When my four children were born, we lived in a sweet, recently-built, three-bedroom home in Redwood City. The bedrooms were too small though, so we gathered all our funds and built a Menlo Park home large enough to handle our brood.
The home had an upstairs room that we designated the playroom, since it was convenient to the children’s various bedrooms and served no other purpose. That room was to trace my children’s lives.
Soon after we moved in, we installed an air hockey table where the two boys and I played day and night, battling with each other and they with their friends. But when we were offered a pool table at no charge, we decided to take it up a notch and we embraced the game of pool.
My daughter Ari, around 10 years old, immediately saw the value of the room as the perfect place to put on her plays. She’d write skits, make costumes with an old sewing machine and direct her siblings, always in an authoritative—but humorous—manner. I watched many wonderful productions, the six of us sharing special time together.
At some point, Beanie Babies came on the scene and the kids would sit up there and sort them and trade them with each other and their friends. Somewhere, we still have a hundred or so. Huge Lego collections were kept in a cabinet drawer and the boys would make everything imaginable from those little pieces of plastic. I still have a couple of Lego-built items that were made as birthday gifts.
When the Internet appeared, we put in a phone line to a computer up there, and that’s where the kids got their first taste of computer life. They downloaded MP3s, did homework and eventually “got mail.”
Always, the room served as a friend center. We put some futons, a television and PlayStation in the room and get-togethers and sleepovers in the playroom became common. As the kids moved on to middle school and high school, the “play” in playroom took on a different distinction, with various dubious activities occurring up there behind the closed door. The younger children would spy on their older siblings and caution me about some endeavor going on. But I left the teens alone and never ventured up there.
Then the slow exodus out of our home began. Camp, college and beyond, and the playroom quietly experienced less and less use. If a space had feelings, I’m sure that the playroom felt sad, wondering where all the kids and fun went. Truth is, I felt the same way.
When our parents died one after the other, and we inherited stuff that we just couldn’t seem to part with, the playroom started to serve its new function as a storage room. And when our children needed a place for their projects or things for their future homes, they ended up there as well. When we replaced TVs and didn’t know what to do with the old ones, they also found a home there.
I walked into the playroom a month ago and I was ashamed to admit that, amid our clean and organized home, it looked like a hoarder’s den. We had a bunch of relatives coming to visit and I knew it was time to act. Like an overgrown garden full of thorny weeds, I just needed to jump in. I told my kids that they had a week to get their stuff out of there and this time I meant it. My plan was simple: four piles—items to a storage unit that I would rent; electronics to Best Buy for recycling; unwanted furniture to Habitat for Humanity; and the rest to the dump.
My kids came through and took their stuff. As is the norm these days, they wanted almost nothing from their grandparents, despite my begging. I hired a couple of guys with a truck and over a rather exhausting day, we managed to move everything—except the futons and the pool table—out of the playroom.
The next weekend, I spent a day disconnecting wiring, patching walls and cleaning one very dusty room. I even got the pool table looking good. When I was all done, I sat down on one of the futons and looked around at this room that had had so many incarnations. Now back to its pristine condition, I thought that a 10-year-old Ari might burst in with Josh, Tali and Coby behind her with a new play to perform. I teared up when I realized that wouldn’t happen.
But perhaps the playroom is just readying itself for its next act, and maybe in a few years I’ll dig out those Beanie Babies and bags of Legos and have a play date with my grandkids.