Friday, October 8, 2010

Gallery Artist Dona Schwartz Photographs Featured In A New York Times Article

Leaving a Childhood Room Behind, and Much More
By Alina Tugend
Published: September 24, 2010

I WAS sitting around the table with some friends at an end of summer barbecue and the talk turned to college because one couple had just dropped off their daughter to start her freshman year.

“She wants us to leave her room exactly as it is so her kids can see it,” my friend Nancy said.

We all chuckled a little at this, thinking of an 18-year-old designating that her bedroom remain unchanged in perpetuity. But then we started reminiscing about what had happened to our rooms and possessions when we had moved out.

Since I lived in a house with two bedrooms for three girls, there wasn’t a lot of sentimentality when my older sister went off. I scarcely waited for the front door to close behind her before happily leaving behind my younger sister and transporting all my stuffed animals into the room.

Now, when I go back, both bedrooms are unrecognizable: one is a guest room; the other my father’s second study.

But back to the barbecue. My friend Jonathan, who went off to college more than 20 years ago, conceded he was still a little bitter about what his parents did with his room. “My mother kept it the same for a few years and then changed it,” he said. “I had decorated it all with Sports Illustrated covers, which I thought was a fabulous way to decorate.”

Apparently his parents didn’t and they “gratuitously turned it into a spare bedroom,” Jonathan said. Although as a parent, he now understands, “it still does bug me.” He said it was “a repository of a lot of memories that, when the room was changed, became a lot less vivid afterward.”

The parent program director at the University of Minnesota, Marjorie Savage, is well aware of the “what to do with the room” question. In fact, she talks about it as part of her meetings with parents during freshman orientation.

“We advise parents that students like and need their own familiar space, and that coming home to your own bedroom means a lot,” said Ms. Savage, who has also written the book “You’re on Your Own (But I’m Here if You Need Me)” (Fireside/Simon & Schuster, 2003). “If you can leave the room the same for the first year, do it.”

Most freshmen live in a dormitory and don’t really consider it a home. But when they move off campus in later years, they start establishing their own place, even if temporary.

“Gradually, they should lose their attachment” to their childhood room, said Lawrence Balter, professor emeritus of applied psychology at New York University. “But temperaments vary from person to person. For some people, the psychological attachment is much stronger.”

In any case, Professor Balter suggested, it’s a good idea to be respectful and discuss the changes you’re going to make with your child — even if seemingly innocuous. One friend noted that her son, a sophomore in college, wasn’t happy when she chose to make one small alteration — hanging up new curtains in his bedroom.

“He keeps making fun of them,” she said.

No matter how you change the room, though, be sure to have a good bed available for the returning student. Nothing says you’re not welcome home like an uncomfortable pull-out couch.

Students may be more attached to their rooms now than in the past, Ms. Savage suggested, because they tend to return home much more frequently. I remember visiting my family about twice a year even though I was only seven hours away. Now, some go home twice a month.

In addition, many have gone off to sleep-away camps their whole lives, so they’re used to going away and coming back — and having everything stay the same.

But it’s not just the younger generation with powerful emotions about moving on from childhood. Nancy concedes that she doesn’t want to change her daughter’s room yet, “so I can pretend she still lives at home. There’s the reality and there’s the emotion,” she said. Eventually, she assumes, the bedroom will change when “it doesn’t need to stay the same, because they’re not the same.”

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