After I finished school and moved to the Netherlands, my boyfriend bought us a bed from IKEA. It consumed about eighty-three percent of his dorm room. Basically, you walked in and fell on the bed.
In the showroom in Amsterdam, somewhere near the beds, there had also been a vanity table. I had always done my make-up standing before a second-hand mirror on the wall. The transition to a vanity table seemed a due rite of passage, even for a girl who took five minutes to do her face. In some imaginary life, I had already draped the mirror in scarves and postcards, and sat before a sea of perfume bottles, nail polish and lidless eye shadow cases.
When my boyfriend saw me stroking the table’s cheap, lacquered surface, he said, “Someday, I’ll build you one.”
We’re married now, live in a house and sleep on the same IKEA bed. It shares a room with four laundry baskets, a diaper changing table, a crib and a rocking chair. There is still no room for a vanity. In anticipation of our fourth child, due in about a week, our son recently moved from our bed into his own IKEA corner by the opposite wall. With each addition to the family, I have wondered anew when we’d have space for a vanity table. I have wondered when not just our bedroom, but our lives, would accommodate it.
Then nesting instinct hit a few weeks ago. I moved my son’s HEMNES dresser over to a small spot next to the window. It landed under my mirror and jewelry wall, and it actually looked kind of nice. On a whim, I transferred my supply of “eye shadows applied standing” to its surface. This looked a bit bare, so I threw a runner under it.
I declared it my beauty corner. My daughters walked in and gawked, totally captivated by their bird’s eye view of my girly things. My son toddled in, pulled a chair up to his dresser and began to touch everything on top it.
“This is mama’s desk. No touching anything on mama’s desk. Just looking.”
“It’s very pretty, mama.”
“Yeah, I like it, too,” I said, gently pushing all three kids in the direction of the door.
About a week later, the eye shadow applicators were missing from the belly of my aquamarine, ceramic fish dish.
“I didn’t take them,” my oldest daughter declared, nine times. Upon interrogation, her sister also shook her head. I wasn’t totally convinced, but I was least trusting of my youngest.
I held up the empty dish and asked him. “Where are mama’s sticks?”
My son’s face went blank. My husband looked empathetic.
“Come on, they’ll turn up, right?”
Unlikely. They were so small. Two stupid little plastic applicators. The drug store sold them for close to nothing. But it wasn’t about that. It was about the surface of the dresser.
It wasn’t holy.
After carving out an altar for myself, the missing sticks revealed a glaring truth: nothing belonging to me was sacred.
When I decided years ago that I would stay home to raise my children, I accepted this reality by default. Mothers who worked outside the home migrated with regularity over a boundary marking territory that was “just theirs” – their time, their place, their work. I had willingly joined the troops of parents who learned to live without that distinction. I had wanted to share myself unconditionally with my kids.
Seven years and nearly four children onward, I feel justified in the carving of a singular, sacred space: this far cry from the authentic vanity table I was promised. But let’s face it, a parent of four kids under six years old doesn’t need a vanity table. She just needs a place that she can call “holy.”
Up to now, that space has been psychological, at best, firmly couched in chronos: a jog around the block, a solitary grocery run, an hour of writing before the sun and the kids have risen. The bare belly of the blue fish, coupled with the blank stares of my offspring, say that it will stay that way for now. They confirm my choice to serve at the perpetual mercy of my children’s needs. They confirm that, because of my choice, my children will only gradually learn that their mother’s indispensability is anything other than self-evident. They confirm my work as a long-term, private act of ultimate humility.
I surrender the vanity table, makeshift or desired. In its stead, I embrace the sanctity of the present.
Of her first bike ride to the mall without training wheels.
Of my son’s tiny, enduring embrace, spontaneously ending my morning writing.
Of the five of us around the dinner table, breaking into collected laughter.
Of the joy with which my kids clamber onto a bus.
Of a packed picnic, diaper bag and three small coats hanging off the back of the buggy.
Of my burgeoning bump hobbling behind it.
These things are sacred. These things are hallowed. They are also frightfully ephemeral.
This is my sanctus, my song to prolong these holy moments.
© 2013 Anastasia Hacopian