How Far Will You Go to Be the Cool House?

Having the Cool House

We moved into our house over eight years ago with a toddler, a preschooler, and a third on the way. We dry-walled and carpeted our being the cool housebasement, transforming it into a wonderland for kids. The “best basement ever” (yes, it’s been called that – by a kindergartener, but still!) has swings, a slide, a chalkboard, drums, a keyboard, air hockey, a balance beam, bean bags, toys, games, books! We even let them write on the walls (Why not?).

Kids from far and wide have enjoyed playing in our basement. Truth be told – it is not that magnificent. The walls are flat white and the carpet brown Berber. The windows lack adornment. The trim is beige. The litter box and sump dump are down there. And the vacuum shows up two or three times a year, tops. However, I think what makes it fab in the eyes of little kids is its unique flavor. Most children can’t swing inside their house or legally use markers on the walls.

Sadly, the dream space has begun suffering neglect. Swinging isn’t to a 13-year-old what it is to a 5-year-old. The tired games and crusty books have had a good run but aren’t seeing the use they once did. Extra furniture, camping supplies, Christmas decorations, high chairs, booster seats, and all other manner of family life cast-offs have been finding their way to the basement and stealing some of the spotlight away from the playroom atmosphere.

As hard as it is for me to face, the kids are growing up (breaking my heart) and don’t need as many Polly Pockets and plastic waffles and tea cups anymore. No matter what I do the Bionicles and Transformers just aren’t drawing the attention they once did. It’s time to move on. (Did I mention? Breaking my heart.)

We live in a neighborhood where kids roam free. On any given Saturday or Sunday, I may have one or two or five children here who aren’t mine. And then other times, I find myself all alone in the house while the youngsters invade other homes.

I love the open door policy. I enjoy knowing parents through their kids. I find great amusement in all the quirky personalities I see in the children. I always wanted to have a home where my kids and their friends would hang out.

My eldest has been a teenager less than a year. Her group (she calls it a gang) of best friends (boys and girls) all live nearby. One of the moms is amazingly talented in interior design. She is also one of those moms who stays home and does all she can to make her kids happy. My daughter wistfully (accusingly) tells me how this mom always has homemade cookies available and prepares hot breakfasts each morning – sometimes I can get down on myself for not being quite so wonderful. This woman is one of my best friends, so I’m not knocking her. Just a tad jealous of her energy, that’s all. (Most times I want to be her, but that is a post about comparison that we better save for another day.)

This house happens to be the gang’s hangout. The basement is like a night club. Dim lighting, bar stools at a high table. Bottomless bowls of candy (because they are kids and it’s not a night club!). Hand-painted murals. An ultra-modern faux fire-place thingy on the wall. A pool table. Giant television. A mini-fridge. It is A.Maz.Ing! I wouldn’t mind living in that basement.

The teenagers spend time there watching movie after movie. Television is unlimited. They have phones, pods, pads, games, and computers that are usually being used. The mini-fridge is never far.

So, here’s my problem. We are clearly outgrowing our slide and play kitchen. How far do I go in wooing my children to spend leisure time here at our house?

Having “happy” kids is not my goal as a mom. Raising responsible, respectable adults is. My husband and I like to set boundaries, curfews, limits. We want to be together as a family as much as possible. We like to sit down together and eat. We think chores and hard work are a vital part of childhood. We think too many material possessions weigh a person down; and there is value in not getting everything you want. We don’t allow our kids to eat junk food whenever they are hungry for it (which surprisingly is always). We have an Xbox only half the time – we share with another family.

Do we throw out our rules so teens will come over? Sure, we can keep strict guidelines (30 minutes of a video game, one television show, two cookies per person, etc.) but that will that  chase them away to someone else’s house where fun is unrestricted.

Do we outfit our basement with endless activities, a cool paint job, a disco ball, sugar sprinkling from the ceiling?

My vision right now includes painting the walls a cool color, arranging the old love seats that are already down there around a faded blue rug and coffee table that I already have. Someone gave us a television so my husband will hook that up. We’ll include the Xbox in the arrangement on the months we have it. I’ll leave some board games and the air hockey table. Is that going to be enough? Sounds fantastic, I know (I am well aware this is a first world problem). But it will not be as posh as the neighbor’s.

I hope the kids will come. I hope my daughter will feel comfortable having her gang here. I hope they will find things to do other than stare at screens. My goal in this is to keep my kids close. Isn’t that what we all want? I pray we will be a family that illustrates Jesus to the children who walk in and out our doors. I hope they find this house full of love. I want them to find more here than flashy toys. I want relationships.

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