where children sleep

All those mama hormones are making me exceedingly melancholic, but in a good way, now that my eldest child surpassed the six-foot mark and is about to leave the nest for college. My overriding emotion is one of excited anticipation, thrilled for him and proud of what he is and all that he will become. The second emotion is terror, sheer terror, that some idiot will drive drunk in his path, but I’m getting somewhat better at suppressing that.

There is quite a span between my children, and at the same time one is about to leave, the youngest (who is quite adorably literally half his size) is well ensconsed in our bed most (well, pretty much all) nights. While I love the coziness of having her there (and we have a big ol’ bed) it is, most definitely, time for her to find her spot in her own room. It’s something we talk about, and it is one of the projects for the summer ahead.

Her room is quite small, but comfy, and reminds me of the first room I had of my own. For the longest time I shared a bedroom with my mother and my brother, later with my mother, and loved every minute of it, yet still I can taste the excitement of having my own space. Ever since then I’ve always been quite comfortable in all sorts of situations, sharing tight living quarters, etc., always finding a way to carve a little niche somewhere that might be mine. In this space, however small (and often just a corner in a larger shared space) I might put my things, express myself by what was there and how it was placed.

I am so glad to have come across some photos from a book by the photographer James Mollison called “Where Children Sleep,” published by Chris Boot. (It was published a year ago, and while still available on Amazon is “sold out” according to the publisher’s site, so I ordered one without pause.)

Its premise is both simple and profound, best expressed by Mr. Mollison himself:

When Fabrica asked me to come up with an idea for engaging with children’s rights, I found myself thinking about my bedroom: how significant it was during my childhood, and how it reflected what I had and who I was. It occurred to me that a way to address some of the complex situations and social issues affecting children would be to look at the bedrooms of children in all kinds of different circumstances. From the start, I didn’t want it just to be about ‘needy children’ in the developing world, but rather something more inclusive, about children from all types of situations. It seemed to make sense to photograph the children themselves, too, but separately from their bedrooms, using a neutral background. My thinking was that the bedroom pictures would be inscribed with the children’s material and cultural circumstances ‘ the details that inevitably mark people apart from each other ‘ while the children themselves would appear in the set of portraits as individuals, as equals ‘ just as children.

Yesterday I was taken by the way a spider faced with a sudden loss of all that was familiar, including gravity, could adapt, and even thrive. Children are known for thriving amidst poverty, chaos, tremendous hardship. They carve their little spaces, make their worlds (sometimes internalized) despite what surrounds them, and these images illustrate this as well as the ineffable beauty and universality of children.

A Room of One’s Own, indeed.



4 thoughts on “where children sleep

  1. The title of that book is profound in itself. with just that piece of information, i understand what happens after turning the cover. Heartbreaking, I must assume but documentary photographers are storytellers without words. Thanks for sharing.

  2. What a beautiful post. Really makes me think about what children must survive in order to thrive. My dad was around 80 when I first heard him speak of WWII and how he loved the war because it was the first time he had his own bed. It seems he slept on a cot in the dining room for the first 18 years of his life. Even when he told me, it wasn’t with complaint. It was just a fact. I am always amazed at the daily braveries we all face at times. Good luck with transitioning your daughter to her own space…and a wonderful freshman year to your son!

    1. Thank you, Annie.

      That’s incredible about your father…

      I guess it’s proof that a space of one’s own can be very significant but that not having one doesn’t necessarily mean that the child is deprived or unloved. The spaces in which we live are reflections of our lives. A child alone in a vast and perfectly appointed designer bedroom may be very lonely, and another sleeping like sardines in one bed might be the happiest most loved child on earth.

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