room, version 4

January 8, 2014 |  Category:   home life remembering



We’ve been needing to update the girls’ room for awhile so I spent most of the holiday vacation doing what I do best: purging and organizing. They need proper desks, having long outgrown the smaller-sized kids’ table that they’ve been using since they were toddlers, and the girls are totally over anything that they deem too “babyish”. Space is a challenge; their room isn’t particularly big and I sometimes find myself wishing that we could sacrifice some of our common living space, which is fairly spacious (by NYC standards), for slightly bigger bedrooms.


But we’ve been here before. This will be the 4th version of this room. There was first a crib, then a single twin bed, then bunk beds and now, a room that is lined along one wall with desks. All of the furniture in their room is still white and while on an online shopping binge last week I fretted that their room was too colorless, so we’re waiting for some bright red chairs and a black & white rug to arrive. So the big news here is that we are now down to just 2 baskets of toys and some board games in the closet. Pretty remarkable for kids who are still 7 and almost 10, but we never had a lot of toys to begin with. It feels like a bigger change than simply just having less crap in the house. The girls are growing up and their interests are evolving which was definitely reflected by the fact that I was rather flummoxed as to what to buy them for Christmas.
My mom keeps insisting that the girls need their own bedrooms. I think this is wrapped up in that “American Dream” mentality; the same sentiment that had her urging us to take a trip to Disney before they got too old. This perspective comes from her childhood of having to share a room with 5 siblings for most of her life. I push back saying they’re fine, mostly because I really do think they are, but partly because we really can’t give up the office, not now anyway. The girls are codependent and about as close as I’ve ever seen two sisters, but they also fight and bicker like sisters do, mostly about toys at the moment, but I imagine that will change over time to more age appropriate things. While there have been moments when each of them have expressed wanting their own rooms (mostly after a fight and declarations of “I hate my sister!”), I can’t imagine them apart and their relationship continues to fascinate me because I never had a sibling close to my age or a sister. But I get it. I get that privacy is king when you’re a teenager, so we may have to rethink things in 4 or 5 years.

I remember all of my bedrooms from both my childhood homes as clear as day. My first bedroom was a perfect capsule of the 70s; patterns everywhere in the ubiquitous color palette of burnt oranges, muted greens, browns and mustard yellows that defined that decade. My mom sewed my curtains and my bedspread. This was back when she did a lot of sewing and crocheting, including much of my wardrobe because she claimed I was too skinny to shop for and store bought pants didn’t fit me. I spent most of the 70s in polyester – pants, skirts, ponchos and dresses, all handmade by my mom and often adorned with patches of animals and mushrooms.
When we moved to our house further out in Queens when I was 9, I took the smaller middle bedroom since my grandmother was still sharing a room with my brother who was a toddler at that time. My mom wallpapered the bedroom walls herself, and I chose a pattern with small red flowers for my room. I also had a canopy bed with white fabric. Some years later, we took the canopy down and I started hanging up posters of my favorite bands, a rotating collection of mostly guys with big hair dressed in black and sometimes leather. I also started shutting the world out with headphones; I was always listening to music. I remember at some point my mom closing the door to my room whenever she walked by. The mess was an eye sore she said and she had long given up on expecting it to be cleaned, which is so funny to me because I am so clean-obsessed and have such an aversion to clutter now. But I get that too. I walk into the girls’ room and just shake my head, legos covering every inch of the floor, books and knick knacks on every surface. I make them clean their room, but sometimes you have to let it go and I’m learning to live with that for fear of turning into my father who would trail you with a garbage bag picking up after you if he could.
The last bedroom that I called my own under my parents’ house was my favorite room. I inherited a bigger room when my brother and I switched rooms when I was 15 and I pushed for black walls which my mom agreed to, as long as it was still wallpaper. So she and I peeled my brother’s old light blue Snoopy wallpaper off the walls one day and put up black wallpaper that ironically is not unlike the wallpaper that we have now in our kitchen backsplash except inverted in color (I had a good laugh when I realized this a few years ago). My bedroom furniture was white, a matching set of furniture from my younger days that worked to soften the black walls and make the room still girly. My carpet was light gray and I had a reversible black/gray satin comforter on my bed. I loved that room because it suited me perfectly; it was the right bedroom for the time.
It’s interesting how a room can reflect back what you’re feeling. My room seemed to transform into whatever mood I was in and yes, it was a rocky rollercoaster ride which shouldn’t be a surprise considering the broody teenage years we’re talking about. When I was happy, the room was a perfect place to hang out, a teenager’s retreat filled with my music, my books, my things. But when life was dark – and there were some really dark moments in my teenage life – those black walls seemed to close in on me, almost suffocating in the way they seemed to magnify my loneliness and stress.
When I moved out to the city for art school and then out to the Northwest a few years later, my mom kept my room intact. It was always so strange coming home to a room I grew up in, not only because it felt like stepping back in time to some bizarre, unnaturally preserved environment, but also because it felt like I was taking steps back from the life that I wanted to escape from. Once home, even if for a few days, childhood habits, routines and familial roles fell back into place. For this reason, I’m grateful that my parents’ sold the childhood home that I grew up in. When I go visit them with my own family, which is quite often, we stay in a house that holds no deep memories, nor a room that I have a history with.
The girls are thrilled with the changes we’ve made to their room. They now each have their own desk to stake claim in, so even though they’re still sharing a room, they’re able to carve out their own little space. And isn’t that what it’s all about, really? Carving out our own little space in the world?

You Might Also Like

  • Michelle joelle January 8, 2014 at 12:50 pm

    What a wonderful reflective post. Now I’m thinking hard about my own childhood bedrooms!

  • Melanie January 8, 2014 at 3:46 pm

    Jenna, I love this post. I wrote a (far less thoughtful!) post on Monday about books that I read as a pre-teen/teenager that shaped a lot of my interests today. I loved rearranging my room when I was younger and apparently reading books about girls obsessed with having their own space as well. You should check out the Do Not Enter Diaries that I mention in the post. It’s a video series of teenagers giving tours of/talking about their bedrooms and what they mean to them.

    Hope you’re doing well! xo

    • Jenna January 9, 2014 at 1:49 am

      Thanks for the tip Melanie – sounds like an interesting video series.

  • Myla January 8, 2014 at 3:49 pm

    Great post! We are actually about to update my older daughter’s room. She is also about to turn 10 and we told her that her redecorating her room will be part of her bday present. It’s also interesting about what you say about feeling strange coming back to your old childhood home. My parents sold our childhood home as soon as we went to college and I always felt nostalgic for it. Wonder if I would have felt the same if they kept that house.

  • Lyn January 8, 2014 at 8:11 pm

    Wow, 2 baskets! I am amazed! What is in their 2 baskets anyhow? I really need to organized my kids toys especially since Christmas was just here! It’s interesting to see how we grow up and the things we change from our childhood- when raising our own family. It is quite different and hard for my parents to see the things I am doing because when you are Asian there really are no choices but to do it and do it well.

    • Jenna January 9, 2014 at 1:53 am

      1 basket contains legos and the other is a hodge podge of calico critters/my little ponies/playmobile furniture and little figurines which they use with their legos. oh wait, I totally forgot we have another basket of play food out in the living room. OK, 3 baskets of toys (plus their american girl doll clothes. etc.)

  • oilandgarlic January 9, 2014 at 12:06 pm

    I shared a room at home and in college. I don’t think I had my own room until I finally moved out on my own! Even though my sister and I had many arguments, I think sharing a room forced us to remain close and work out problems. Having your own space in the room helps a lot.

  • Anna January 9, 2014 at 3:42 pm

    This is such an interesting post…while I was reading this, I of course recalled all of my bedrooms as a kid and how much they defined who I was at the time. My apartment does now, too, but there’s something different about a single room that is dedicated entirely to one person.

    What you said about going back to old habits in your old house is spot on, for me at least. I’ve noticed that I act like dumb teenager every time I go back home to sleep in a bunk bed. It’s making me wish my parents would sell their house, too.

    Great post, as always!

    • Jenna January 9, 2014 at 3:53 pm

      I’m curious, did you sleep in bunk beds as teenagers? We have bunks now and the one thing I have trouble envisioning are teens who most likely will be physically bigger than me sleep in bunk beds!

  • Maghy January 9, 2014 at 10:41 pm

    Hi Jenna! I really enjoy your blog and your posts. Please keep writing, and never stop your blog. I know a lot of people enjoy it!

  • RebeccaNYC January 9, 2014 at 11:50 pm

    I shared a room with my 2 sisters until one sister went to college and we moved to a new house. We each had a space that was ours alone, no one was allowed to touch it, and I think that helped! I think you are right to insist that the girls are fine the way they are….but it’s cute that your mom is advocating for separate rooms…

  • Jeanette January 11, 2014 at 11:39 pm

    I, too, am amazed at the two/three baskets of toys. How did you help them withstand the peer pressure to collect all the most popular toys, clothes, etc.? For contrast, my niece’s neighbor has ten (!!) American Girl dolls. The idea of all those dolls actually creeps me out, but I get why that neighbor is the envy of many a little girl out there.

    • Jenna January 13, 2014 at 10:19 am

      Interesting…aside from American Girls dolls, they’ve never expressed peer pressure to collect anything else their friends might have, and even the AG dolls weren’t like that so much. I don’t see too much of that going on among the girls in our neighborhood or school, at least from what I can see. I’m sure in a few years we’ll be hearing about it with phones and other electronics (I hear a bit about that now already, oy), but the girls have rarely expressed jealously about “stuff” that their friends have.