I am sitting here typing in the most terrifying spot on Earth. My attic.
It is not dark or dingy. There are no critters scurrying or cobwebs draping eerily across a framed portrait of little twin girls. Floorboards aren’t creaking from rocking chairs moving on their own.
It’s a bright and sunny day. Light is streaming cheerily into this temperature-controlled nightmare of a place, across the window seat and built-in bookshelves, ceiling fans and recessed lighting, filling the room so completely that one can take in the horror in one sweeping gaze.
My husband and I spent thousands of dollars converting this space about eight years ago into a place where our young children could play. It was a place where little friends donned costumes from the dress-up trunk and became Mr. Incredible or a fairy princess or Bob the Builder. I sat on this floor — now strewn with Viewmaster slides in the iPhone age, a finger puppet that hasn’t danced on a tiny finger in quite some time and Lego instruction books for sets built years ago — and ate plastic eggs made in a plastic frying pan in a plastic kitchen.
We gave that kitchen to our daughter for her 2nd birthday. She is going into high school next month. I am staring at that kitchen right now.
Near it sits a tiny IKEA table-and-chair set my 5-foot-3, 115-pound, 12-year-old son couldn’t sit at unless he folded himself like a circus freak. On my left is a rack of unwatched DVDs — Dora the Explorer, Thomas the Tank Engine, Little Einstein, Baby Mozart and the Best of Elmo. Actually, that one’s on VHS.
On my right is the dress-up trunk. That’s still here, too. And so are my son’s unplayed drums, scores of picture books, a cardboard box house with booby-trapped rooms my son made at least five years ago and a dollhouse whose occupants no longer speak to each other. Just to get up here I had to step over crap left on eight of the 12 steps on the staircase, a Toy Story Operation game, a bin full of Legos and an action figure of that NFL robot on FOX.
What’s missing, mainly, are the kids. My son still plays video games up here when a friend comes over, to my great mortification. What must these boys tell their mothers? Sometimes my daughter just hangs out with him on her phone, but, for the most part, this room and its contents largely are ignored.
I rarely come up here anymore. The attic is my deepest shame, and I say that as someone who owns three copies of the same Partridge Family album. When I do come up here, I am re-horrified. And when I descend those stairs to the normal place I call home, it’s as if my brain erases the trauma and allows me to forget.
Downstairs, in the real world, my kids make their beds most days and clean up after themselves well enough, but upstairs — up upstairs — is a wild, unpredictable place where the normal rules don’t apply and nothing seems to make sense. Kind of like the island on “Lost.”
My husband and I have dreamily discussed — the way other couples might fantasize about a trip to Paris or a new baby — reclaiming this space for a workout room, a nice office, a guest room or a place to play our cherished vinyl records, even the Partridge Family. But that would mean confronting the stuff, which means confronting the real issue.
The kids are growing up.
Despite the custom-made cabinet full of games like Candyland, this is no longer a playroom, but a repository for memories of the little red wagon years. We all seem to be having a tough time letting go. No one wants to be the one to say, “That’s it! It’s time to grow up.” So much is changing right now as our children pull away into adolescence. Maybe that’s why we have allowed this one space to stay preserved in time.
But it can’t remain so for much longer. If its disastrous state hasn’t been motivation enough for me to take it back, here’s a thought more bone-chilling than the current state of the room: Soon, my teenage kids will want to come up here to hang out with their teenage friends two stories above me where I can’t see or hear them.
Maybe I’ll be getting that office, after all.