In the big house

A husband discovers the hidden dangers of a guest room.

By Patrick McVay
February 20, 2011

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I’m not a guy who needs a house with lots of fancy accouterments. I don’t long for a giant-screen TV. A leather Barcalounger. A high-end wet bar, with my very own bartender named Misty. I’m simpler than that. All I need is a kitchen, a living room, a dining room, and about six bedrooms. And a workshop, where I can store my tools and occasionally make a birdhouse or a life-size replica of the statue of David. Plus a garage to store spare wood and bike parts in. This way, if I ever find a free moment, one of these spaces is bound to be vacant, and I can fill it.

My wife is different. She lived for 10 years in New York in an apartment the size of our cat’s litter box. OK, not quite that big. But she loved it! It was Manhattan and she was young, and sleeping on a cot in the middle of the kitchen was a great honor in those days.

Once we got engaged, reconciling our conflicting space needs required rational debate and, eventually, thumb-wrestling. Naturally, as a thumb-wrestling veteran, I prevailed, so we bought a six-bedroom house with workshop space and a garage. I was thrilled. Cohabitating would be not so much different from having separate places, like when we were dating. Not only would I be able to run saws and mismanage useless bits of scrap wood, but we’d also have an office, room for children, and two secluded guest rooms on the third floor for visiting friends and family, some of whom might also enjoy baby-sitting.

Never would I have predicted that, two kids and seven years later, my wife and I would sometimes use the guest rooms ourselves to get a good night’s sleep. Ours can be a noisy house between dusk and dawn, what with the cat’s preying on phantom mice, our son’s inability to get out of bed on his own to pee, and the epic coughing battles my wife and 2-year-old daughter get locked in. Even I – a late-night banger-around, a guy with several of the beastly sleeping traits that middle-aged men of cliche are known to possess – can awaken my spouse at any hour simply by coming to bed.

Late last fall, our daughter surged ahead of my wife in the local cough standings with an impressive display of nighttime hacking that went on for weeks. With no end in sight, and no sleep for us parents, my wife and I began trading nights in one of the guest rooms, leaving the other behind to listen for the kids’ screeches and hollers. What an asset the extra space was! Not only did the guest rooms provide cocoon-like insulation from the racket below, but you could also send e-mail right there in bed past 10 o’clock without getting the evil eye. Ruffle sections of the Sunday Times with reckless abandon. Stretch out without fear of sticking an elbow into someone else’s eye socket. I was really enjoying the hours ensconced in my solitary sleeping nook, particularly Friday night into Saturday morning – my assigned time to sleep in. And I could tell that my wife was loving hers. She was looking more refreshed in the morning. She had a spring in her step.

It was time to put a stop to this nonsense. A couple of days in separate beds had stretched on for almost two weeks, and we were making plans for yet more sleeping apart that weekend. None of this would have happened if I had only agreed to set up a cot in the middle of the kitchen. I said, “I really don’t want our sleeping apart to become permanent.”

She sighed. “It’s just so we can get some sleep.”

Sound sleep was indeed one thing that wasn’t happening within earshot of our daughter. The doctor had warned the coughing could go on for weeks longer; by then, my wife might be irretrievably intoxicated by the tranquillity of her satellite sleeping quarters.

Fortunately, our daughter’s cough abruptly ceased a few days later, and true to our word, my wife and I returned to our shared bed in the noisy part of the house. It’s an arrangement I much prefer, despite my having to skulk around late at night when everyone’s snoozing and I’m still sipping wine and trying to write a column.

Yet, I wouldn’t mind an occasional night in the guest room, if only to get that rarest of commodities – uninterrupted slumber. I’ll bet my wife is thinking the very same thing.

Patrick McVay lives in Boston. Send comments to