From the ages of 1 to 4, my oldest son was the undisputed King of the Castle. He had his own room.
It was even bigger than ours. In New York City, where real estate space is at a perennial premium, my husband and I made the decision to give him the master bedroom while we took the smaller one. After all, he played on the floor much more often than we did. My theory was, if I gave him his own, larger room, his toys wouldn’t migrate out and take over our living area. (I was so, so wrong. Just like work expands to fill the amount of time designated for it, children’s crap also creeps out like kudzu, until it has thoroughly dominated the local eco-system.)
Plus, my husband and I knew something our oldest son didn’t: We planned to give him roommates.
After the first few months spent in a bassinet next to me, my second son moved in with his big brother. The twin bed was pressed against the wall, and a crib took center-stage. I folded up the preschooler-sized reading nook, and bought a dresser big enough to hold both their clothes. The area above the heater where once he’d lined up his Jay Jay the Jet Plane stuffed fleet was retrofitted to support a baby-changing table my father made from an old computer desk someone had thrown out, that he’d dragged home off the street, sterilized, and covered with a rectangle of foam. (Nothing goes to waste at our house, not even other people’s trash.)
My initial concern was that the baby crying at night would wake up my then-4-year-old. But it turns out that all my kids can sleep through pretty much anything. (They definitely get this wonderful trait from their father, not me. Just ask my own mother, who swears I didn’t sleep–or eat–for pretty much the first three years of my life.) My other concern was that small toy parts–a.k.a. baby choking hazards–would find their way into the crib. But we kept a pretty vigilant eye out and managed to avoid that menace. (Yes, I know, it was probably just dumb luck.)
By they time they were 2 and 6, my boys were playing pretty detailed games in their room, including turning cardboard boxes into forts and airplanes, and laying out intricate Thomas the Tank Engine tracks.
Then, when they were 3 and 7, it was time for another upheaval, this time in the form of a baby girl. The twin bed stayed where it was, but my middle child moved into a toddler bed, and their little sister went into the crib. By this point, there was very little floor-space left, even if they had been willing to play there exclusively.
Now, the biggest issue was that each child went to bed at a different time (with the baby staying up the latest; my definition of sleeping through the night is midnight to 7 a.m., which means she was our up late party girl until she turned 2). We’d put the preschooler to bed first, then, a half-hour later, his second grade brother got very good at sneaking into his bed in the dark. We also insisted on the next day’s school clothes being laid out the night before, so that the early risers didn’t wake the late sleepers.
When my oldest entered middle school, we shifted furniture again, this time moving my daughter from crib to toddler bed, my middle child from toddler bed to twin, and the oldest atop a hand-me-down loft bed, with a desk where he could study underneath. Of course, the studying there could only take place during the day as, at night, lights out for the younger two was 8 p.m.
With high school looming, my husband and I realized that our standing joke–“We’ll just keep packing them in there, like the navy,”–was no longer viable. Our oldest son would definitely need his own space, especially since his new high school was filled with veteran parent horror stories of kids staying up until 2 or 3 in the morning to do homework. (We told our son that anything beyond midnight was unacceptable, a good night’s sleep was non-negotiable, and that he’d better figure out a way to be finished by then. So he has.)
We ended up moving him into literally a closet off the kitchen where, once the loft bed went in, there was no room for anything else. His clothes dangle from the metal bar that keeps the bed upright, and his underwear and socks are in a hanging case on the back of the door. Every other inch of floor-space is covered in books and art supplies.
Now that my middle son is about to turn 12 in a few months, I periodically think about upending our arrangement and moving my daughter into the tiny closet, and putting the boys back together in the larger room’s bunk-bed. The middle one stays up later now, often needing to tip-toe into his room in the dark after his sister has fallen asleep. (She also loves to listen to her “Ramona” and “Little House” book series CDs before bed. Over and over again. My son is getting quite sick of them. But when he wants to listen to his own selections, she cries that they’re too scary.)
In addition, some people have intimated to me that brother and sister are getting too old to share a room. (Though, as Kveller readers know, nudity isn’t just relegated to the bedrooms in our house.)
Those are all good, sensible reasons. But I currently have an even better one not to do it.
The other night, I walked into the kids’ room, assuming they’d both be asleep. Instead, they were curled up on my daughter’s lower bunk, behind a blanket that had been hung up like a shield, her brother laying there with one arm around her and her stuffed animals, the other holding a flashlight like an on-duty sentry.
My teary-eyed daughter told me, “I had a bad dream. He’s protecting me.”
I think our arrangement can stay as is for just a little while longer.