Howard A. Ludwig's 6-year-old son has marked his turf, turning a spare bedroom into his private clubhouse.
Updated: April 18, 2013 6:15AM
The sign hanging on the door spoke volumes. The words “Keep Out” had been scrawled on a scrap of paper. The blue-lined paper was hastily taped to the highest point on the door that my 6-year-old son could reach.
This was the marking of Bubba’s clubhouse. He’d taken over the spare bedroom, placing the sign on the door and filling the room with books, Pokémon cards and handheld video games.
These actions were taken without prompting, causing me to question my boy’s motives. I was fairly certain he simply wanted to hide out and play video games. Such games are allowed but in strict moderation.
But if that’s all he wanted, why not simply close the door or sneak away to a quiet corner of the house? Why the sign? Why label it a clubhouse? And why bring his other cherished items like the card collection and his favorite books inside?
With such questions swirling, I sought the help of a pair of experts. Dr. Molly Romer Witten, of the Chicago Institute for Psychoanalysis, was the first to return my call. She referenced the Oedipus complex — a long-held psychological theory involving a child’s repressed sexual desire for his mother and inclination to kill his father.
“It’s part of coming into the awareness that there are places he isn’t allowed to go, like your bedroom,” Witten said.
Bubba’s clubhouse is a reflection of that discovery. It’s a room where his father and 5-year-old brother aren’t allowed to go. And possibly a place where he could have his beloved mother all to himself, Witten said.
Dr. Judy Tellerman disagreed. She’s a clinical professor of psychology at the University of Illinois at Chicago College of Medicine. She believes Bubba’s clubhouse has more to do with setting rules and limits and less to do with an Oedipus revolt.
Bubba likely believes that by sneaking into his clubhouse he’s exempt from the rules limiting video games. However, he needs to realize that a clubhouse isn’t a solitary retreat. Clubs are social. Clubs have rules. And an adult typically supervises a kid’s club, Tellerman said.
“A clubhouse implies a club. It is a group,” Tellerman said.
She encouraged me to talk to Bubba about the motivations for starting his clubhouse. I did, and he reminded me that a few months back I promised he could use the garage attic as a clubhouse. That promise went unfulfilled. So he used the spare bedroom.
At the urging of Tellerman, I praised him for the idea. Then I urged Bubba to accept his brother into the club. I also told him that unlimited video games weren’t part of the deal. And I’d periodically check in on him, despite the sign on the door.
These terms all seemed acceptable. Thus, I found myself siding with Tellerman’s assessment of the clubhouse. But just to be sure, I’m thinking of hanging a “Keep Out” sign on the bedroom door. That ought to play right into whatever Freudian mind games might be going on.
Howard A. Ludwig is a former SouthtownStar business writer who traded his reporter’s notepad for a diaper bag, becoming a stay-at-home dad.
He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.