I would love to have my own room to write, to sew, to make, to read, to sit, to train, to laugh, to listen, to be still.
I told you in the course of this paper that Shakespeare had a sister; but do not look for her in Sir Sidney Lee’s life of the poet. She died young – alas, she never wrote a word. She lies buried where the omnibuses now stop, opposite the Elephant and Castle. Now my belief is that this poet who never wrote a word and was buried at the cross-roads still lives. She lives in you and in me, and in many other women who are not here tonight, for they are washing up the dishes and putting the children to bed. But she lives; for great poets do not die; they are continuing presences; they need only the opportunity to walk among us in the flesh.”
― Virginia Woolf, A Room of One’s Own
What we, as women, would have written, created, accomplished, throughout all of history had we but a room of our own? A space to call our own? What does that space look like?
I haven’t had my own room since I was 18 years old. I’ve had my own room for about 7 years of my life in total. One-fifth of my life. A room that I alone could find solace. A room that I never really owned but felt like the space was MINE. A room where I wrote and created. A room where I could play MY music and where I could cuss. A room where I could unleash my emotion.
I’ve NEVER lived alone. I had a roommate for about 3 months before moving back home. I’ve lived with multiple family members. I have lived in at 15 different homes – sometimes staying for only a month before moving on – and moving 18 times. I have lived on sofas, spare rooms, and even shared a bed with my mom in my aunt’s one bedroom apartment. I don’t know what it’s like living in a house by myself let alone living in the same house for a long time.
I have lived in my current house for almost 8 years. This is the longest period of time I have lived under the same roof. The home that Ever-Patient and I have created, this tiny semi-detached home with a nothing of a backyard, that sometimes feels is bursting at the seams, is the one that fits us.
But I have a secret. Sometimes I long for a room of my own.
And I know that there are times where my kids and Ever-Patient do too.
While we are committed to living in a small home and all that entails – a cozy fit, learning to live with less space, and sharing, sharing, and more sharing, there is always a struggle to meet the needs of personal space. And I often wonder how to balance this tight quarters living with respecting individual needs. I wonder what they would write, create, accomplish, or even imagine if they had a space to call their own.
The two older kids share a room, and technically, the 3 younger ones share a room (although the little guy ends up in our bed most nights – okay EVERY night.) No one has a room of their own. It has worked to our advantage for the most part: the children talk to each other at bedtime, recounting the events of the day; they are learning to negotiate and compromise as the neat and the messy try to co-exist; and close physical proximity day-in and day-out has led to very close-knit relationships. You can find us all in one room of the house 85% of the time. Actually, you will find us within 5 feet of each other most of the time.
But it is very difficult to find a private moment in this house and you have to be very determined to find it. I’ve noticed that all the children need time to be alone. Sometimes I find #3 on the porch whittling a piece of wood even when it’s freezing. #2 scurries off to her room when #1 isn’t around so she can have the whole space to herself. #4 likes to retreat to this chair and pulls the cover down. #1 just leaves the house (or the continent) and #5, well, sometimes, we just can’t find him as he plays his solitary game of hide-and-no-seek.
Every day, around 4pm, I have 1-2 hours of alone time. All of the kids are expected to play or read quietly while I go upstairs to my room and lie down/read/sew/knit/stare at the walls. Because we are homeschooling, I need that time to check in with myself and to just sit and breathe. I need to not talk or be talked to. I am grateful for this time and the kids have adopted this into their routine. Ever-Patient is normally getting dinner ready around this time and enlists the kids to help. After this little intermission, I can come back downstairs a little bit more patient and open.
When #2 was in Grade 3, we did a practical studies/building/shelters block. She studied measurement by designing and building a desk with my stepfather. We were going to build a shelter in the backyard but she wasn’t keen on spending alone time outside in the backyard. She wanted something that she could call her own and that she could design herself.
First she taped and measured out what she thought was a good size and shape for the top of the desk:
She sat in front of that box, pretending she was sitting in front of her desk, testing to see if it was too big or too small and then we made sure it would fit in the corner of the room where the desk would reside.
Then she did a rough draft of her desk, a simple design, with her desired measurements and built a small-scale mock-up from foam core.
After drawing up final plans, she spent a few weekends with my stepfather. They sourced out the wood together, cut it, sanded it, assembled it, and painted it. It turned into a wonderful bonding moment between the two of them. Both are very meticulous and detail-oriented and were able to collaborate really well. He was patient and she soaked up all the information that he shared.
The longest part of the whole process was when she had to finally choose the knobs. I think it took about a month to find the perfect ones:
This desk became her space. She would sit here even with no work to do. Sometimes she would sit underneath the desk and read. Although we’ve moved her desk to the basement, she still goes and sits at it to do her work when she needs to focus and work independently. She loves it and feels so possessive over it. She won’t let any sibling sit at it. I get it. I don’t fight her on it.
Two and a half years later, #3 is doing the same block right now for Grade 3. She has a different temperament. She needs a less intense project but something that holds her larger than life persona when she needs to be alone. She is already working on an outdoor structure but will have to wait until warmer weather to finish it. She needs something NOW. It has to fit indoors but it also has to be a temporary structure. And this space is going to have to reflect who she is at THIS moment. As I was racking my brain trying to think of a project, I started to prep for her next lesson:
Of course!! So Ever-Patient and #3 worked on her project last weekend…
She measured, cut, and sanded the poles:
She helped piece together the canvas painter’s tarp with the glue gun because I was not in the mood to sew pieces together…
Then it was assembly time…
Oh and she loved hammering the grommets…though I’m pretty sure our neighbour did not…
With a little help from these lovely blog posts: Sew Mama Sew and The Handmade Home (she used a glue gun…genius), they created a space for #3 to call her own. (She didn’t want a door because she didn’t want nosy siblings peeking in… so I tied the leftover canvas across the front that acts as a flap.) She has hired #2 to decorate the inside and has agreed to let all her siblings visit from time to time. We’ll see how that plan goes.
A 3′ x 3′ space. A 30″ x 22″ desktop. It’s enough. More than enough. Just when I think we need to sell the house and go bigger, my kids remind me that, yes, they need space from time to time, but they don’t need much of it. The act of creating something to shelter them, to make them feel secure, to hold them in their own space, is what they need. They have taken ownership for creating these places for themselves – rooms of their own; and learning the lesson that wherever they may go, they have the creative tools to build what they need for themselves – literally and figuratively. There will always be parameters and limitations but not when it comes to their imagination. My kids have had that opportunity and will carry with them that knowledge in their future paths.
Is this what Virginia Woolf meant?
And me? What about my space? I use time to carve out that space. When the house is asleep, I find that space. When I write in my private journal, I find that space. When I sew at my tiny sewing desk in my room, I find that space to call my own. My very own. I don’t need the physical space anymore. In fact, I had shed the idea of an actual room to myself when #1 was born and we shared a bed for 3 years. And each subsequent child has shared my bed for at least 2 years…some are going on 4 plus…I wouldn’t trade that physical proximity I’ve had with my children in order to have a room, a bed, a space for myself.
That time will come. That time has come. I took a brief hiatus from writing here for a year because I couldn’t find that “room” to do this, to write. Now I am finding it. I am creating it.
In this house, in our individual spaces and places, we dream, we read, we think, we wonder, we imagine, we create, we work and we write. And when we come together again, we talk, we laugh, we listen, we eat, we share, we play, we argue, and we love.
Always finding a balance, but living a life of our own.
Do you struggle finding a space to call your own? Leave a comment if you can share any ideas to find that elusive holy grail called “alone time” or maybe share a description of a space that you have for yourself. I’d also love to hear if any families with many children in smallish spaces also have these challenges.
This prompt was from February on writealm…sitting in my drafts for a bit – stewing and brewing. It came together for me when I was thinking about the theme of BALANCE that we are introducing today over at Sense of Story.