I’ve mentioned before that I used to hate vacations.
There was no Disneyworld or cruise trips for me growing up. A “vacation” for my family generally meant squishing 5-6 peeps into one car for a journey that lasted anywhere from 3 to 12 hours, the destination being a family member’s house where you were either sleeping with your mom, piling into bed with 2-3 other cousins, or preparing a pallet on the floor. I can only recall one weekend beach trip that was considered luxurious, simply because it was the one time we actually got to stay in a hotel.
I have no regrets, nor resentment about this. But now, I have the independence and luxury of being able to pay for a flight (and sweet Jesus, I will pick that route of transportation over a road trip any day) and hotel accommodations for a leisurely excursion.
I come from a large family. The type where you will NEVER remember that random aunt you see once every 7 years, and you cannot keep track of who’s a first cousin, second cousin, or just a “cousin” that’s apparently related by blood somehow OR just grew up with all your other cousins so they’re kind of like a Ditto. And now many of THEM had their own kids so our family tree probably looks like a periodic table of chaos. Do you also come from a big family where you piled into bed with your cousins during family getaways, or shared a room with siblings growing up? And then you got a certain age and left all that behind right? Only in my family, they don’t leave it behind.
Last Labor Day weekend, me and my “immediate” fam took a little weekend trip. Five of us in one hotel room, all adults, aged 20, 32, 35, 55, and 56, respectively.
Two to each Queen bed, was the general agreed upon consensus, with my mom saying she’d bring along her air mattress. Not exactly ideal, but since it was only for 2 nights, I agreed. Until we arrived at the hotel and my mom revealed, OOPS, she forgot the air mattress, and the hotel could not provide us with an extra rollaway.
My mom volunteered to sleep on the tiny uncomfortable mini-couch against the wall like it was nothing. But in a low voice my cousin warned me, “You know she’s going to sneak into bed with you and your sister in the middle of the night, right?”
And he was right. That half-chaise lounger was not fit for sleeping and that’s why she’d offered so flippantly. She’d just wake up stiff and order me and my sister, half-asleep, to make room for her. The thought filled me with dread.
“Three can fit in a bed, just do head to toe. I don’t care,” my aunt said.
The thing is, I care. I care deeply. I don’t WANT to do head to toe.
Sleep is very high on my priority list. I still have an old-school pillowtop mattress, with an additional egg crate topper at home. I read reviews on the sheets I buy. I have a white noise machine for ambient sound. Blackout curtains in my room. I’m very good at getting my 8 hours every night. An unexpected three to a bed, head to toe, in a hotel room I contributed to paying for, is not on my agenda. Even in a hostel, you get your own bed.
“Would you feel comfortable sleeping with your cousin so that me and your mom and sister can all sleep in the other bed?”
While he’s 100% my closest cousin and like a brother to me to me, he is also well over 200 pounds and we’d surely end up touching. The last time we slept in a bed together, I was probably around 11-years-old. So I asserted myself honestly and said “No, I would not feel comfortable with that.”
They seemed surprised at this.
I calmly stated that we should find the nearest Target and simply purchase an air mattress. My mother seemed exasperated at this plan, and the fact that I would want to seek out a way to sleep more comfortably. In a snippy tone, she stated she didn’t want to pay $40 for an air mattress. But I insisted I would pay for it. We found one for $21, self inflatable and everything. And lo and behold, once we had it back at the hotel room, it was my mother who requested to sleep on it, leaving me to one of the beds with my sister.
Fine. That’s fine. I slept with my sister for the two nights. Both her, and my cousin on the other side of the room, snore. Luckily I’d had the foresight to bring my white noise machine to help a little. And I was woken much earlier than I would have liked by their conversing the next day, because hey, one room. I wouldn’t call it “relaxing”.
Now, my mom has 7 siblings. And for them growing up, at least 3-4 girls shared a room, and a bed as well. They grew up with virtually no privacy and no boundaries. Then they got married and had kids pretty quickly…and they still don’t blink twice if 3 of the sisters have to climb into bed with each other, even at their age now.
But up until I was 15, I was an only child. And while we did move around a lot when I was a kid, for the time we were settled, I had my own room and all the luxuries of space of an only child. I was often called spoiled and selfish by my family because of it. While I loved my cousins dearly and cherished my time with them, I also loved my snacks dearly and felt it unfair to share the spoils I’d carefully obtained and allocated after they’d decimated their own with little self-control or discipline. It was like I’d already learned how to be resourceful and thrive in a capitalist environment, but my elders tried to spread the allocation to those who didn’t work for it.
As I grew into adulthood, I never lost the concept of valuing what I work for and what I’ve obtained. My own quiet space. My nighttime wind-down time. I don’t live with roommates for a reason. And when planning trips in advance, I’d like to know that wherever I’m going, I’m going to have some sort of safe space that I can retreat to. A “home base”. And that includes a bed. If I know in advance that I can’t have this, I would rather not go. Gone are the days where I’d clamor with my cousins to somebody’s house and make a blanket nest on the floor, or pass out on somebody’s couch in college. It was fun then, yes, but I’m a grown woman now who values her comfort.
I often witnessed my mom enthusiastically giving up her bedroom for visitors, and hell, even I gave my bed to my older cousins who came over. I thought it was my duty and I was happy to fulfill it. Generally the unspoken rules of sleeping hierarchy I saw; if it was a married couple, you gave up your bed. If it was an elder, you gave up your bed. If it was a man, you gave up your bed. Unless he was a broke man. Those slept on the couch. But men making more money than you, you definitely gave up your bed. Eventually air mattresses and pull-out couches were brought into the mix. But even now, when someone visits my mom’s apartment from out of town, it’s my 20-year-old sister who’s displaced from her room. The common law of order.
And that’s fine. I did my time. I did my duty. But now that I’m a fully contributing member of society, I’m allowed to choose. And I shouldn’t be accused of acting like the Queen of Sheba for having a reasonable expectation of my own bed to sleep in when I pay to visit somewhere rather than engage in my family’s boundary-less climate. I shouldn’t need to be a well-paid man to be seen as important enough to get the honor of my own space offered to me.
On our most recent weekend family trip last month, when my mom got into persuasion-mode to convince me to come, I expressly stated my biggest condition beforehand. That me and my lover would absolutely have a room with our own bed to sleep in for a trip that we were paying for. It was promised and delivered. A step of achievement towards basic rights assertion.
Ask and you may receive.