Fri 11 May 2007
The hormonal maelstrom of my tween and early teen years coincided with major family upheaval. There was a new baby, a new house, and some serious religious conflict thrown in for good measure. I shared a room with my little sister, and thankfully in the new house (which our grandparents sold to us) we didn’t have to have our beds in bunks anymore, but I still felt suffocated. The house had wooden floors and you could hear people stomping around day and night. There was always noise– my youngest brother crying, music playing, tense discussions, the phone ringing. I would record popular songs offof the radio and use them to make up dance routines in the family room. I’d fill to the trembling point with fury when my sister innocently tried to join me because it looked fun. I called it “copying.” Was there not one activity, one corner of the house that I could claim as my own?
One day my mom noticed that I wasn’t around. I was usually pretty quiet, but she could generally spot me hanging upside down off of the couch with a magazine or inspecting my complexion in the guest bathroom as she hurried from room to room, taking care of the baby and maintaing order. The way my mom tells it, she opened the door to the deep linen closet in the hallway and was surprised to find me curled up in the space between the floor and the bottom shelf with a flashlight and a book.
I don’t remember exactly what conversation we had, but I do remember the outcome. Where other people might tenderly laugh off their quirky child’s behavior, she took me seriously and took action. I couldn’t have my own room, but we did have a sturdy storage shed in the back where my grandmother had kept emergency food supplies in days gone by. Mom cleared out the junk from the back room of the shed and cleaned and put down some leftover carpet. She painted it pink and yellow with an art-deco looking bicycle and my dad made a plywood desk. Then my mom outfitted it with a chair, a space heater, a lock, and a sign that said “Private!” I could go in there whenever I wanted and I didn’t have to share.
At first I used it a lot. My brother and sister didn’t like it that I could just go in there and shut the door. They’d stand outside it and whisper and knock. Eventually they lost interest. After a time, my visits to the Private Room dropped off. In many cases just knowing it was there if I needed it was enough.
As Mother’s Day approaches, I’m thinking about that season, when my mom found room amid her many responsibilities and private worries to notice my situation. She didn’t just give comforting words; she took on a major project and enlisted other family members to help her complete it, and saved my bacon. Even today that kind of sacrificial giving for her kids and grandkids is a natural part of her life, shaped through years of practice. Thanks, mom.