In 1929, Virginia Woolf wrote, “A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction.”
I think of that often as a mother of three boys. I was reminded of Virginia’s essay again when a very successful friend with two boys laughed about how her husband and sons have turned the entire basement into a “man cave,” and she has a “tiny little desk in the corner.”
In my case, it’s my fault.
With three young boys, my computer is purposefully located in the exact center of our house. It is in the kitchen right at the top of the basement stairs, where I can hear all conversations, preemptively stop a fight, or respond quickly to an emergency (which includes anything from an injury to spilling a drink or not making it to the potty). I consider it Central Command. But I have to admit that its location slows my thinking process and work considerably.
As soon as my husband leaves town or works overnight, the kids seize on their perceived right to his side of the bed, planning the nightly rotation to make sure that each gets a turn before Dad comes back. I often forget this ritual and plan to read each night that he is gone, promising myself that, while I have this space and time to myself, I will complete one of the novels stacked high on my bedside table. Instead I get “will you scratch my back?” or a treatise on Star Wars or dinosaurs or Major League Baseball.
It is just in the last year that I can use the bathroom without locking the door for fear that I will be followed by a child finishing a story, asking a question, reading a Garfield comic, needing a sibling spat resolved. Still, our dog often lays her 60-pound body against the bathroom door waiting for me to come out. I hear her there and know I am not alone… again.
And the shower – my sacrosanct half-hour every day when I gather my thoughts in near silence – seems to remain unofficially open for business. Even for my nine year old who has yet to notice that the person he is speaking to is completely naked.
“Mom, I finished my homework.” “Mom, can I have a snack?” “Mom, which Star Wars movie do you like best?” “Mom, isn’t our dog the cutest?” “Can I play the Wii?” To my boys, these are reasonable excuses to open the bathroom – then shower—door.
As I said, it is my fault. I could move my computer to the office upstairs, where everybody leaves my husband alone to do his work. I could lock the bathroom door when I shower (but I won’t, because our shower is sound-proof and I feel the need to be available in a real emergency). I could at least scream a girlish scream every time they open the door. That might freak them out enough to give me my space. I could tell them for the millionth time that “this is Mommy’s private time” and hope it works this time.
But then, when the day starts to wind down, I often find myself alone in the kitchen making dinner. My husband is still at work or up in his office in the quietest corner of the house. The boys are all playing happily in the basement. The dog, content that she has been fed, sleeps. It is quiet then.
A room of mom’s own.
And I feel lonely, wishing one of them were sitting on the other side of the counter, telling me a story, finishing their homework, asking for a snack, or simply filling the space in this room of my own.