A Little Personal Space, Please!

At least once a day, my youngest daughter announces that she “needs a little personal space.” This request is usually made at the top of her lungs and is directed at her brother, who is typically standing less than six inches away from her at the time. There follows a flurry of activity, during which he steps even closer, she shoves him, he attempts to trip her, and everyone gets sent to their room in a huff.

Girl, I hear you. Personal space is one of many casualties of the COVID-19 pandemic. We’re together all the time. So much quality family time it’ll make you want to yak. Or cry. Or punch things.

Side note: I’m getting my daughter a punching bag for Christmas. No joke – it’s been ordered. I may use it when she’s not looking.

As this pandemic wears on, I’m learning that personal space takes different forms for different people. For my son, personal space means heading to the great outdoors. When he’s tired of his assorted housemates, he exits the premises. You’ll hear a door slam, then see a small figure head down the driveway on a bike, skateboard, hoverboard, or scooter.

Or else he’ll just go into the yard and start whacking things with sticks. He keeps a collection of sticks in the garage for just such a purpose and is fiercely protective of them. I made the mistake of tossing a few into the kindling pile for the firepit and you’d have thought I was suggesting we burn his firstborn child.

My youngest daughter retreats to her bedroom, an opportunity that is new and delightful for her. Until the pandemic, she and her brother had shared a bedroom since toddlerhood. But as our enforced togetherness began to grate on everyone’s nerves, we converted the den into a bedroom and moved her in.

Just this weekend we finally got paint on two of the walls and assembled a new loft bed. We hung gauzy purple curtains outside her door, so any guests must now pass through the magical barrier before entering. But be sure to abide by the sign on the door – “pleas knoce” – or face the wrath of the fairy princess within. She will spend hours in there, happily playing in the land of her imagination with an astonishing assortment of baby dolls, stuffed animals, and Lego figures to keep her company.

My eldest child walks the most difficult line of all because, while she grows tired of her siblings, she thrives on adult interaction. She doesn’t want to hole up in her bedroom because I’m not there. You’re more likely to find her ensconced on the recliner in the living room with book, growling at anyone who gets too close, but secretly poised and ready to play a board game or bake brownies, should the opportunity arise.

My personal space is my art studio. To be clear, it’s a disorganized corner of an unfinished basement, so don’t romanticize the concept too much. But it’s my space and it’s where I most want to be when I’m feeling overwhelmed or over-peopled. I may wind up with cuts on my fingers and grout under my nails, but at least no one is shouting, demanding another snack, or loudly playing the harmonica.

And the dog? Well, Buddy doesn’t believe in personal space. While working on assembling my daughter’s new bed, cooking in the kitchen, or cleaning the house, I have to contend with a constant furry presence under my feet. When I sit down to relax, he helpfully licks my ear. Repeatedly.

When I’m feeling overwhelmed by too much togetherness with my children, I can take solace in the fact that they rarely lick me. It’s really the small victories in life that we must embrace.

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