Saturday, April 11, 2015

The Living Room

As I type this, I'm sitting in my kitchen, looking out over the table to the living room. The living room is where we all pile on the couch to read books, bedtime stories and Bible stories. It is where we video chat with family members spread out all over the US. It is where Friday night movies happen with popcorn and M&M's and where laundry gets piled on the couch until I can eventually fold it. It is where we have dance parties, perform songs, play board games, build forts and create other imaginary places. It is where the kids lounge on their bean bags, stack their bean bags, jump from the couch to their bean bags, hide under their bean bags. (We love our bean bags around here!)  It is where we pray for our extended family and friends and the missionaries we support. It is where we open Christmas presents, do Jesse Tree and 12 Days of Christmas devotions, Resurrection Eggs, and Easter Baskets. It is where pictures of my nephews and niece are displayed as well as a painting Brandon gave me when we were dating. It is where picture albums from years ago line our shelves and wedding gifts adorn our wall. It is where friends have gathered for Bible Studies and birthday parties and just to catch up.

As a child however, my memories of the living room are much different. It is strange how much living we didn't, or couldn't do in the living room. It wasn't a necessary room and therefore was one that never even really had a path through it to any piece of furniture.

There are a few memories of random things that must have meant it was clean and function-able at some point. I remember one Christmas walking out to find gifts from Santa - a toy ironing board, among other things, on the floor under the tree. I also remember that the JC Penney and Sears catalogs were kept under the couch and I remember it scared me to reach under there as a child. But those two memories mean mostly one thing to one point the floor was visible. I have very few memories of the floor in that house. Those memories are limited to certain places - but never do I remember looking at a room and seeing the whole floor or even the carpet. The carpet was a yellow color but the 'carpet' I remember was newspaper. Layers and layers of newspaper. Several inches deep. The newspaper carpet made the whole house seem smaller because as you walked down the hallway or into a room, you stood at least 6 inches off the floor and therefore the ceiling seemed to close in on you. I'm sure it wasn't just the newspaper. I'm sure it was, in part, the boxes of old records, piles of bills and bags of pamphlets that lined the walls. But all that faded into the background and those boxes and piles almost became permanent fixtures in the house, as if they were a table that stood there instead of heaps of trash.

Photo © Geoff Johnson

I know there was a season when mom slept on the couch. And I have memories of coming home from school to watch TV - but even by then there was only a small section of the couch I could sit on and the TV was on the edge of a random table surrounded by junk.

The living room is actually one place I remember trying to clean. But that process was always so frustrating. Geoff and I had to stand and wait for mom to hand us something. She would tell us if we could throw it away or if we needed to put it in a new pile. Most things just went into new piles and we never felt like anything got accomplished. Those new piles soon were made on the couch and when it was eventually overtaken, mom started sleeping in Geoff's room. Eventually, the TV was also moved to Geoff's room and then one year we stopped getting Christmas trees because there was nowhere to display them. From that point forward, I'm not sure we ever went into the living room, except maybe to open a window on a hot summer day. One day, that same window got stuck and wouldn't close all the way.   And despite our best efforts of putting a piece of wood in front of it, it did little to block the cold air from coming in during the winter months. Over time, the living room became wet and moldy because of the leaky roof. It wasn't until years after I moved out that the roof was fixed; however, the falling ceiling on the inside remained and the mold continued to grow.

I don't think I really missed the living room as a child, but now as an a mother...I realize how much life it could have held. In some ways I'm not sure that it was possible for me to understand and grieve all the loss from a childhood like this until I became a mother.  Now I watch my children run and play freely in our home and find it hard to imagine their lives any different. I don't have memories like that as a child, instead we were trapped between the piles with nowhere to play.

Photo © Geoff Johnson

I suppose the lack of space inside is one reason we played outside and at friends' houses so often, giving us some glimpses of normality as a child. Despite the fact that no one could come in our house, our yard was one of the best in the neighborhood! It had great climbing trees and a tether ball and a wooded area to build forts and hideouts. It was also large enough to play a decent game of baseball or football and mom let me dig out a few areas of grass to grow a garden. It was a place of many happy memories and that is probably why I often wish we had more of an established yard now for my kids to explore. Either way, I trust their childhood memories will be very different from mine!  Memories filled with friends at our house and memories with space to run and play and dance and build and LIVE!

Read about Opening the Door here.  
Read about The Kitchen here.  
Read about The Dining Room here. 
Read about The Bathroom here. 
Read about Geoff's Room here. 
Read about My Bedroom here. 


  1. Thank you for this eye-opening piece. I think that a child's perspective is so important, but often forgotten.

  2. I have a sister in law with this issue. Her kids have told here when she dies they are having the fire departments out to do a trading burn on the house.
    It is so sad.

  3. This story is very personal to me on various levels. Though my mom wasn't that bad when I was a child this is her reality now both by physical means and mental health. My mom lived with me for years and my kids weren't allowed in her room in fear that I wouldn't be able to find them. I now live in a different state. My mom needs help once again. I refuse to allow her to live with me again because I don't want my kids around that anymore. Even if she wasn't allowed personal items within a month I'd need a shovel. This illness is grossly misunderstood. I'm sure sharing this was hard but also quite freeing.

  4. I am so happy that your childhood held great memories of nature. Sometimes the home is not where all things happen and in your case this is true. Your mom sounds as though she did her best to give you some kind of happiness at her level. I hope and pray that you continue to write about this to help others know that there is always a light at the end? Blessings to you and your family.

  5. Thank you so much for sharing these photos and writing about the issue. As a teenager, I used to think that we were the only family like this. Later I heard some stories but never had a chance to see other homes like ours. Now I am living with my own family and trying to make our life different selecting and disposing everything which I think are no use any more, sometimes even some useful stuff. I just desperately want to be the opposite.

  6. Thank you for sharing your story and opening your heart to the world. Your blog posts and accompanying photos are deeply moving. As a pastor, I visit in the homes of all sorts of people. I have seen deplorable conditions, but nothing on the scale of what you lived in as a child. My heart goes out to the countless people living in such conditions. Your testimony is powerful and your faith in God is evident. God bless you for the steps you have taken to overcome your painful past.
    God bless you and your family.