A Room of One’s OwnWednesday, January 25, 2012
Failing With Gusto
When my husband and I bought our house several years ago, I had big plans for the bedroom on the first floor. I wanted to convert it into the library of my English-major dreams, with wrap-around bookcases and a rolling ladder. I planned to organize and cross-reference all of my beloved books in such a perfect and precise manner that Melvil Dewey himself could not find fault. All of my literature would finally be gathered in one place, like a Donny Osmond Family Christmas Special.
This exact room had once served as the master bedroom for the previous owners. They raised 10 children together, so we joking referred to their bedroom as "the fertility clinic." Our wisecrack took on new meaning when several of our friends, struggling to conceive, asked to "use" what was our makeshift library.
Not being particularly prudish, we gladly obliged their requests and let's just say the number of kids who can trace their lineage back to our library grows yearly.
Sadly, my fantasies of Dewey and mahogany bookcases have stalled for six long years. Instead of a beacon of order and learning, the library currently serves as the staging area of our lives. Christmas presents, book bags, miscellaneous furniture and dying plants all lay claim to my over-populated and misused dream.
On a dreary afternoon this week, I received an email from my sister-in-law, who recommended the only carpenter in the entire country known to answer his phone. He also had a reputation for being very affordable. I needed something to lift me out of my dour mood, so I thought it might be fun to pretend I was actually going to have that library. I tentatively dialed the number. Before I could change my mind, an Irish brogue answered. Within three minutes, he was at my door with a tape measure. Apparently, he had been lunching just up the street.
Upon entering my home, the carpenter tripped over a pair of kid boots and then accidentally knocked over an army of children's coats from a kitchen chair. Our front hall closet is the size of a shoebox, and we have never been able to smoosh everybody's stuff inside. I sheepishly counted seven pairs of shoes strewn about the room in addition to countless gloves, hats, and sporting gear.
As we headed into the library, a volcanic eruption of orders started pouring from my mouth, and I barely knew what I was saying. I wanted some shelves, alright. But I also needed some hooks and some cubbies. I started going crazy with my demands:
Oh! And how about some shelves for the kids' hockey, bike, and baseball helmets! Some benches? How about some benches that store shoes? Lots of shoes! And think man-sized shoes because my boys are going to have like size 15 clodhoppers according to the pediatrician. They're going to be able to put out forest fires with their feet. Can we also have some nooks and crannies for all the mittens and gloves and scarves, too? This is going to be awesome!
After carefully measuring and taking notes, the carpenter told me he'd provide a cost estimate and some preliminary drawings within the next day or two.
I thanked him profusely, and as he walked out, he turned and said:
I'm really looking forward to building ye a grand mudroom, ma'am.
Wha? No….I wanted a library. Not a mudroom. He quickly backtracked:
Sorry, ma'am. 'Tis what I meant…a fine library.
He had that mischievous twinkle in his eye, as though I was not the first case of Mudroom Fever he had witnessed. It dawned on me then: if I ever was to get my library, I was going to have to get a job at Newberry.
I unwittingly transformed my perfect room into something resembling a schoolhouse cloakroom, but I am okay with that. All this time, I hoped that a symbol of learning and literature would define my house. That was dumb. The three little boys who nearly miss the bus every day because we can't find matching boots are who define my house and my life. Gladly.