Wednesday, February 23, 2000

Go to your room

Kids all want their own rooms, right? They want their own private space, they want their own personal decor, they want to sleep without someone snoring or playing music or getting up in the middle of the night or hitting them with a pillow. In some households, kids may need to share rooms due to space or bulk of children, and the best can be made of it. But any kid, given the choice, would want their own room, or so runs the conventional wisdom. For goodness sake, there have been whole episodes of "Arthur" about it, so it must be true.

Tell it to my daughter. She's repeatedly demanded that we go out and adopt some more kids so she doesn't have to sleep alone. She deeply envies her friend who shares a room with two sisters. It's true that she did spend her first 4.5 years with about 11 little roommates, in a Russian orphanage with tiny beds lined up in rows, but surely most children with this background would be overjoyed to have four walls to themselves. Not her--she spends as little time as possible in her room, and not even a stereo, a computer, and a cool couch-like bed can convince her to spend significant alone time there.

My son does play in his room, constantly. You can tell by the fact that every toy in the house eventually turns up on his bedroom floor, along with various boxes, keys, papers, garments, and playthings that make sense only to him. Sometimes he lines up cars on his road-map rug, sometimes he plays with his computer, sometimes he just lays in his bed and rocks. His room is his refuge.

Yet even he is neutral about sleeping alone. And when his sister camped out on his floor one night due to houseguests commandeering her room, they discovered the magic of sleepovers. Now every night becomes a whine-a-thon. Can he sleep in her room? Can she sleep in his? Who gets to use their sleeping bag? Who has to clear space on their floor? (Well, this is mostly an issue for my son. His sister just has to shove some shoes to one side. He has to hire a dumpster.)

We've generally held this experiment in communal living to the weekends, when sleeping on the floor will affect no one's school performance. And so long as it's remained a novelty, it's been a nice sort of bonding experience for them. But this week, with school closed for Winter Break, I've been persuaded to allow it every night, and now it seems more and more as though they want to sleep in the same room so they can start squabbling immediately upon waking, and not have to wait for the other to get up and meet them by the TV. This morning, he was playing his tape player too loud, and she was sleeping on one of his cars, and the sounds of sibling outrage woke me with the morning light.

Maybe this will eventually help my daughter appreciate her sibling-free room. It's certainly made me appreciate it. Forget their personal space--if kids having their own rooms extends my own personal zone of quiet, that's good enough for me.

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