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Faith in Vermont: A Room of One's Own

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Posted on April 16, 2019 | Blog Category:
By Faith Gong



Our family spends a lot of time at home. 

My husband leaves for his office on weekdays, but since I homeschool our daughters, our house is the center of our daily activities. We eat most meals at home, given the expense and hassle of dining out with four young children. Caring for 31 animals (give or take) and a garden during the warmer months limits our ability to travel. All told, I’d estimate that I spend an average of 147 hours a week at home – out of a possible 168. 

While I haven’t been able to find a definitive figure, a quick bit of internet research turned up the estimate that the average American spends roughly 45% of their time at home (including sleep), which would translate to 76 hours a week. 

I often fail to notice the obvious in my life until it’s pointed out by others. For example, a fellow homeschooling mother with whom I was sharing tea happened to drop the statement that, “Homeschooling is a full-time job.” It was like a jolt of electricity had passed through me. “OH!” I thought. “THAT’S why I’m so busy!”

That same mother, in the same conversation, enlightened me further with the observation that it’s difficult for homeschooling families to have clean, orderly houses because the kids are always there.

“OH!” I thought. “THAT’S why there’s a constant trail of books and art supplies stretching from our entryway up to the girls’ rooms, and a massive cardboard box/transmogrifier/time machine in the middle of the kitchen.  And why any attempt to wipe, vacuum, or straighten away evidence of my four children seems futile, since they’ll just undo it the next minute.”

I’ve also started to wonder if the amount of time we spend at home has something to do with why my daughters keep asking for furniture.

I never spent much time thinking or caring about furniture. As a child, I took furniture entirely for granted; it was simply there. Once I became responsible for furnishing my own living spaces, my criteria for choosing furniture boiled down to whatever was cheap (or, even better, free), functional, and fast – I had no interest in spending hours comparison shopping. 

This is not to say that I don’t appreciate a beautiful, welcoming living space. But I’d far rather invest time in selecting interesting things to hang on our walls or considering how best to arrange a room to accommodate our lifestyle, than in picking out a couch. Especially a couch that will soon display the ravages of our four daughters, dog, and cat.

So it was with a mixture of confusion and amusement that I noticed our daughters have started requesting furniture as their “big ticket” item whenever a birthday or other gift-giving occasion rolls around. 

Over the past few years, my husband has built a desk and a nightstand for two daughters. I have stripped and repainted another desk, and two other desks have been purchased by grandparents for birthdays. 

Daughter Number Three asked for a loft bed for Christmas; her logic was that she’d sleep better in a loft bed, since she wouldn’t have to worry about monsters under the bed. The prospect of more sleep for everyone was too alluring for my husband and me, and she got her loft bed. She used the space underneath (previously occupied by monsters) to set up an art studio.

Most recently, our eldest daughter repainted an old shelf that had been gathering dust in our garage, then contributed 30% of her savings towards a discounted club chair for her bedroom, because she wanted a comfortable place to read. 

The only home furnishing request that we haven’t been able to accommodate came from our youngest daughter, who last Christmas included “a chimney” on her wish list. 

Is it odd that my elementary-school-aged children prioritize furniture over toys or games? Perhaps, but I suppose it makes sense given the amount of time they spend in our home. 

 Virginia Woolf declared famously that “a woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction.” Because there are four of them and only three available bedrooms, my daughters do not all have actual rooms of their own – nor, were you to ask them, would they all want a room to themselves. (“Too scary!”) But their furniture requests reveal a desire for spaces of their own. 

I furnish my daughters’ rooms with cheap, functional beds, dressers, and bookcases –these things are gifts in themselves, and place them among the ranks of privileged children. Still, their requests for desks and reading chairs indicate a thirst for spaces that are truly theirs, oases where they can work, create, and dream in the midst of the noisy swirl of our household. 

I can relate. Yet another “A-ha!” moment for me was when a friend who has five children said, “People always assume that because I have so many children, I must be extroverted and love noise and chaos. Actually, nothing could be farther from the truth: I love my kids, but I’m an introvert, and I really need quiet alone time.”

It was as if thoughts I’d never verbalized were coming from someone else’s mouth. 

As it happens, I do have a desk of my own, in the laundry/sewing room. (Which used to be the mudroom and now adjoins our master bedroom, which used to be the living room; houses are complicated.) At the moment, however, my desk is rarely an oasis where I can work, create, and dream, because the kids are always there. Whenever I sit at my desk, whether it’s to write, check email, or pay a bill, it’s as if a giant, flashing “OPEN” sign goes off and I’m besieged by girls who walk up behind me to lob questions and requests at the back of my head.

Now that our daughters are getting older, my husband is dreaming of creating a “hang-out” space for them and their friends on our property. For all its virtues, our house does not have a large common area: The available space is mostly taken up by bedrooms, our classroom, and the kitchen/dining area. My husband’s current plan is to erect a multi-purpose yurt in the yard.

I love this idea: A room of our own, detached from the chaos of the main house. 

“And, when the girls grow up and move out,” I said to a friend, “I can use it as a writing space!”

For the umpteeth time, a friend reflected the obvious back to me. 

“Uh, when the girls grow up and move out,” she said, “the whole house can be your writing space.”

“Oh. Yeah,” I said. 

And although I know that idea should make me happy, for some reason it doesn’t. All I want is a room of my own; what do I need with a whole quiet, empty house?

 

Faith Gong has worked as an elementary school teacher, a freelance photographer, and a nonprofit director. She lives in Middlebury with her husband, four daughters, assorted chickens and ducks, one feisty cat, and one anxiety-prone labradoodle. In her "free time," she writes for her blog, The Pickle Patch.

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