Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Dear Liam

This is the letter I wrote for Liam's baby book explaining the choice to co-house. It seems like it should be here as well)

Dear Liam,

It seems your parents have gone nuts.

You have been surrounded for the last few weeks with moving boxes, piles taller than you'll ever be, fix-it projects, painting, and massive chaos. You've been forced to sleep in a new room, brush your teeth at a new sink, and spend far less time in your car seat (and far more time at the Home Repair store!) I know it's all very strange to you now but I truly believe that soon it will be well worth it.

See, Daddy and I have decided to co-house with your Grandma ("O-ma").For the last several years your dad and I have been moving further and further toward conventional "success". We've allowed ourselves pride over our material acquisitions, increased education, and honorable employment. We've delighted in our pool and our privacy and our suburban luxury. It's been a wonderful golden decade.

But underneath the suburbanites we've become lingers the more-hippie-than-hip people we've always been. And somewhere along the way we realized that the life we were working so hard chasing wasn't really the life we want. We don't care about job titles or money for the sake of money or even about "looking successful."

But we DO care about being able to walk to a library, having the time to hug and tuck you at night and help you with your homework in the evenings. We do care about teaching you the value of family and about having more time to get our hands dirty building/making/planting things. We wanted to be able to eat from our yard and spend less time burning fuel getting from one big box store to another. We wanted you to grow up on a bus route, in the middle of a neighborhood with no home-owners association, where the trees are taller than the houses, and the museums aren't a half hour away. We wanted to stop focusing so much on finances and careers and doing the "responsible" thing... and worry more about family, and home, and doing the "right" thing.

We realized that we'd overvalued our independence and sacrificed the ability to be the loving, helpful, available, people we want to be.

We realized that we'd worked to hard to acquire things and not enough to create them.

We realized that we were wasting resources that we didn't need to waste.

We realized that life would be richer if we were doing more with and for our family.

We realized that just because our life was the "typical" dream didn't mean it was ours...

We realized, in short, that our life didn't match our values....

And then we decided to do something about it.

By moving in with your Oma we are able to pool our resources and make our values and our life-style more in agreement. By combining two houses we

  • cut down on waste/pollution. (by not air conditioning/heating/watering two houses)
  • free up money that had been wasted on duplicating services so that we can contribute it to making the world a better place (instead of just making our living rooms lighted places!)
  • free up time so we can volunteer more, plant a garden, work on fixing mom's house up, hang out with you/each other/etc, read, think, be
  • are able to save more for your college, etc
  • combine expertise and abilities (we can all do more with help than we could alone)
    increase your connection with your Grandparents
  • get a new adventure and learn

It's a crazy plan, we know. And it's possible it won't work (in which case we just buy a new place). But it's also possible that it WILL work. (And it would be crazier not to give it a chance.)

We want to model putting your habits where your values are. We want you, also, to see us try even if it means failing. We are in a great place right now. We aren't running home because we are broke or in any trouble. And we aren't giving up our lives to go take care of elderly parents. Nobody needs bailing out... we are all just daring to dream of a life a little brighter, better, and more sustainable.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Why? (Chris)

This whirlwind reshuffling of our lives has prompted lots of questions, chief of which is "why?" Why would we want to give up our beautiful home, our privacy, our independence, our...whatever?

Honestly, there is not a bumper-sticker type answer for me. Chiefly, it feels right to me. I want to go a little more in-depth, though. So, in no particular order, here is a list of reasons why I wanted to reconfigure our lives.

1. It fits my values. I want a close family. I want to be environmentally aware. I want to live in the city where I can walk to things or take public transportation. I want to share these ideals with my son. Ruth and I have talked about joining a commune before--specifically one up in the Pacific Northwest that sounds pretty neat. But making changes close to home is eminently more doable.

2. The challenge. I like the idea of being able to fix up a home. I like the decluttering aspect, the letting go of materialism. I like the effort of walking the walk and not just talking the talk. (and, yes, I'm speaking in cliched terms. Sue me). Ruth and I have moved about several times in the last 5 years, and we enjoy the making a new home aspect.

3. I'm looking for family. Some readers may know about my estrangement from my parents. Fortunately, I married into an amazing one and I want to strengthen those bonds.

4. It is good for Liam. I want him to be close to his grandparents--I loved mine, but wasn't as close as I wanted to be, because they were all in Pennsylvania. Here, he has the opportunity to have a great connection with them. I do believe in the 'it takes a village' proverb.

5. It already felt like home. Before we moved in, we already spent a lot of time during our weekends back from Jourdanton. We love being here.

6. Hmm...not sure how to go further....except to say that being here has felt amazingly natural. Our family has supported each other so well, and it has been very easy to integrate our lives so far. I'm sure there will be challenges and some difficulties ahead. But this experience has already been richely rewarding.

(wow...I sound like I should be a recruiter...but I do actually believe in everything I wrote. What's going on here is really changing my life for the better. I feel more capable, more....complete than I have in a while.)

Why? (Ruth)

“Why” –that’s the first question people always ask when I say I’ve moved back in with my parents. (Either that or “You did what?!”)

Evidently it’s not cool to like your mom, it’s not cool to respect your step dad (or, for that matter, to admit that your step dad is way more “real” than most of your friends’ dads) and most importantly it is, I’m told, CRAZY to give up a life of privacy and independence and capital-S “success” for a life of cohabitation, co-mingling, and a little dose of chaos.

According to popular consensus the only reason a 28 year old woman would ever even dream of moving back home is because she can’t hack it in the real world—or because she’s broke, or her mom is broke (or broke her hip). And don’t even get me started on the things they have to say about my POOR HUSBAND who HAS to live with his MOTHER-In-Law! GASP! It is, apparently, un-thinkable that my husband and I (both being of sound mind and body) would honestly CHOOSE to combine our lives and households with my parents’.

Try as I might to explain it--people struggle with the idea of this being voluntary.

Some people get hung up on the supposedly inevitable mother-daughter power struggles that lurk in our futures, others fixate on the toll this arrangement is supposed to take on our marriages (or our sex lives). I even had one woman seriously ask me if this is a safe arrangement since my mother and my husband might possibly end up under the same roof alone together! (I’m sorry but if I can't trust my husband not to hit on my mom—or my mom to keep her hands off my husband then I have much bigger worries than how to fit two families worth of belongings into one three bedroom house!)

These days people like to preach the Gospel of Independence to me. They sing the praises of privacy and independence and space and success and “growing up” and living on their own…. And I understand their points: I’m not crazy. Two months ago I had a two story house in the suburbs. My backyard had a gorgeous custom designed pool with limestone decking and extensive landscaping. The backyard opened to a park and was a few blocks from the local elementary school. Our house was well appointed on the inside and adorable from the outside. We were perfectly situated on a cul-de-sac full of children and sandwiched between the world’s best neighbors. I won’t lie—I loved having a whole house to decorate and the freedom to skinny dip with my sweetie when I wanted. There are perks to living that life and I won’t try to deny them.

But here’s the flip side: Two months ago I had a mortgage and a half hour commute to anywhere. I loved my house but I spent less time in it than I would have liked because I was working to pay for it (and things were about to get worse because we needed to figure out daycare). Two months ago we were air-conditioning (and water-ing and gassing and insuring and tax-paying on) two houses instead of sending that money to Amnesty International or spending it shopping the local farmers’ markets or saving for my son’s college). Two months ago my husband was stuck in a soul-sucking job spending his days teaching other people’s kids instead of getting to know his own. Two months ago we were fretting about finding a day care and juggling two jobs and finding a way to make the time and the money and the guilt all work out in a way we could live with. Two months ago we weren’t getting as much time with my parents as we would have liked and it had been years since we’d worked with Habitat or spent any real time volunteering.

In short—two months ago we weren’t the parents we wanted to be, we weren’t the children we wanted to be and we weren’t the world citizens we wanted to be. We weren’t financially stuck—we were solvent and even saving some. But we were so busy being “successful” and self-sufficient that we were slacking where it really counts.

My parents raised me not to sit on my laurels when positive change is possible….

So why did I decide to combine houses?

Because it’s the right thing for me, it’s the right thing for my family, and it’s a piece of my right thing for the world.

Why? (Victoria)


That's the first question people ask when I tell them I chose to combine households with my daughter, her husband and their baby son.

Yes chose.

And here are some of the reasons why.

Living with three generations under one roof is familiar to me. My mother's parents were Czech immigrants in a small Texas town and the household they created included orphaned cousins, aging parents, brothers and sisters and, luckily for me, at times, one grand daughter. Some of my best memories formed in that house, with the conversation in the kitchen or the garden and the singing on the back porch summer nights.

The life style I was living (alone during the week during the school year while my husband teaches in another city, working hard in my business, eating out several times a week, letting household repairs go) didn't sit right with me. I had way too much stuff, especially after having accumulated estate items from my parents and aunt, and didn't have a handle on how to pare my belongings down. My once abundant garden plot stood empty and bedraggled. I planted hopefully the last two springs but gave up on during summer because I just couldn't face all the work alone. I stood in my ktchen evenings cooking for one and wished for a family to feed.

My values call me to work to repair the world, which I see as very broken and too focused on independence and competition. Combining resources (time, money, energy, ideas) should free us all up to work harder at making a difference in our community and beyond it - more time for volunteer work and activism of all kinds, for relationships, for spiritual practice.

Ruth and Chris and Bob and I share similar values about the life we want to live and we get along easily together. I trust those three people, both their intentions and their follow through, and enjoy being with them, learning from them, talking and eating and cooking and working with them

The idea of living in the same house with my baby grandson (Liam, the cutest blue eyed newly walking baby in the world) was a delight.

Life is short. Life is precious. People die when you least expect it. Every moment is a moment we have to share, so being together under one roof allows more moments to be cherished together.