Many of us can pinpoint the time in our lives when we returned to our childhood home seeking the comfort of preserved memories, only to find that our bedrooms had been converted into something else. The TV room, the sewing room, the storage room, the den. This happened to me after I went away to college, and I never saw it coming.
My expectations were not based on a bratty notion that my parents were obligated to maintain my bedroom for me in perpetuity. Rather, I had assumed my parents would preserve my room for me because they had done this for my older brother. In fact, his bedroom had become a veritable shrine. His old comic books, photographs, trophies, football helmet, and Naval Academy paraphernalia were displayed lovingly on shelves and dressers, awaiting his much-celebrated return.
Based on this, I believed naively that my parents would enshrine my room, too.
I was wrong.
No sooner did I turn 18 when the slow transition began. Home on a break, I noticed that my posters had been replaced by framed watercolor prints. My cartoon cat bedding swapped for floral comforters. My juvenile white-lacquered bedroom set exchanged for a lovely golden pecan dresser, end tables and desk. The whitewashed antique chifforobe was gone, along with the stuffed animals that graced its Contact-papered shelves.
At first, I was touched by the improvements. How sweet that my parents wanted things to be nicer for me when I came home for visits! But as time went on, the secret new purpose for my old bedroom would eventually become clear.
Small, barely noticeable changes continued through my college years and even after law school. But the transformation was so subtle, I couldn’t see what was happening. My bulletin board crammed with camp ribbons, high school dance corsages, photos and memorabilia disappeared one year. My swimming trophies found their way onto a shelf in the closet the next. The creaky olive-upholstered recliner that smelled of cat pee was substituted for a dainty pastel wingback. The drab braided rug vanished, replaced by luxurious cream cut pile.
The night before my wedding in the fall of 1993, reality finally hit.
I had been instructed by my mother to sleep on the old couch in the basement, dictated by a line of logic that made perfect sense at the time. My aunt and uncle from Kentucky needed to sleep on the double bed in my brother’s room. My brother and his wife and baby from Seattle needed to stay on the twin beds in my bedroom, which had recently been outfitted with a crib. That left the old basement couch for me, which only made sense.
But as I flopped to and fro on the brown plaid upholstery hoping I wouldn’t have bags under my eyes at my wedding the next day, it finally occurred to me — my bedroom wasn’t mine anymore.
It was the guest room, and it had been for a very long time.
I didn’t cry. I didn’t punch my pillow. I didn’t curse my parents. I went to sleep. The next day, I went to the neighbors’ house to shower because our bathroom was occupied, then I put on my white dress and I got married.
Like a lobster in a cool pot of water, I didn’t know the flame had been turned on. Before I knew what was happening, the boiling point had been reached, and I was cooked, done, all grown up. Ready to leave the cozy security of my parents’ three-bedroom-one-and-a-half-bath brick 1950s ranch and create my own home.
Next week, our adult children — Lilly (19), Anna (21), and Hayden (24) — will be home for the Thanksgiving holidays. Hopefully, Hayden won’t notice my husband’s suits in his closet, and that his collection of Rubik’s Cubes have been stashed under the bed. We won’t tell Anna about our future plans to turn her room into our master bathroom. And we’re banking on Lilly never realizing that her bedroom has been the guest room all along.
Although, the basket of hotel toiletries on her nightstand might be a dead giveaway.