The Orphanage

Baby # 5 is arriving in the next couple of weeks… into our 3 small-bedroom house. She will occupy the nursery within a month of her birth. So as of this week, our current baby was ousted from the nursery at the ripe age of 14 months and officially graduated into the already-brimming “kids’ room”.

I think we are entering military-style large family living (a la Yours, Mine and Ours), except without the uniformity. Notice the mismatched bedding that doesn’t fit the beds; the girls sleeping sideways on a full-sized bed with a large stuffed dog as a barrier; cheap curtains re-appropriated as a crib darkening wrap; duct tape everywhere. My husband and I now refer to the kids’ room as The Orphanage–who do all these kids belong to anyway?–and all I have to say is:

My kids won’t be lonely at night. I do remember feeling very lonely as a child as I tried to fall asleep in my own dark room. Lack of available oxygen in the room might be a problem, but solitude won’t.

My daughter with the “generous tonsils” snores steadily and loudly for 11 hours straight, providing built-in white noise.

The kids must keep their beds made and everything put away in order to even get the bedroom door open. A drastic natural consequence of messiness is a lot more effective than my constant chiding.

My soft-spoken  11 year old mother’s helper walked upstairs this week, looked into the Orphanage, and her jaw dropped as she timidly asked “Uh, how many people sleep in this one room?” She is from a Catholic family herself, but apparently a more spacious home : ) The kids proudly responded “ALL FOUR OF US!” as they took to jumping on beds. So far, so good. If they all opt for single rooms freshman year of college, I’ll have no idea why…

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  • Kerry

    Some of my friends called my four sisters room with the double bunk beds the “orphanage”. I think my sisters were a litle offended, but I thought it was pretty great. Now all grown up, they have complied a list of memories from their days sharing that room….very sweet.

  • Brynne

    Boy #3 is due in November in our family and my older boys are praying that God sends us another boy eventually so they can have a double bunk bed “boy room.” At least they like sharing like yours do!

  • Bethany “B-mama”

    JM–I LOVE this post to my core!! Yes, all of our kids may someday opt for a single in college, but with the BEST of memories from growing up with all of their siblings!! Sometimes I worry that they’ll resent not having the best of everything thanks to mom and dad having to stretch every dollar, but my hope is that this will ultimately build character. It will be worth it! And I hear you on the cleanliness front–it took me having a college roommate freshman year to clean up my act. If only I had shared a room earlier…

  • KC

    This is wonderful! A few questions, though: Do the kids all go to bed around the same time? Do they chat once there? Do they awake around the same time? We’re just venturing into putting three kids (5,3,1) into the same room, but I’m apprehensive about the logistics and their missing out on sleep they need. Do you just try to have really firm rules for the older kids at least? Any insight would be appreciated!

  • Helen

    Good question, KC. I wonder about logistics, too! Tell us your secret, Juris Mater! We are in a 2 bed flat and our two littlies are in the same room now, but we put the older one to sleep in our bed and then move him once she is asleep, otherwise the party goes on for hours!

    I’m a twin and never got my own room till my final years of high school, and though I was dying to be on my own, I did miss my sister’s company once I got my dream *own* room 🙂

  • Juris Mater

    Super great question, KC! We always wonder the same thing when it comes time for a transition, and I don’t think we’ve cracked the code, but here are a few suggestions:
    (1) As you identified, DEFINITELY it requires the help of the older kids–obedience and cooperation. We incline in the disciplinary direction, our kids sleep independently basically from birth onward, and I think this is helpful when we have to explain that, once they’re in their beds, they may read with a small booklight but no noise or movement. We have delayed their bedtime by a half hour so they’re more tired and the baby is asleep by the time they come in. It’s super cute so far because they love having him in there, and it seems to actually relax them that he’s already asleep and they’re required to be totally calm and quiet themselves. We’ve had fewer bedtime battles than usual from them this past week. There’s something so magically relaxing about a sleeping baby.
    (2) Standardizing the sleep environment is important. In both kid rooms, we have the same white noise machine, small fan, and small nightlight, and the rooms are always very dark (darkening shades)–the kind of standardized sleep environment that is also fairly portable for when we travel. I think that makes a world of difference for their sleep wherever we are, and also at times like these, makes it easier to move a baby from one room to another. He is still in his same crib, just another, but similar “feeling” location. We had to wrap his crib with a dark curtain, also, because the first couple nights he was distracted by the different appearance of the room. The crib wrap has solved that problem.
    (3) We also set up a pack and play (without a sheet–intentionally much less comfortable than his crib) in his old room, in case he was having trouble… the first couple nights he spent a portion of the night in his old room, but he soon adjusted to his old crib in the new room.
    (4) Guardian angels! With all these constant transitions, we never know how it will go, and I think we have to hold loosely to everything. We started the switch before the new baby’s arrival to give ourselves some time. I attribute most of the relatively easy success to the kids’ guardian angels. They help us so much in the everyday, making sticky things go smoothly.

    Is that helpful? If I think of more things, I’ll add them, and probably others have some wisdom too. Summer is a good, forgiving time to try transitions like these… you can adjust bedtimes, take naps, etc as needed, while things sort themselves out. Thanks for asking : )

  • Juris Mater

    Helen, I meant to say, I think with littles it’s a different story. We had 3 kids under 3 in a 2 bedroom, and we did all kinds of moving around, putting one to sleep in our bed, one in a pack and play in the living room after we went to bed, that kind of thing. One baby/toddler in the mix with older kids is do-able (my “older kids” are 4.5, 6, and 7.5), but several babies/toddlers in one bedroom is just a matter of playing musical beds!!

  • Juris Mater

    That is adorable, Brynne!! You’re right, at least they like it for now : )

  • Juris Mater

    True that, and our kids will make great college roommates (if they end up in shared rooms)–you’re right that sharing space is really a learned skill. Although my sweet (and perhaps now permanently scarred) pack-rat kids who aren’t even allowed to put knick-knacks on their own dressers are probably going to bask in their ability to clutter up their personal space, once they get it : )

  • Juris Mater

    My kids are mildly obsessed with “Annie” these days, so they love “The Orphanage” name, but I can see how, for teenagers, it would be horrifying… when their other friends have decked out rooms with lava lamps and TVs and celeb posters on the walls (or whatever the 2020 equivalent of our own 1990s teen years will be) and they are still in industrial double bunk beds with mismatched comforters : )

  • Mrs C

    Lol. I was a in a room with my three sisters until I was 14 – I hated it at the time but I have lovely memories of it now.

  • Helen

    Fair enough. I wondered whether you perhaps had some secret formula for handling younger children! Your comments to KC will no doubt be helpful for me to refer back to in the future.

  • Helen

    Oh, and congratulations on baby #5, too, by the way. You may have announced it here before but I missed it. How exciting!

  • Juris Mater

    Thanks Helen!! I’m proudly winding up the “Builder Boom” of 2012, all 7 of us have had babies between January and August of this year, one month at a time. I also had a baby in May of 2011, but we couldn’t bear to be left out of the 2012 series, you know : )

  • Tami

    Ha! I appreciate trying to fit kids into a small house…you gotta do what ya gotta do! 🙂

    BUT being that I am not one to gripe or to be overly sensitive to blog posts (typically), in this instance I feel compelled to say that calling it an orphanage is a bit insensitive. I am an adoptive mother of one child and currently in-process to adopt another older child from Latvia. An orphanage is a negative term which, for many adopted kids, brings back terrifying memories. I would just ask that you re-think this “nickname” and possibly call it a dorm room or something. This is just my two cents, having seen first-hand what “orphanage” really embodies.

  • Patti

    Brings back memories! We raised three boys in a small two-bedroom house. Our oldest, for about two years, said that when he grew up, he was going to be a forest ranger and live on top of a mountain…all by himself. He didn’t tell us why; we just assumed. 🙂 He didn’t…instead, he went on staff with Young Life…now he has noisy kids around him ALL the time! Son #2 roomed with an only child in his freshman dorm year. He could sleep through anything…while the only child had trouble sleeping if he could hear the sound of computer keys being pressed. The days with his noisy brother’s had paid off. The youngest? Well, he had two years to himself in that room after the other two moved out, but as soon as he graduated from high school, he was off traveling, and usually, sleeping, in a van with five other musicians as they toured the USA and Canada. He lived in those close quarters for two years! Now that they are all grown, they have all individually told me how glad they were to have the shared memories of that room. Keep smilin’! It’s all good, mama!

  • Juris Mater

    Thank you, Tami. My husband just this evening said the same thing–my oldest daughter has heard us calling their room the orphanage, and it’s not something we want her to internalize. As I said in an earlier comment, our household is charmed with “Annie” these days, and I think at least by American standards “orphanage” is a term of a bygone era. But you’re right, I know from my cousin’s international adoption that they are very real in other parts of the world, and hard places. Maybe bunk house or slumber party room seems like more our style for a long-term nickname : )

  • Thank you for rethinking this. I too cringed at the term orphanage. They are horrible places…which is not at all what you have created here!

  • maryalice

    It is so funny, because I think of our bunk room as so wonderful, charming, and happy for our kids. We had 4 in one room in a little apartment, but now we have 4 in one room in a big house — the boys love sharing a room! It is so full of love, that it is really the opposite of the orphanage in Annie.

  • Kellie “Red”

    Love the room, love the post! I bet your children will have such wonderful memories of their childhood days and room sharing!