Our old (old, old) living room, 2009.
Several lifetimes ago (by my count), I wrote my first of what turned out to be hundreds of posts that loosely fall into the “Diary” category – the missives about parenting, about anxiety, about divorce that I’ve posted here over the years. This first one, though, was about something a little different. A little more…tactile.
It was about my living room. The living room that I shared with Kendrick (and Lucy, and then later on Virgil and our infant son) when we lived on the Upper East Side. It was a wild, messy mix of hand-me-downs from my parents, pieces we’d found discarded on the street and fixed up with varying degrees of success, and the occasional element of inexplicable drama (chalkboard fridge! graffiti-covered chest of drawers! insane bird wallpaper!).
I loved it.
Here is a video of Baby Kendrick and Baby Me dancing in it.
But not everybody loved it, of course, and the everybodyies who did not let me know their opinions, extremely loudly – a byproduct of blogging that I’d only recently been exposed to, and was only just first starting to learn how to deal with. It was just about my living room – in retrospect, you know, BRING IT ON – but it still threw me for a loop, that level of just flat-out…meanness.
So? I decided to write about my living room – this time not about what it looked like, but rather what it meant.
After I read the comments about my living room – and after the requisite moment of questioning my choices – I sat down, looked around me, and realized that man, I love our home. Our a-bit-too-busy-for-a-busy-space coffee table? A Salvation Army find from when Kendrick and I first got engaged, and my husband’s absolute favorite piece of furniture. The mismatched pillows on the couch? The coziest things ever, and from the bedroom that I grew up in. The dog toys all over the floor? Ugly, half-destroyed things that nevertheless bring constant joy to the two much-adored furballs in my life. Even that messy pile of receipts by the door symbolizes some medical reimbursements that I’m really pretty psyched about, and it makes me happy to look at it. So there.
In other words: Yes, it was messy, and yes, it was weird, and no, it wasn’t for everyone…but all those things were okay, because what it was, was for me. It seems a bit silly now, to react in such a big way to criticisms about my living room, of all things – but it was there, writing that post, that I first learned how to hear criticism, turn it around in my hands to figure out which parts are right and which parts are noise…and then decide for myself what I thought. And say exactly that.
I’ve thought about this post from time to time over the years, usually when I find myself moving away from the ethos I expressed in it (decorate with whatever you like!) and towards one that’s more in keeping with my current priorities (making smart purchasing decisions, decorating with children/longevity/no staining in mind, etc). Mostly it’s about the fact that I now want my home to feel like a calm center in the midst of chaos, and I no longer feel that things like graphic black and white wallpaper covered with birds serves that purpose (although I can appreciate that for the choice it was at the time, which was BADASS).
My son’s room in our last house.
I approached my children’s first rooms with far more planning than I’d ever approached my own living spaces, mostly because I had no idea what I was doing, and planning seemed like the best way to handle that. And plan them I did: I even had a whole AOL video team come over to do a story on how we turned what was effectively a hallway into our son’s nursery. When we bought our house in San Jose – a house that I thought we’d stay in for years, if not forever – I got super into customizing every inch of their rooms.
My son’s room became a primary-colored play space with a lofted bed and a little shelf for his favorite light and his favorite books, and my daughter’s room was my own childhood dream: a fairyland snowglobe of a space, all pinks and pale greens and tiny bunnies and hummingbirds leaping about the walls.
And now we are here, and the kids’ rooms are frankly enormous – easily twice the size of their former rooms. They’re also high-ceilinged, with virtually no recessed lighting and only a single window each, which from time to time makes them feel a bit like extremely-well-appointed prison cells. What would I do with them if I owned the place? Oh, god, all the things.
Except I don’t.
So. Here is what my approach to my children’s rooms have been: I set them up with the basics – beds, dressers, whatever lamps we dragged here from our old place, and so forth – and then? Then I let them sort of just…pick. Because they’re older now, and for the first time I’m seeing them start to do what I did so many years ago: choose, very simply, to surround themselves with what makes them happy.
They’ve surprised me already: Our daughter chose a black rug for her bedroom floor (that’s my girllllll), while our son wanted to mirror his wall with a second map. My daughter is neat, but my son is messy, so storage containers line up next to his dresser like an Ikea warehouse display.
They want pictures of their daddy, and pictures of the four of us, and so those are what go on the walls. They want their dreamcatchers, so I hang them from mirrors and blinds, rather than jamming hooks into the ceilings that I’ll just have to fill later.
Pompoms, and big, smooshy chairs that they can first hide their toys in, and then sit on.
At this point, whether or not their rooms look beautiful to me is an incidental. Whether their rooms looks beautiful to them is the same: a bonus; they don’t care yet about things like that. But whether their rooms feel like them? That, they care about. And that is the point.
It makes me sad, sometimes, when I think back on the crazy wonderland that was our old house, and our old life. Our bird wallpaper and Salvation Army coffee table and stove that wouldn’t light up unless I crawled full inside it.
I look at my matching side tables and the pillow collection I’ve curated over the years, keeping what worked and tossing what just wasn’t right, and I love them, I do. I love my neatly made bed, and my dimmable fixtures, and the robot vacuum that I’ve named “Thanos,” and that cleans my house for me while I work. It turns out that with decorating – as with life – I do enjoy a bit of a plan.
So no, I wouldn’t want to go backwards in time – not to the apartment, or the life. Not to any of it, really; I’m in the business of forward motion at the moment. But still, from a distance, it’s just a fact: It tends to be the beautiful parts that shine brighter.