My kids aren’t only siblings, they’re roommates.
Our apartment is 1,153 square feet of living space. In my part of Brooklyn this is considered family-sized, but in suburban America it’s referred to as a shack. We have two bedrooms, and two children, a four-year-old girl and an eighteen-month-old boy who share a room. It’s very obvious which part of the room is Lucy’s and which is Max’s. There seems to be an unspoken divider in the center of the room. Lucy’s side has a dresser covered with Polly Pockets, a large collection of dolls and a floral comforter on a white princess bed. Max’s area is cluttered with Thomas Trains, random Fisher Price toys, a crib with blue sheets, and a large mural of a dinosaur.
What bothers me is that people always ask, “How long can you stay there with two kids of the opposite sex sharing the same room?”
“I guess when they start to notice,” I reply. Of course, they’ve obviously already noticed they are sharing a room. The truth is, I plan on keeping them together until one of them protests so strongly that they try to convince us to give up our bedroom and relocate to the living room.
And Lucy and Max have a large bedroom even by suburban standards, so why can’t they share? Some people told me that they heard it’s against the law to have siblings of the opposite sex share a room after a certain age, which I can’t believe is true. If it is, I’m going to break the law. But those comments do make me question my parenting ethics. Simply by keeping my kids together, would they become like the incestuous siblings from Flowers in the Attic?
It can’t be true. I mean, that wasn’t the case with Jane and Michael Banks in Mary Poppins or Wendy, Michael and John in Peter Pan or Charlie and Lola or Pinky Pinky Doo and her brother Tyler, who all shared rooms with siblings of the opposite sex. In fact, in the past didn’t all siblings share a bedroom, which was referred to as the nursery?
There is something sweet and innocent about the concept of a nursery, because there is a closeness my children share that children who sleep in separate bedrooms miss. They partake in the same bedtime ritual. After their bath, I tell them a good-night story, and as I walk out and leave the door ajar, I always hear Lucy singing songs to Max. In fact, when we stayed in a hotel, I told Lucy to do the thing she does to put Max to sleep, and she began to sing. And once when Max had a high fever and came into bed with us, Lucy woke up in the middle of the night, looked over at his empty crib and screamed, “Where’s Max?!”
Obviously, there are downsides to sharing a room and living in an apartment limited in size. We must give up many aspects of privacy, and sharing a room leaves you with even less. I’ll admit that I cringed when I was changing Max’s diaper in their room and didn’t notice Lucy looking over my shoulder until she said, “Mommy, look at his silly little penis sticking up in the air.”
There was a period after Max was born that I entertained the idea of selling our apartment and moving to the suburbs to give my children their own bedrooms and more space. And during what I consider a space-related mental breakdown, I made my husband Peter drive the family out to Long Island and look around Port Washington to see if we could live there. As Peter assessed houses and real estate taxes, all I could talk about was finding a good place to pick up a burrito or sushi. We drove around the neighborhood in search of a playground, and when we found one empty despite it being a nice Saturday afternoon, it was obvious it just wasn’t going to work. I had the opportunity to give my kids a pleasant suburban upbringing with separate rooms and I gave It would be a shame to move just because our kids are different sexes. it up for quick take-out, lively playgrounds, sidewalks and corner stores. We quickly returned to Brooklyn, where my kids were just going to have to live with the fact that they weren’t only siblings, but they were roommates.
I’m not alone in this situation. A lot of Lucy’s friends share rooms with their siblings of the opposite sex. I tend to gravitate to these parents. We all talk about what the next step is and when we will be forced to move. In theory, we can move once Max is enrolled in our overly parent-involved local public school, because once you’re enrolled you can stay in the school even if you don’t live in the zone. Then we can move to another part of our neighborhood that isn’t zoned for a good school, which means we can get a lot of space for a lot less money literally just a couple of blocks away. These are the harsh realities of the city public school system.
But I don’t want to move. I love our apartment. I secretly admired the building we live in now for years before we moved in (it’s a restored church from the 1800s turned into co-ops), and it would be a shame to move just because our kids are different sexes. It doesn’t have to be that way. In fact, I have a friend who grew up in Manhattan and his parents intended to put up a wall in the bedroom he shared with his sister, but the kids protested and stayed together until the boy left for college.
Yes, there are obvious sacrifices, even if we had a three-bedroom and my kids had their own space. They can’t have a playroom. I have to limit their toy intake, and at holidays I specifically ask for gifts that don’t take up much space. I don’t keep a lot of mementos, and the kid’s artwork has to be exceptional not to be chucked. And since they live in an apartment building, they are constantly being shushed.
Despite the lack of space, there are advantages to growing up here. My kids are a subway ride away from major museums. They are exposed to a variety of people and cuisines. My daughter has become an expert at spotting open parking spaces. They get to attend progressive preschools that refer to recess as “gross motor play.” And they are becoming socially savvy, because we spend every afternoon at a playground with friends instead of isolated in a suburban backyard.
A few weeks ago, we were visiting my friend Aimee on Long Island, and my daughter stood in her backyard. “This is your backyard?” I didn’t ask her if she wanted her own room, because I didn’t want to know. she asked.
“Yes,” Aimee replied.
“So, you don’t share it with your neighbors?”
Lucy pointed over the gate to the backyard next to Aimee’s. “So, those people don’t get to use your yard?”
“If I invite them,” she responded.
“So they only come over if you ask them?” Lucy asked.
“Yes,” Aimee said, wearily.
It was starting to look as if my child was being raised on a kibbutz or some communist-era Russian collective farm.
“This is your own yard?” Lucy asked again in disbelief, half saying it to herself. “You don’t share it with anybody?”
She was truly amazed. I didn’t ask her if she wanted a backyard of her own, and especially not her own room, because I didn’t want to know. The truth is, we had the opportunity to provide our kids with private yards and their own bedrooms, but I chose the city instead. I hope they don’t hate me for it.