I was the middle child from a family of six children, all crammed into a 1,000 square foot “semi-detached” (duplex in the US) home in a little town on the outskirts of Dublin called Walkinstown. When you live in a small house all of your life, you don’t realize it’s small. Not until you move to the USA and your parents buy a palatial home outside of Buffalo NY. Alright I lied, our new house was only 1,800 square feet, but that works out to 100 sq feet more per person, including my parents. I suppose if you were in jail, 100 sq feet would seem small but when it is added to your usual living space, it’s massive.
In our tiny home, the one in Ireland that is, there was a very small bedroom above the stairs. In a neighborhood where every row house was identical in layout, just interior decorating and garden creativity allowed for differences, this little room was very officially called the boxer room. It was just large enough for a single bed and a two foot walkway. Newly wed home owners, were told that this room was a “lovely walk-in closed”. However, in the eight or so years I lived in the neighborhood, I never actually seen one that was not converted into a cramped bedroom. In fact our next door neighbor a mother of 11 children, used their boxer room as a bedroom for two teenagers in bunk beds, and their parlor was converted into the master bedroom, shared by an infant and a two year old. Again, we did not think this was small, because we lived in the suburbs and that made us posh and being posh as a 7 year old (almost) was the coolest thing since the Bay City Rollers with their tartan sashes.
In our boxer room, the closet was above the headboard of the bed and it slanted upwards following the outline of the stairs. The window, damp and perspiring, was at the foot of the bed, with a little shelf above for extra storage. For some reason above the tiny door there was a box like window with no glass about one foot square. The designers must have put a lot of thought into the box because it had elaborate frame molting. It was probably for ventilation or a feeble attempt at a sky light allowing the awesome luminescence of the 60 watt hall light bulb to shine through, but I’m sure that is where the name boxer came from.
Did I mention that this was my room? That’s right MINE and being seven years old (almost) at the time with two sisters who had to share their bedroom; I knew that was posh too. At that point in my life I was sure I was my parent’s favorite, positive in fact, because I had every available matchbox car and a magnet in my room. My boxer room.
I loved my little room; it had star wallpaper on one wall and flowers on the other. I never asked me ma (that’s Irish for my mother) why she chose that combination but it was all I knew of interior decorating at the time and it was lovely to me. There were no plugs in the room, as a result I had a wind up clock and a battery operated radio given to me by me da (that’s Irish for My Father) positioned strategically on the little shelf above the window. Actually the radio was given to me by me da’s attorney, but I’ll tell that incredible story another time. I know now that my infatuation with technology did not begin in that room, because my idea of a remote control was the wooden curtain rod that I used to hit the light switch from my bed.
Anyway, did I mention that it was my room and that I was my parent’s favorite? I hope so because that illusion was soon to come to a screaming fit of an end. A howling, thrashing on the floor like a spoiled brat end. Rabid dog kind of… Ok sorry, I have a habit of driving a point home, moving along…
One day I arrived home from school, wearing my school uniform of black shoes, black socks, pressed grey gabardine shorts, a white shirt and a black cardigan with a handy little breast pocket embroidered with the school logo. You might ask why I described my uniform in such detail? Well, its for effect really, I want you to imagine how cute I must have looked, being almost seven and all and wearing that handsome little uniform and feeling loved and being my parents favorite and having my own room and smug about it.
Upon entering the house, I ran up the stairs, discarding my thread bare canvas book bag and hand me down coat on the first landing and turned the corner then stopped dead in my tracks. Why was my mother in my room, why was there cute little pooh bear mobile hanging from the crib? Why was there a crib in my room?
So now picture that little boys face in the cute little pressed shorts mentioned for effect earlier, change from oblivious joy to sudden fear, then from fear to pain and from pain to anger. Since my mother was bigger than I, anger served no purpose at all, so my emotion turned from anger to howling and weeping and just a little thrashing on the floor, as the realization hit me. How could me ma do this to me?
I failed to mention that this was 1969? The reason I bring it up at this point is; in Ireland, in the sixties, parents did not have the opportunity to watch Dr. Phil or Nanny 911. So parents, at least my parents, did not plan a transition period for there existing children when a new child is coming. There was no coddling, and telling you that you were their favorite. There were long well-thought-out little chats, spoken at your almost seven year old level. No, ma just dumped a crib in my room and said. “Oh by the way, you are going to have a brother or sister to play with soon.”
Side note: me ma, in her 70’s at the time of this writing will probably kill me for explaining it this way and believe me she still is a formidable force that all six of us still fear with our lives. So ma: I apologize in advance for my feeble memory and kindly leave the wooden spoon in the kitchen drawer when I come to visit. OK?
So there I was, thrashing wildly on the floor of the upstairs landing. Then it hit me. She said sister or brother.
“What?” I whimpered. “A brother? Really?”
“Well actually we don’t know yet, but maybe. Just maybe you will have a little brother to play with very soon.” She said taking my snotty hand and helped me to my feet. “Only God knows that one.”
My mind raced. A brother to abuse might not be that bad. Actually I had suffered a form of hair dragging sibling abuse from my two older sisters, so I was well trained on the levels of misery I could inflict. This could be great.
I couldn’t wait to tell my friend Paddy, who lived 5 doors down.
So the moment ended almost as fast as it began. I bolted down the stairs two at a time, stumbled on my book bag, regained my balance, scooped up my coat and headed for Paddy’s house.
A few months later, just when I started to think that the crib was just a place to store laundry, my little brother arrived. At first I disliked everything about him; his cute little nose, his blond hair, even the way he looked at me through the bars of his crib when we both laid our heads down to sleep. Our heads; his smiling a toothless smile that only newborns can make and mine scowling at the sheer nerve of him breathing the same air, were just inches apart because the crib now took up the remaining space. He was so small, he couldn’t play with my matchbox cars, or my magnet but he did look sort of funny, so I decided that it was ok that he shared MY boxer room.
Note, disposable diapers had not been invented yet or at least they hadn’t made it to Ireland yet, so I am talking about true stench here. Thank God my room had that little boxer vent above the door.
Kevin Leigh 3/19/2006