Want: A Second Bedroom

My son sleeps in the bedroom. I sleep in the living room.

Photo credit: Elizabeth Cooper, CC BY 2.0.

My husband and I never doubted that we would both work full-time after the birth of our child four years ago. For months after I returned to my job from maternity leave, my boss retained the temp who had been there to cover my duties. My boss told me without hesitation that the temp was being retained in case I had a change of heart and decided I wanted to stay home with the baby. I silently fumed over this, because I explicitly told my boss multiple times during my pregnancy that I was definitely returning to work — that I couldn’t afford to stay home even if I wanted to. Our little family needed two incomes, like most families these days.

One year later, my marriage was in shambles and I almost left. I cried in my boss’s office when I asked if it would be possible to get an advance on my payroll to help me move. I tried to imagine some creative ways of budgeting that would afford me a single-parenting life. I did some online apartment hunting and I physically viewed one apartment. (It wasn’t very nice. The bathroom was gross and I would’ve had to take a bus to the train to get to work.) Ultimately, I decided to not leave my marriage at that time, and my husband and I went to counseling for several months.

When our son turned two it was finally, definitely, time to split up. Not coincidentally, this corresponded with a small job promotion and small pay raise for me. I could now afford an apartment that was a little better. What I wanted most in my apartment search was a) to be within a half-mile of the nearest CTA rail station, because I don’t have a car + Chicago winters + very small child; and b) a dishwasher, because parenting time and attention is valuable.

I also wanted to stay in the same neighborhood as my old apartment because proximity to our established childcare was important, and proximity to Baby Daddy was convenient for tag-team parenting. Baby Daddy stayed for a while in what used to be our joint apartment, but he had to get roommates in order to afford it. Neither of us could afford to stay in our cozy two-bedroom apartment (then $1,475/mo) on a single income. Since I would have our son 80 percent of the time, I didn’t see roommates as an option for me anymore.

We don’t live in the most hip or fancy neighborhood in Chicago, but it’s known for being family-friendly. Since I couldn’t spend much more than $1,000/month in rent, staying in the neighborhood meant moving myself and my son into a one-bedroom apartment. During my hunt I looked at places that had either proximity to public transit or a dishwasher, but the only apartment I saw that had both is the one I’ve now been living in for over two years. The rent was $1,100 when I moved in and now it’s $1,125. (The train station is almost too close, but that’s very fine by me.)

So my two-person family lives in a one-bedroom apartment. My son occupies the bedroom proper, while my bed is relegated to the living room. My bed is the first thing people see when they visit my apartment. The dining room space is our living room, and I’ve squeezed in a little table between the kitchen and dining room for eating.

During our first year in the apartment I didn’t have a bed at all. The furniture was all set up in the normal way, and I slept on the couch in the living room for A Very Long Year. Then I got a tax refund and immediately bought a bed. Henceforth my apartment took on this odd arrangement, and although I sleep so much better and feel more adult for having graduated from the couch, I still don’t feel like I have my shit together because my living room is my bedroom. This is something I can joke about with my friends, but in other situations I feel embarrassed. It’s awkward with babysitters, for example.

At age four, my son still isn’t wise enough to realize our home is unusual. He has friends at preschool that he’s dying to bring home with him but, lucky for me, that hasn’t come to fruition yet. We’ve had playdates at parks and the beach but no in-home playdates. If/when another preschool parent sees my apartment I will surely turn a hot beet red. It seems to me that all the other parents are married and have nice cars, so I assume they all have nice homes too. I don’t envy their cars or their marriages. I just want a room of my own. (Virginia Woolf would understand.)

Two-bedroom apartments in my building are $305 more per month than mine. I can’t stretch that far right now. My current rent payment is 27 percent of my net income, including child support that my ex pays. But preschool is 23.4 percent of my income. That is for part-time enrollment (three days a week) at an average-priced preschool. I also pay all my own utilities and I have a $117 student loan payment. I’m not saving any money right now, but I also don’t have credit card debt. I’ve gone back and forth with credit cards over the last two years, and I’m trying hard to stay in the black under these circumstances.

I hope you won’t judge me too harshly when I say I can’t wait to send my kid to kindergarten at Chicago Public Schools in just 18 months. Public schooling is the only potential light I see at the end of my one-bedroom tunnel. That should be right on time for my son to have playdates and sleepovers like a normal kid living in a pretty normal home, and hopefully he will never have to be embarrassed about his mom’s bed in the living room.

Shari Pundrich prefers to travel by foot. She’s not on Twitter but she still exists.

This story is part of The Billfold’s I Want It Now series.

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