Mathematics. A language I don’t speak. I decided to stop learning it when I was 15 and two years later I reaped the rewards of my decision when I failed pure mathematics with a stunning mark of 49 per cent. But now I am faced with an extra tricky mathematical problem at home. I have to solve it somehow. We need to make five go into three. Thirty years ago, people could figure this out easily. They knew how to make five go into three. They made seven go into three. Or nine go into three. A friend was part of that equation. She was one of seven sisters and they lived in a three-bedroom house. The parents shared one room and there were two sets of bunks in each of the others. Four in one room, three in the other and one bed spare for guests. But expectations have changed. Bunks are alright for beach houses, so I hear, or for a cabin on a school camp but not for the home of a middle-class child. No. Now a house must have a bedroom for every child. A child needs privacy. They need space. They need built-in storage systems to house their massive toy collections, their keyboards and their music stands. A teenaged child appears to have special needs in this regard. Their bedrooms need study nooks or better still a big desk with a swivel chair parked under it and a filing cabinet on wheels beneath and shelving for their extensive private libraries. They need a spare bed so their friends can stay the night. Quite a few of them even need their own bathroom. I mean, fancy making a child share a toilet with another human being? It’s cruel. When they get a bit older, they need space and privacy so their boyfriends and girlfriends can stay. Apparently, that’s up to us to provide that too. Our three-bedroom house is about ten square. It has one bathroom, one kitchen, one lounge, one hallway and one sauna (not functioning, filled with camping gear). By today’s standards it’s a mega-tiny but the Finnish bricklayer who built it in 1960 thought it was enough for his wife and five children. We only have three kids but already the house is bursting or so we think or so we are told. I share a room with Mike. I’ve done this for 20 years now. I get a bit sick of it occasionally but what can I do? We’re expected to share. Two of the kids share and one has their own little palace. We’ve made them take turns sharing. Not an especially popular decision but there you go. That’s life for now. At least our kids are all the same sort: girls. People who have boys and girls are under even more pressure to provide each one with their own bedroom. I grew up in a family that reached a peak capacity of 11 people and no we did not have a ten-bedroom house. We shared. Well, the others did but I was lucky, as the oldest one, to have my own room from about age 10 onwards. This experience was an aberration. I left home at 18 and shared a double room with another girl at a university hostel. I went flatting and had my own room for a couple of years but soon enough I was sharing again. In London I reverted to my childhood and shared a house with ten others. I don’t think all this sharing has made me a more generous person. I am not especially tolerant or accepting but there’s something about closeness that is good. Isn’t there? Or maybe I am just saying all this stuff because we can’t afford a four-bedroom house and the thought of smashing apart the house we already have feels crass and barbaric. Plus, also, expensive. I know that even being able to make these statements is a sign of my privilege as a middle-class home-owning person but still, I’ve got my equations to think about. Five into three, five into three, just let it be!
Journalist, historian, mum. 'Stop Press: the last days of newspapers' (Scribe, 2013). Creative fellow, State Library of Victoria. Project: 'The Melbourne Sirius' an artist newspaper (2014). First book, 'The Parihaka Album: Lest We Forget' (Huia, 2009). New project, about doctors and doctorhood, is on the go now.
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