“I need my own room,” my son wailed, racing over to me after his younger sister had just pulled his hair and knocked over his volcano science experiment. I looked at the mess of baking soda and vinegar and grinded my teeth.
Did I have five minutes to clean up this mess before my next meeting, I wondered, as I looked at the clock, stared at the mess and looked at the clock again.
“Please, Mom!” my son shouted again, snapping me back into reality. “I need my own room.”
“Why? Why do you need your own room?” I asked, mopping up the mixture, the strong smell of vinegar clinging to my hands.
“Because Priya is annoying. And she’s always in my business. I need my privacy.”
What business does a 7-year-old have? And what does he need privacy for?
“I’ll think about it,” I said, trying to log on to my next meeting. It was my way of avoiding saying no and spurring an epic meltdown/screaming match before my next call. And if he pushed me too far, I would pull the “go-ask-your-father” card so they could interrupt his meeting.
I have never been much of an envious person. I don’t have time or energy for it. And more importantly, I’m happy with my life. And guess what: There’s plenty of room for all of us to be happy in this life.
And yet, there’s a divide between city dwellers and suburban dwellers who are raising young children in this pandemic. Scroll through Instagram and the “pandemic privilege” is clear. Social distancing backyard pool parties. Jumping on trampolines and eating smores from your very own grill afterward. Racing around on bikes. Real nature hikes. Social bubbles of kids who play hide and seek outside crossing from one neighbor’s lawn to another.
“They play outside, in our garage,” a friend explained when I asked her how her neighborhood social bubbles worked. “Their friends don’t even come inside.”
Ah. A garage. I hadn’t even thought of that. People have their own garages. Like really big garages. And sometimes they have more garages than they do cars. I guess an extra garage for storage? Or clearly in preparation for the unforeseen pandemic.
All I’ve got is a tub of sidewalk chalk, face painting and endless streaming subscriptions. Sure, I am a pretty awesome face painter, but sometimes I feel that pales in comparison to what my children see their friends and family have.
The comparisons are starting young, and they are suddenly more evident in a pandemic. And my 7- and 5-year-old don’t even have Instagram access.
When my son asks me if he can have his own room—and a Slip and Slide, and a swing set—am I failing him? Or am I falling into the Instagram trap of comparing myself to others, on superficial items that aren’t necessary, are a nice-to-have and might make us all more comfortable in this pandemic summer. Yet without them, we are all surviving.
I remember my mother sharing stories of how she and her six sisters shared one room in India growing up. They only had a handful of clothes at the start of every school year. For them, meat and sweets were both considered a luxury.
If my mom and her six sisters could sleep in one room, my kids will be fine. Stories like that slap me out of the privilege that I have become accustomed to and take for granted. This too shall pass. And I will not get sucked into Instagram and scrolling through pandemic privilege.
We get what we get, and we don’t get upset. We will share and give to those who need our help. We are deeply grateful for what we have. This is the mantra in our house, and this is what we will not and cannot let our children forget.
I ignore him this time around.
“Can I have my own room please?”
“How about me? Can I get my own room too?” I ask.
“You want your own room too?” he asks, surprised.
“Daddy is annoying. And he’s always in my business. I need my privacy,” I explain.
He looks puzzled and walks away, not prepared with any response. He gets distracted by a toy his sister has rediscovered under a couch cushion. They proceed to fight over it.
Yes, I would like my own room too. Away from my husband. So I can have my own space in this pandemic.
That’s not likely to happen anytime soon. So I will take my fake walk-in closet. Next time you invite me to a Zoom call and see some dresses on hangers in the background, don’t be surprised. You know where I went to find some peace and quiet.
Mita Mallick is the head of diversity and cross cultural marketing for Unilever North America and loves living in Jersey City with her husband and two young kiddos.