Too much Lego — and children! — on the floor (Photo/flickr-davitydave CC BY 2.0)
Too much Lego — and children! — on the floor (Photo/flickr-davitydave CC BY 2.0)

As toys crunch underfoot, we need more space!

When I lived in a one-bedroom apartment in San Francisco with my husband and toddler, I sometimes dreamed of opening a door I had never seen before and finding an extra room.

In my dream, I was surprised, then delighted, then serene. Though it had been hidden from us, this room had always been there. It just felt right that our cozy, rent-controlled home in the heart of the city was elastic enough to support a growing family. It was where we were meant to live and grow.

The truth is that even as we have added another child to our family, I have never really questioned our urban lifestyle. Though I recognize the advantages of living in a two-story home with a backyard (we did so briefly during a transition period in a cross-country move to New York, and it was great), I feel attached to the networks of urban spaces and enriched by the cultural resources available to my children and to me.

It’s not that I have to live in a city. It’s just that I do, and I see no need to leave it. My dream (which I later learned is a recurring dream that many New Yorkers share) was wish fulfillment, yes, but the wish was not to leave my city apartment but to stay there, just with a few more square feet.

I’m a New Yorker now, and I just returned to our Brooklyn apartment after spending five weeks with family members in Maine. Maine is where my Russian Jewish ancestors settled shortly after passing through Ellis Island; it’s where I was born and where my mom now lives.

Though I spent most of my childhood in California, Maine is as close to an ancestral homeland as I have, and a major privilege of moving to the East Coast has been the ability to spend more time there.

So during summer vacation, my kids and I camped out with welcoming relatives, and we enjoyed all the pleasures we don’t have in the city: swimming in a lake every day, living minutes from the beach, being surrounded by beautiful natural scenery, and, yes, living in a full-sized house with a backyard.

As much as I accept city life, when our vacation ended and I stepped back into our apartment after driving eight hours home with my two kids, I felt the walls closing in on me. With every step I took, toys crunched under my feet; I couldn’t navigate from one room to another without a child crashing into me. “Space!” I told my husband as soon as he got home. “We need more space!”

And so we’re creating space, but not by moving to the suburbs. We got rid of a side table in our small living room so that our kids have more room to stretch out with their Legos; we took two leaves out of our dining room table and are putting down a rug to create a second open play-and-reading area in the corner of our dining room. We’ll get rid of some clutter. And we’ll carve out a few more square feet.

For years, my husband worked as an editor at an architecture and design magazine; now he works for a furniture company. He’s always had an interest in design that far exceeded mine. But I’ve found that ever since having children, I have become more interested in thinking about the spaces in our home and how to configure them so that they work best for us.

I like it because it’s a puzzle; I’m not very interested in researching design-forward light fixtures, but there’s something I find satisfying about dreaming up different ways we could switch around bedroom assignments or brainstorming space-saving furniture choices.

I also like it because I embrace an approach to home design that mirrors family life: always in flux, always changing. Right now, we need more floor space so the kids can play with their toys and I won’t trip on them; three years from now, we may be more concerned about creating areas to do schoolwork and host guests.

The end of summer is a good time to nest again, to clear out clutter and reset our home in the manner that will best serve us. I’m ready for cooler days and more time indoors. Even if I still dream about finding that hidden room.

Drew Himmelstein
Drew Himmelstein

Drew Himmelstein is a J. parenting columnist and former staff writer. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband and two sons.