of what to do with my own space once it was finally declared open for filling. I finally decided that what I wanted most of all was a clean space. I spot in the house where I could sit and not see a single chore that needed to be done. I small relaxing little haven of quietness and order that I could retreat to for a few stolen moments when life in our chaotic little home of men and boys and dogs gets just a little too out-of-Mama’s-control.
I relocated some the old furniture that had been hanging around the edges of the rest of the house. I appropriated some of the sentimental objects that had filled up some of the crowded corners of scattered shelves. I added bargain-bin curtains and a couple of fresh pretty pillows. I put out the candles I am afraid to light in other rooms, and I added a tiny little meditation fountain. I made room for my yoga mat and exercise machine on the off chance that I just might have a few minutes to exercise someday. Finally I put in a sturdy baby gate to redirect the hounds in the hope that there might be one patch of carpet in the house that would not be constantly in need of shampooing. One day, about two months later, I was able to sit in my bright, soothing, new room and take a big deep breath.
Every following day that week, I returned home from work to find my husband, my son and both dogs along with all of their stuff in my room. Gentle words were spoken. Hopes that the detritus of all their individual and collective activities might be cleaned out of Mama’s room by someone other than Mama. Encouragement to find other activities in their own spaces for awhile. None of it worked.
In the weeks since, I will, more often than not, find my space occupied by a creature other than myself. The only explanation that continues to be offered is, “But Mama your room is the best!” It has the same four walls in the same color as the rest of the house, the same window as before, the same floor. It is full of the same furniture and decorations that our house had previously held. Yet somehow, Mama relocating these items into a space of her own has suddenly made that space a hot commodity. The most happening place in the house. The place to be… Mama’s room.
I think I can live with that. After all, Mama is the best part of me, the part I love without reservation, the part of me I run to when the other parts of my life don’t make sense. I think, now that I have a space of my own, I can handle my family really liking it and wanting to visit me there, even when I am not there myself.
Perhaps the real joy of having anything to myself is the chance to share it with those I love.