Friday, January 1, 2016

In which I discover that a lounge room is more important than I thought

Above: My new, streamlined study

In the middle of last year we tried an experiment. We got rid of the lounge room and set up a study in there, instead. It was good for a while, at least for me. I found it easier to work at home, but we missed having a room where people could stay; we missed watching movies together as a family. Then one day my nine-year-old and I were in an op shop looking for a dress when she spied a big brown modular couch, ran over, flopped on it, and ordered me to buy it.

I don’t usually take interior design instructions from a nine-year-old. But when I flopped on the couch, I too was sold. We bought it, it was delivered the same day, and the desk is now in the shed. And I am again without study.

Mostly, it’s been okay. It hadn't realised how much we like to watch movies together; and as my daughters get older, this will only become more important. I love cuddling up to my girls as we laugh our heads off at Inspector Clouseau, or sigh at Elizabeth Bennett and all her pretty sisters. And I had underestimated how much I like having friends come and stay, something they could not do while the room was a study, but can now it is a lounge room again.

As for my work, I’ve been working in public libraries, or at the kitchen table, or, when the kids are home and the libraries are closed, in a nursing chair in a corner of my bedroom, laptop balanced on my knees. Some days I feel like a pushover, sacrificing my needs to that of my family; other days, I graciously accept that, at this stage, the needs of the family and the demands of hospitality are more important, and I am lucky to have libraries, quiet kitchens and nursing chairs to work in. The current arrangement forces me to be streamlined, and that is a blessing to this messy person; all the same, it is frustrating not having anywhere to leave things out. Everything must be packed away before the next meal or when the library closes, then pulled out again at the next opportunity.

So it's a mixed decision. There are times when I fantasise about houses with studies, or extra rooms. Yet we used to live in one of those houses; but other values impelled us to move here, instead. And it’s not that our current house is too small. It has enough rooms. But the big lounge is at the front of the house, where nobody much hangs out; while the small reading room is just off the kitchen, and is everyone’s favourite place. The small room would make the better study, but the family will not forfeit it, even though it doesn’t fit a couch; the big room really is too big for a study, and contains the piano and the telly. If only I could swap the location of the small room and the big room, so that the big room opened off the kitchen and the small room was up the front - then everyone would be happy!

My husband suggests building a studio in the garden where I can write and think. But my kids fight up in the tree house; the little boys next door constantly wail for their mum; and the boys on the other side kick a soccer ball until midnight several nights a week. It’s noisy out there; building is expensive; and I’m not sure it’s a good option. More realistic is to accept that important values led us to this situation, and then do what so many parents do: wait a decade until the kids move out, and take over a bedroom.

Or maybe just move house.

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