Growing up as one of seven girls, I value my space.
No one knows how I managed it, but I was the only kid in our family with my own room. Like all the upstairs bedrooms, it was pink – from the walls to the shag carpeting. It was a little like living inside cotton candy.
I had a cool trundle bed that looked like a couch anchored by long round pillows on either end. I loved that bed, but it was hell to make. Getting the thick bedspread between the mattress and the wooden sides was a nightmare. I would never buy a trundle bed for this reason.
With other people constantly underfoot, “alone time” didn’t exist. The closest I got was retreating to my room, shutting the door, slipping on my white headphones and listening to Jefferson Starship. Their album, Red Octopus, is the first thing I ever reviewed for the high school newspaper. I take a slight amount of pride that I still love it after 40 years. Miracles is a masterpiece.
I understand the need to be alone. The Curmudgeon retreats to his man-cave in the basement every night ostensibly to “work out,” but I think it’s his way of carving out time for himself. I never interrupt him while he’s going through his paces in his home gym. It’s his time.
My 16-year-old daughter constantly seeks space. I don’t really understand this because she’s the only kid home right now. She’s basically got the place to herself, and is often home alone. But I’m getting the impression that she could survive solitary confinement. I know she’d be happy if I left town.
“Why are you up?” she says as I pad downstairs at 6:30 a.m. to get a cup of coffee. “You know I hate when other people are up in the morning. I need this time to myself. Go upstairs. Why are you taking so long to make your coffee?”
It’s a good thing I’m not sensitive. If I were, I’d be insulted and hurt. But remember, I was one of seven kids. When we all watched TV in the family room, it was hard to move without tripping over someone. We all usually laid on the floor, nibbling popcorn or Chips Ahoy cookies. Think of a puppies laying all over each other, and you get the picture.
So I’m totally cool with space. What I’m not cool with is her attitude. I feel like an intruder, no better than a flying squirrel living in the eaves. (Yes, it’s true. Something that horrifying does exist, and they love coming into attics.) I’m greeted by “Why are you up?” every day. You would think that she’d understand by now that I sometimes rise early, and need just a minute to get coffee, but she doesn’t.
One day when the Keurig was taking particularly long to warm up, she tried to hurry me along. “Come on, come on, I only have a few minutes before the bus comes,” she said. “What’s taking so long?” I turned to her and said, “This is my house, and remember you are here at my pleasure.” Some people might have a problem with saying that to a child, but I don’t. It pretty much sums up how I feel.
I’m a nice mother, but I have my limits. Yes, we’re moms and supposed to count to 10, breathe and think before we speak, but sometimes you just need to go down to their level. When I’m told, as I often am, that I’m a horrible mother, I offer up the boarding school line. “You know, you can go away to school if you’d like,” I say.
Of course, sending her away is the last thing I’d do. I’d miss her tremendously. I nearly (well, I did) lost it when my son left for college. Besides, I don’t want to shell out $62,000 a year for school. That’s the going rate for prep schools around here, at least the last time I checked.
She finds me incredibly annoying and has no trouble telling me. My home environment was a lot different. I would not be sitting here with functioning fingers if I told my parents to leave so I could eat breakfast alone. I’m speculating, yes, but I don’t think that would have gone over well with my Dad.
But sure, that’s what I really wanted to say. “Get lost Dad! I don’t want to listen to you chomping on your toast or proclaiming “The forsythias are in bloom!” every spring. I know my mother felt the same way. She’s one of those people who ate breakfast with a far-away look in her eyes.
I can’t stand talking to people in the morning. There is something incredibly nice about being the first person up, and having the house to yourself. It’s that quiet that’s only available at dawn, and disappears as soon as another person stirs. You suddenly think, “I hear footsteps. Damn.”
I’ve said it before, but I’m always amazed by the crowd at the free breakfast at the Hampton Inn on our annual trek south. Some people are so clearly morning people. Freshly showered and groomed, they’re peppy, smiling, and raring to go from the moment their feet hit the floor.
They say “hi” to you in the elevator. They stand patiently and wait their turn for the waffle maker or bagel toaster, making small talk with fellow travelers. They happily take their seat at a table near the flatscreen TV, watching the news and making occasional comments to their spouse or children.
I am not like them. As soon as I awaken, I slip down the motel stairs to retrieve two cups of coffee in the lobby, praying I don’t run into anyone along the way. I’m not showered, my hair isn’t combed, and I might be wearing pajama pants. I slither back to my room, hoping that the door is still ajar because I don’t have the card to get in.
I don’t want to talk to people, but find myself listening to conversations that I don’t want to hear. The last one was two helicopter hockey moms at the Williams Inn discussing an uptick in teen suicides in one of their hometowns. It was impossible not to listen – they were speaking in a stage whisper – but it was the last thing I could deal with in the morning.
I shifted my ears to the table in back of me, a group of happy people from Maine discussing the previous day’s college swim meet. Sports and celebrity news are about all I can handle in the morning. But to be honest, I really don’t want to speak until about 10 a.m.