A Room of My Own

I have not had a room of my own for twenty-eight years. More specifically, a place with a door that closes with the expectation of a knock to enter.

In that span, I have lived in two apartments and five homes with my husband, four kids, five dogs, three cats, one hedgehog, and a chameleon.

To compensate, I have taken over corners of shared bedrooms, put my desk in halls and entryways, and stored my treasures in piles on the floor and forgotten boxes in garages.

Currently, I have taken up residence at our dining room table in the middle of our open-plan common living area. I work at the edge of a constant flow of people and pets.

From under a heavy quilt, I watch the pinky-orange, slow blooming, Michigan winter sunrise. It crosses my mind that I am living my remedy.

It begins to snow, exaggerating the quiet, and then I hear my Airbnb host start her morning in the kitchen below my room.

I am in Grand Rapids to tend to a tenant transition. My visits follow the cyclical nature of leases and maintenance projects. Each time, I stay in a different Airbnb room in a home near our two rental properties.

The neighborhood has become popular with tourists, giving rise to a proliferation of Airbnb offerings.

The first room I picked was in a beautifully renovated historic home. My Airbnb hosts were a hyper-meticulous young couple. The week before my stay, they sent me pages of rules to adhere to, many of which concerned their newly adopted 110-pound nervous dog.

My room was on the second floor, and the bathroom was downstairs. On the first night, I walked up and down the stairs as the couple entertained in their living room. They introduced me to their friends as I held my toothbrush in my hand.

My hosts’ new dog had a needy love for everyone and abandonment issues. Upon arrival, it was mentioned that the dog may want to sleep with me, although I was not obligated to do so.

The dog slept in my room both nights.

In contrast, I stayed at another home where I had a private entrance. The back door led to my room through a hall that was most likely the servants’ access during the home’s glory days.

I never met my host in person. However, we had robust text conversations about life and being middle-aged women. When I returned to Austin, she sent me an email inviting me back, along with the suggestion that I join her women’s only hiking group. I attempted to re-book with her twice, but she seldom has vacancies.

More recently, I splurged for one of the best-rated, trendier Airbnb locations. The steeper price came with breakfast. When I arrived, I was greeted by the homeowner. He looked the part of the hip host. We talked about Austin, travel, and the Grand Rapids food scene.

He had grown up in the home, and his wife supervised an exquisite, museum-quality overhaul of the place. I was warned, with a smile, that their two small children have run of the house.

The next morning, I had breakfast with farmers who were in Grand Rapids for an agricultural conference. As we waited for food, we talked about the pros and cons of pest control.

Childish laughter spilled from the kitchen as their mom, our host, burst through the swinging door with a pot of coffee. She was genuinely welcoming but scattered from a morning of kids and cooking breakfast.

She kept forgetting our names and asking us the same questions. Her conversation devolved into happy, breathy blather. It was endearing to me, a person who raised four kids, but it was an unfamiliar state to the childless farmers.

Over the last couple of years, circumstances have required more frequent trips to Grand Rapids, usually by myself. A routine and structure have evolved and taken an anticipated form. I have a favorite bakery, restaurant, and grocery store. There is seldom the need for Google maps, and the front desk person at the YMCA remembers my name.

My visits are spent in the solitude of fixing, painting, and preparing homes for other people. Most of my conversations are with the old men at the hardware store, contractors, and servers at restaurants.

There is relief in my aloneness.

I live in strangers’ homes like a benign ghost. There is an awkwardness in being surrounded by other people’s lives, but also a soothing freedom in the detachment required for the arrangement to work.

Finally, a room of my own, in the most unexpected place, thirteen hundred miles away from home.

For a few days, it is my space, just mine, every square inch.

Contract with the Universe


This past weekend I felt too old to be raising three teenagers.  I have fifty-two year old nerve endings that are frayed from twenty-three years of parenting.  I’m vulnerable to the unpredictable, but frequent, teenage emotional eruptions that occur around me. They make me skittish.

My oldest son has moved from being a man/teen to the twenty-something stage of life.  He has come full circle and is pleasant company, sincerely asks for our advice, voluntarily does the dishes, and can be home for a month without one tense moment.

I thumbed my nose at my advanced maternal age designation when I had Eli at thirty-five and the twins at thirty-seven. Like everyone in their thirties, I was still a little delusional about the inevitability of getting older. I had no vision of what the fifties would feel like or how raising teenagers accelerates the aging process.

The girls are fourteen so there is double the drama and constant confirmation that I’m embarrassing, irrelevant, and mean.  For self-preservation’s sake, I am resurrecting a coping mechanism from my repertoire that had been previously reserved for our disturbed second Rottweiler Oscar.

Oscar came to live with us after our beloved first Rottweiler, Toby, died. If I were to diagnose Oscar using the DSM-V, the standard criteria for the classification of mental disorders, he would be labeled as anti-social.

We were warned. When Oscar was just a cute fluff-ball of a puppy, he would growl and fight our vet when he rolled him on to his back.  The vet said it was not a good sign and we should think about putting him down. Of course we were horrified at the suggestion.

Instead we “managed” his personality disorder for the next eight years. He had medical problems too. In the first year, Oscar had double hip replacement for his dysphasia and abdominal surgery to remove his undescended testicles. A few years later he grazed the arm of a child who hit him with a stick and was then quarantined for rabies.

Oscar had a few good qualities, the most important being that he was a noble friend to our German Shepherd, Maude, who was heartbroken when Toby died.

By the time the girls came along, Oscar was a grouchy old dog with painful hips and a disdain for creatures that were smaller than him, including my twin daughters.  At this point we thought about finding him another home – putting him down was not an option for Matthew. Ultimately, neither of us felt like we could, with a clear conscience, pass Oscar off to someone else.

Oscar liked Matthew and Leo and tolerated Eli. He respected me as the alpha bitch of the house. He knew I would take him out if he hurt my girls. I was definitely not his favorite although most of the “managing” of Oscar was my job.

Since I have known Matthew he has held a non-negotiable belief that we make a pact with the universe every time we take on a pet that promises we will care and nurture each animal for its entire life.

In an effort to uphold our contract with the universe, we spent a fortune on a house-calling dog psychologist to help us with our crazy Rottweiler. She had a plan to de-alphatize Oscar and it actually worked fairly well. We trained him to walk away from the girls and he was allowed only supervised contact with them.  When the girls came near him, he would grudgingly move to another place all the while growling and baring his teeth.

Oscar did not transformed into a fun-loving family dog but he never bit or hurt anyone. We fulfilled our contract with the universe to love and guide Oscar for his entire life. When he had to be put to sleep after his lung cancer became too much for him, our entire family gathered around him on the vet’s floor to see him to the other side.

It goes without saying that I cherish my teenagers to the core and am honored and blessed to have these extraordinary children in my life.

But … there are moments while raising our teenagers when I have to remember that we made a contract with the universe.  It outlines the promise that we made to love and shepherd our obstinate, unpredictable, delightfully funny, smart and foolish, vicious and kind, wise and irrational teenagers into young adulthood and beyond. I will recognize them again when they come full circle and be in awe of the people they become.

It’s a great deal in the end.