Our oldest comes home from her freshman year of college on Saturday. To say I’m excited is an understatement. I mean it’s all well and good that she’s been off educating herself, and meeting new people, and expanding her horizons and all, but enough is enough already.
Yesterday I thought I’d better wander upstairs and take a look at Jordan’s room. In actuality, it’s not really Jordan’s room. About two weeks after Jordan left for college, Rebecca moved into Jordan’s room, opting for more space and a queen size bed. In the meantime, Rebecca’s old room has sat untouched and unnoticed. I’ve managed to clutter it up a bit with an old floor lamp, some miscellaneous Christmas decorations, and a couple of pictures that used to be in the living room. Also, there’s a strange conglomeration of the stuff Jordan didn’t take with her combined with miscellaneous items that must have once belonged to Rebecca. At the moment it's just a holding space; I need to clean it out and fix it up. I'd better get moving on that.
I sat in that room today and thought about when we first moved in to this house. How I painted seven-year-old Rebecca's room blue, and how she picked out her duvet from the Pottery Barn catalogue, and how she used to have a huge chalkboard and dry erase board on the left wall, where she obsessively played school. (Her overhead projector still sits in the corner.) I even remember walking through the half-built house, the kids scrambling upstairs to claim their spots – Rebecca and Madison in bedrooms on the left side of the game room, Jordan and Parker in the bedrooms on the right.
Our first priority after we moved in was getting the kids' rooms set up – painted, organized, decorated. You know how it is -- you want your kids to feel settled. We painted Rebecca’s room blue, Madison’s yellow, Jordan’s a light lime green, Parker’s a dark tan with a bold, multi-colored stripe. In the evenings, before we went to bed, Sterling and I would creep upstairs and peek in on each child. Four kids, four doors, four floors covered in clothing and toys and miscellaneous art supplies. We’d shake our heads, laugh a little, and head back downstairs.
Jordan will be home six weeks and four days before she leaves for France. Madison has four months left in her yellow room with the window seat. And then, once they are gone, half of the upstairs will be empty. Why is it that in all the dreaming I did about new furniture, and paint colors, and family movie nights, and birthday parties, and sleep overs, I never imagined empty rooms? I mean, I've thought exhaustively about this house. Right now? We need to repaint the upstairs bathrooms. We need to rip out the carpet in the study. I’d like to replace the stove. How about some lighting out back behind the pool? I have plans people. But my mind (which, it must be said, is rarely content) has never considered two empty bedrooms. And I can’t get excited about the space either.
An exercise room? A movie room? A craft room?
The funny thing is that I’ve spent a good portion of my life thus far trying to carve out a space for myself. With four brothers and a sister, there wasn’t much space in my childhood home. I used to lie in the three by eight foot space between my bed and the wall, pretending that it was my own room. I’d put a pillow and blanket on the floor, line my books along the wall, stash some food under the bed, and tell my sister not to make any noise so I could pretend she wasn’t there. And when my own kids were little? Shoot. Their stuff and their demands seeped into every space, every thought, every minute. I was constantly sorting outgrown clothes and shoes and baby toys, organizing school papers and backpacks and laundry -- always trying to make more space, more time, more happiness. I had my own office for about a year in 2006, but then Sterling started a business and we pulled a desk in for him. (He’s been a pretty decent roommate though. I’ll give him that.)
And now? I have rooms aplenty.
In my head I've been having a pretend conversation with Virginia Woolf. My copy of A Room of One's Own is dog-eared and highlighted. There are notes in the margins. I even have the epitaph of Keats' tombstone written at the end of chapter three. All because I believe so vehemently in Woolf's ideas about women and intellectual freedom and tradition and writing. But that's another post for another time. My favorite line however, without meaning to, captures the melancholy feel of my many rooms:
"For the dinners are all cooked; the plates and cups washed; the children set to school and gone out into the world. Nothing remains of it all. All has vanished. No biography or history has a word to say about it. And the novels, without meaning to, inevitably lie."
Woolf, of course, is emphasizing the need to write women's lives, to record the dailyness and the drudgery and the joy of womanhood. And to do this writing -- the biography and the history -- women need a metaphorical (as well as physical) room of their own.
"Virginia," I want to cry out, "there was a blue room and a yellow room. That is my history."