We love summer in the south. We love the warm days in April, and the fact that we can get boatloads of garden tomatoes in June. However, by July and especially August, the heat becomes oppressive. Swimming pools turn into giant bathtubs and the lake is only refreshing when you jump off of a boat floating in deep water in the center. Getting into a car is like baking in an oven, even with the a/c blowing like mad. On workdays, we come home dripping wet from the commute, wishing that we didn’t have to wear clothes. The air feels thick and heavy and all movement is in slow motion. This is the time of year when we hole up inside, nobody wants to go anywhere. We close heavy curtains and shutters against the heat of the day, and try to time our errands for early morning only.
When I was a kid, television was the easy go-to when we were stuck inside against the heat. We watched mostly reruns because there wasn’t anything else. Often, these were nighttime shows like “The Love Boat” and “Fantasy Island” which were never very good even the first time around. We watched TV in the den, laying on itchy shag carpet in front of the television console; a massive box of fake wood with a relatively small screen. My sister and I would argue over whose turn it was to change the channel or pick the show.
This generation has Netflix, Hulu and Prime, so not only can they binge watch a whole series of reruns, but also movies. However, they also have laptop computers and tend to spend the afternoon in their own e-bubble. This makes us feel very separate from each other, even with rules and limits on use.
Our house, like many, has room over the garage. Initially, I used it for an office because it was spacious and out of the way; I could see my patients there in peace and privacy. However, as our kids became tweens, we realized that we needed a space that encouraged them to have friends over, as well as a place where we could congregate as a family for just fun and enjoyment of each other; a little getaway inside our home. We needed something that would disrupt the isolation created by their laptops.
I looked at lots of pictures of home theaters with lovely reclining armchairs and high end electronics, but we had neither the space nor the budget for this. Plus, we wanted a place that could be multi-use for computer or board games, music, television, or just reading. My husband and I decided to create this space as a Christmas present. We told the kids not to go up into my office because dad was painting furniture and it was a mess. This was easy to enforce, my work has never interested them and my office was boring; nobody wants to help paint.
My husband and I took a road trip to IKEA where we bought enough shelving to cover an entire a wall, a loveseat that unfolded into a bed, a Danish style armchair, and a low cabinet on wheels that could function as a window seat. We sneaked it all into the house and put it in place, then assembled the room, mostly with things we already had. We moved our big screen TV upstairs and mounted it on an arm bracket (we told the kids that it broken and replaced the TV in the den with a smaller version that my father was no longer using). We added my big computer with the hard drive for gaming, moved the combo DVD/VCR player, and purchased a Wii as part of Christmas. For more seating, we scrounged up four beanbag chairs, formerly used for breathing practice in Lamaze class.
My electronics-addicted brother in law donated a surround sound system that he no longer needed after he upgraded. Finally, we added a table that was once a butcher block counter, converted into a kitchen table, and in its last transformation, changed into a low coffee table. We loaded the shelves with all of our existing paperbacks, games, art supplies, music, and movies. We found a small dorm refrigerator for cold drinks and to double as an end table. We finished with fun posters all over the walls with inspirational quotes or movie images. When the kids saw it on Christmas morning, they went nuts. To this day, they say that the year we gave them a room was the best Christmas present ever.
We call it the Necessary Room. We all say it’s necessary for our peace of mind, family time, creativity, quiet contemplation, or fun. A surprising amount of important conversations, including baring of souls, happens in the Necessary Room. We use it the most during summer.
Two years ago, we only took a couple of short trips during summer vacation. The days quickly began to drag in the heat, and we all felt out of sorts and at loose ends. It was then that we turned to movies, but we wanted to make it more than just watching TV. We decided to work our way through all of the Harry Potter movies by watching 2-3 a week as a scheduled event. There are eight movies in all, so this would last us a good while.
For the first two, we had popcorn and sodas, just like the movie theater, but quickly transitioned to theme based meals or snacks. For example, we had tea with lot of pink for the movie when Umbridge was in charge of Hogwarts (Order of the Phoenix). We have had butterscotch soda for “butterbeer” and drank out of silver tumblers to represent the Goblet of Fire. Many of our themes were admittedly a stretch of the imagination, but we didn’t care. Even though we had already viewed them at least once before, we loved going through these movies again and had a sense of excitement on movie day. It was as though we were seeing them for the first time. The big table in the Necessary Room was perfect for any snack or meal because it can hold a lot. I always used good china or glass, linens, and all of the items we are supposed to “save” for company or special occasions. Our movie nights ARE special occasions.
Somehow, this simple thing has become part of our memory collection, as well as a favorite thing to do as a family. The Necessary Room has fulfilled its need, we have family movie night at least every two weeks during the school year. Usually, we just bring our dinner upstairs or order a pizza, but we do have theme-related nights on rare occasions as well. At Christmas, none of us are too old for hot chocolate and Polar Express in our PJ’s. During Halloween week, we have cider and doughnuts while watching Hocus Pocus. Of course, every major holiday calls for the old Charlie Brown cartoon specials. Summer is still our favorite though, and this year is a big one. We plan to work our way through The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings series; in order of the books rather than production. We know there will be a lot of bread and cheese involved; those stories feature months of traveling in the wild. We are thinking one night of fish for Gollum, but wait for inspiration to hit on the rest.