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A room of one’s own. With coffee. And quiet.

August 16, 2009

In her essay, A Room of One’s Own, Virginia Woolf argues that women need both a literal and a figurative “room of their own” (and money) in order to write great fiction or poetry.

She says a whole lot more, but I’m really only concerned with the room at the moment.  Because I’ve been thinking–nay, dreaming–about that room a lot lately.

Not to write fiction or poetry.  (I’m a pretty abysmal fiction writer, and I gave up on poetry years ago when I finally experienced the appropriate level of shame and embarrassment after having reflected upon my public reading of my angst-ridden, fifteen-year-old’s “poetic” drivel.)

No, I just want a room of my own in which I can do any sort of meaningful work.  Even if that room is simply a quiet space right in my own head.

Now, before anyone gets offended that I have here insinuated that raising two young kids isn’t meaningful work, please step back a minute and recognize that I think that raising my kids with my husband is the most meaningful work of my life.  The most joyous.  The most miraculous.  The work that I most treasure.  And I know how lucky–how incredibly, amazingly lucky–I am to be able to participate in that work.

But that work is also the most challenging work of my life.  The most demanding.  And the most selfless.

And it’s the selflessness that gets to me.  It’s the days upon days when I can’t get anything done except for satisfying the day-to-day needs of my children that makes me lose my mind just a bit.

This is not to say that working outside of the home or working from a home office while raising kids isn’t challenging or demanding.  I’ve actually done a little bit of both since M was born.

I’ve felt as if my brain were a teeny-tiny pinball rattling around in my skull after coming home from work to a partner who needs relief and two kids who need my attention NOWNOWNOW.  I’ve cried about missing my kid’s first night trick or treating.  I’ve felt as if I were trying to do five million things yet accomplishing nothing when I’ve attempted to work at home while attending to a nursing infant and a needy toddler.

When it all comes down to it, raising young kids is damn hard no matter how or when or if you do other work.

But when I’m home and the kids are presenting such unique, all-consuming challenges that I cannot do any other meaningful work–when one is potty-training and one is teething, when one begins every other sentence with a whine and the other can’t even talk but just emits high-pitched screetches all day long because his gums feel as if they are going to blast right outside his ears, when their alternating demands prevent me from even placing my ass on a chair for four hours straight–I go a little nuts.

Because I can hardly organize my doula client files and spreadsheets and materials when M is working on seven hours of sleep and no naps for the past five days.  (If you don’t have young kids, this just means that M was totally irrational and obstinate and whiney.)

Because I can’t write on the relevance of Simone de Beauvoir’s ethics to contemporary feminist philosophy while A is playing his “Ear-Splitting Shrieks: Greatest Hits” in the background.

Because I can’t even sit down for a meal or a snack when the kids take turns needing me, and all of me, every five minutes.

(Is this married-middle-class-bourgeois-privileged whining right now?  Yes, yes, of course it is.  But I still think it’s a whine worth whining.)

I need a room.

All of us parents–and especially you hard-working single parents out there, who near as I can tell are taking the super-speed elevator up to heaven when you die, while the rest of us take the stairs–all of us need a room of our own.

And it doesn’t have to be all that extravagant.  It doesn’t even have to take up much of our time.

But it has to be a room that allows us to contribute something of ourselves to the world.

Some of us may need that very room that Woolf talks about.  Where we are independent and uninterrupted.  Where it is quiet and peaceful.  Where we can write.

Some of us may need a quiet space in the kitchen where we savor the experience of cooking a meal.  Where we can stop to enjoy the aroma of sauteed onions or garlic.  Where we can bury our noses in a fresh bunch of cilantro.  Where we can try a new recipe or create a new recipe–even the ones that take up an entire day.

Some of us may need an office.  One outside of the home.  One where we respond to needs other than our children’s.  One where the space is not littered with toys and diapers and onesies.

It may be the scrapbooking table or the corner office or the edge of the sofa where we knit or the easel by the window or the operating room or the classroom.

But we all need a room of our own.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. renbeth permalink
    August 17, 2009 8:56 am

    Oh, Kristen. You know I hear you – because you know I’ve been saying similar things for awhile. I’m sorry things with M & A have been tough . . . I wish we were still living close enough the three of you and me & Isaac could get together and we could stick the kids in a room and let them scream :).

    I particularly appreciated your point “Even if that room is simply a quiet space right in my own head” – I find that so often, even when Isaac is napping or playing happily in another room I find it difficult to find that space in my head to work, too.

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