So here’s the thing. I feel claustrophobic in my own home. Not because of the size, I mean as far as New York City apartments go, ours is pretty big. Not, like, “Donald Trump” big (who cares–he’s so tacky) but, we don’t live in a closet, either. We have 3 very large bedrooms, a nice size living room, and big entryway–and get this–two full bathrooms. Fairly unheard of in Manhattan real estate. I do tend to clamor on and on about the lack of a dishwasher, I wax poetic about my fantasy to have my own washer and dryer, and I may or may not have alluded to a mouse or two in our ghetto dwelling, but I never say we have a small apartment. We don’t. It’s big.
That said, if you live in Ohio and you have a 3,000 square foot house with a bonus room and a finished basement and an acre of land….well…you’d laugh at my apartment and probably drop dead at the amount of rent we pay. I promise you, though, for New Yorkers on a budget, we’ve done pretty well.
When I started this blog nine months ago, my first post was an explanation of my blog title My Own Space. I can only assume the majority of you never read it, because (as blogs do), it was buried by the bazillion subsequent posts. I’ll re-post it here for anyone who might care to have a look, but today’s post is an elaboration of my original post. I’ve learned a lot in those nine months of blogging, and I’d like to share a little of my journey. Certainly any working mother, or even better, stay at home mother searching for an identity (or a job), might identify.
I often tell you where I am blogging at that moment. Maybe I am on the subway, sometimes in a crowded Starbucks, frequently (as I am right now) I am blogging under the watchful and unsleeping eye of Beatrix as she avoids counting sheep. I am in my dark bedroom and despite ME drifting off to sleep as I type this, Beatrix will announce “I not sleepy. I not yawning.” We’ve been in here and at this for an hour. This is frequently where I start my blog.
I also just fessed up that Beatrix sleeps in our room. I will save that breaking news story for another post. I know it’s a bad idea. Yell at me another day. I digress.
But no matter where I start my blog, 99% of the time, I finish it up in the place that I call my office. I do have a place in our bedroom where I store things, but I can’t write there because a) it is tiny and b) I have to be out and present for the kids most of the day. My space is shared with three other people and one very aggressively social and entitled cat. My Own Space looks like this.
It is a corner of a couch, which doubles as a desk and triples as my living room which is always full of noise and activity. Like tantrums and Dora The Explorer watching, not NPR and PBS.
About a year ago, when I was in college full time to finish an uncompleted BFA, I spent $40 at a thrift store to buy a nightstand to help organize my couch/desk space. I loaded all of my textbooks, papers, mail, school supplies–you name it–into my tiny nightstand desk space. The top of it is exactly as big as my computer. And this is where I sat and studied for finals and wrote umpteen papers and finally earned my college degree after a twenty year wait. At the same time (and in the same space) I was raising two kids; quizzing Charlotte for her Chinese tests and making chicken
nuggets and changing diapers for Beatrix. My nightstand desk would become a mountain of half finished coloring pages printed out from DisneyJr.com and sippy cups. The chair next to my minidesk would be buried under weeks of paperwork and materials from auditions as I pursued work.
After finishing my degree, my couch/desk became my blogging platform. I’d created a “virtual” space for my blog, but the couch/desk remained my reality. In the virtual My Own Space I took up a lot of space and I unabashedly claimed it as my own. I wrote about Thirteens and Threes and Pancreases and Singapore. As my blog numbers grew, I started to resent how small my couch/desk space started to feel. My feelings were hurt as sippy cups and junk mail and coloring pages were strewn on top of my work. On top of my sacred space. And a funny thing happened as my blog grew. My need for my own space grew, too. I wanted more than a nightstand. I wanted spacial validation (spacial, not special). I looked around and I saw no solutions. There wasn’t a place for me to go, so I suffered with my reality space and thrived in my virtual world.
Now, in a twist of 2012 good fortune, I’ve started to get work. Good, solid, writing work. Interesting work. Paying work.
The kind of work that means this can’t be a regular thing…
If I leave the room for even a second…
I could post pictures like these for hours, but I have to assume you get the point (Sharon, we get the point. Like, 3 paragraphs ago). But the real point is, I didn’t get the point. Really. I didn’t get it. I didn’t see that I wasn’t taking my work seriously. But I did know that it wasn’t fair to the kids to have a Mom who was in the room but not in the room, if you get my drift. Rob would come home from work and sit at a desk in the hall with his back to us to get his work done, and the kids got the signal. Daddy was working. They would say excuse me if they needed to talk to him. They respected his space. (I, on the other hand, regularly put my purse on his desk which frustrated him to no end.
So here’s what happened. On Tuesday night (and if you are counting, it was Valentine’s Day) I finally blew my stack. Let me tell you what me blowing my stack looks like. It was during a phone call to Rob from the car while Beatrix was screaming with an ear ache after a solid week of stomach flu in our house. I’d missed deadlines, I’d had to drop out of projects, I’d cancelled auditions, and I was desperate to get back to work. Rob was leaving every day to go to his job rehearsing Evita and faculty meetings at Pace, and to teach his class, and numerous other places that had a schedule and a space. My schedule was being trumped again and again by everyone else’s schedule…..and I finally blew my top. Meaning. I cried and repeatedly said, “I can’t do this anymore” over and over again.
After I got Beatrix home and we calmed her down and got her in bed, Rob and I had a heart to heart. I explained that I felt my work was being marginalized because I was the one doing most of the work with the kids. I felt my entire day was at the discretion of everyone else’s schedule. I explained that I have to do work. That I have deadlines. That I have potential to be a bigger earner in this household, but I needed the space to do it.
These things were very hard for me to say. I whispered.
I explained how hard it is to work from home and have your desk be the couch.
Rob, being a guy, wanted to solve the problem. “What can I do?” he asked.
It took me 24 hours to come up with an idea, but when I did I was immediately excited. “You have an office at Pace with a door that closes. You have a space at a table at Evita. You have a big desk at home.”
He immediately offered. “You want my desk?”
“I want your desk.”
So, he moved out of his space and into mine.
And when he thought he was all moved out, I moved him out more. I claimed that big desk in the hall. I cleaned it. I decorated it. I changed out the lamp. I smiled and resisted dancing. I listened as he was instantly invaded by the cat, and Beatrix wanting to play a computer game, and both kids making requests because he was the parent in the room, on the couch. And I thought, this is good. He’s patient. A lot of his work is done other places. This is okay.
So now I have My Own Space, and work to do. Next stop? My own office with a door.
It is important to claim your space in the world, whether you are a Mom or not. Your space is your statement about your worth in the world. Take up space. See you tomorrow.
(SMASH Fact or Fiction tomorrow! Same time, same place)