Last weekend, we moved into my parents’ new house.
I know what you’re thinking: “WHA???????”
I know you’re thinking this because I’m thinking exactly the same thing. Life has been a little surreal lately, to tell the truth. But since we so far seem to be on the same mental wavelength, let me quickly answer some of the other questions that I suspect are now swirling through your heads:
No, no one in our family has lost their job or their home. No one is broke. No one is going through a divorce. No one is suffering from cancer or dementia or chronic failure to launch.
My husband, my parents, my sister, and I are all fine, healthy, happy, stable, responsible, well-adjusted adults . . . who have together decided that sharing a home is the most sensible and satisfying course of action for all of us.
I suppose you’d like to hear how this came to pass. I understand your curiosity and will oblige.
This story begins nearly a year ago. After my parents sold their house on the other side of the state last spring, they eagerly began looking for another home. With a(n almost) fully-functional vacation home in a beach town an hour away from us, they weren’t exactly homeless, but they never stopped dreaming of purchasing a more substantial home – someplace with a garage, a basement, laundry facilities, and lots of room for a growing garden outside and a growing extended family inside.
We spent many fun Saturdays throughout the summer and fall going along with them on house-hunting trips (both for moral support and to get out and see the world a little).
Meanwhile, Ken and I had for some time been feeling increasingly sure that the home we had so enthusiastically purchased as first-time homebuyers three and a half years before wasn’t a good long-term fit for us. Its compactness (less troublesome) and its awkward floor plan (more troublesome) were getting harder and harder to live around as our small ones got bigger and bigger. What’s more, even though we had been steadily plugging away on renovations throughout our time in residence there, there was a lot we still felt we needed to do in order to make it a good “forever” home for our growing family – including several major renovations that we seemed always to lack either the time or the money to pull off. (When I wasn’t working, we had a little spare time, but absolutely no money. After I started working, we had a little spare money, but absolutely no time.)
Then, one Sunday afternoon in December, we met “the house.”
How we met “the house” is a story for another day, but let it suffice for me to say that, together with Mom, Dad, and my two sisters, Ken and I and the kids did meet “the house” — and that we all pretty instantly fell in love with it. Here at last was the sturdily constructed, spacious home with boatloads of personality nestled in five acres of gorgeous countryside surrounded by rolling apple orchards — the home that Mom and Dad (and all the rest of us with them) had been dreaming of. Our feelings upon seeing it for the first time brought to my mind Elizabeth Bennett’s initial reaction to Pemberley in Pride and Prejudice:
Elizabeth was delighted. She had never seen a place where nature had done more, or where natural beauty had been so little counteracted by an awkward taste. They were all of them warm in her admiration; and at that moment she felt that to be mistress of Pemberley might be something!
We nicknamed the house Pemberley (a working title that has since been dropped) and began a brief but intense process of discernment.
Mom and Dad had been house-hunting for months, and this home both ticked off all their boxes and tickled their imaginations — and, in Michigan’s depressed housing market, it was a bargain besides.
They had wanted a big house in the country, and they had found it (and loved it). But what they had also, half by accident, found (and loved) was a big, big house in a part of the country that was conveniently close to our (Ken’s, the children’s, and my) daily life activities.
Mom and Dad sensed, moreover, that the house, ideal as it was for company, was a bit too big for two (or three, since my youngest sister is currently living at home) people to bounce around in by themselves — especially since my dad works out of state and travels often on business and my mom spends a lot of time at the beach house when the weather’s fine.
So they asked us to live there with them — to help them fill out the nooks and crannies, we suppose, and to keep things from being too,too quiet and echo-y.
It didn’t take us long to say yes. If you know my wonderful, warm-hearted, fairly easy-to-live-with parents personally — and if you get a chance to see the house (and we do hope you’ll all come visit us here) — you’ll understand why. The arrangement made sense on all levels: by taking up residence together, we could avoid redundancy in our homes and streamline expenses while enjoying the opportunity to spend time together regularly (something we had been doing anyway, albeit with quite a bit of trouble and travel for everyone involved).
The hardest part about making the decision, in fact, was anticipating (dreading, really) what I’m doing now: telling people.
It’s considered pretty normal nowadays for unemployed twenty-somethings to move back in with their parents temporarily while they get their feet under them professionally. It’s also become increasingly ordinary for old folks to move in with their middle-aged children when their twilight time comes and they require daily care.
But what we’re doing now admittedly feels really out of place — downright weird, to tell the truth — in relation to contemporary American cultural norms. Young adults in their prime of life are supposed to desire independence above all things, aren’t they? Aren’t they supposed to leap eagerly from the nest to follow their dreams and make their fortunes, no matter how far away those dreams and fortunes may be? Returning home is a sure sign of failure or inadequacy. Living a thousand miles away from parents is considered vastly more respectable (and vastly less pathetic) than living in their basements or over their garages.
But is this always for the best? Is this kind of disconnectivity from the people we should hold dearest always the holiest, healthiest, happiest course for families to take? I’m not so sure.
As this is an old fashioned blog, after all, I’ll take a peek backwards to see if others might help me discover whether our new lifestyle does, in fact, have the sweet ring of timelessness to it.
Bill and June Cleaver of Leave It to Beaver are, admittedly, no help to me in this. With their affluent, orderly, 1950s nuclear family, their impossibly neat-and-tidy lives, their two well-groomed boys – and no extended family in sight – they don’t have much insight to offer here. Perhaps the Beverly Hillbillies would have slightly more to say on the subject.
My pal Laura Ingalls Wilder (usually such a friend to this blog!) isn’t much help either, to be honest. Her family’s pioneer spirit drove them out of civilized society and away from all extended family ties when they left the Big Woods for the Prairie. (I can’t help wondering, though, if Laura looked back in later years on her family’s lively community life before the move — expressed in the dances and sugarings and threshings depicted so warmly and vividly in Little House in the Big Woods — and longed for the life she left behind as a young girl.)
Anne Shirley? No help. Jo March? Not much.
Jane Austen? Suddenly we’re getting warmer. Remember the multifamily/multigenerational households of the Bingleys in Pride and Prejudice or the Middletons in Sense and Sensibility? And what about dear Emma Woodhouse and Mr. Knightley?
The impossibility of her quitting her father, Mr. Knightley felt as strongly as herself; but the inadmissibility of any other change, he could not agree to. He had been thinking it over most deeply, most intently; he had at first hoped to induce Mr. Woodhouse to remove with her to Donwell; he had wanted to believe it feasible, but his knowledge of Mr. Woodhouse would not suffer him to deceive himself long; and now he confessed his persuasion, that such a transplantation would be a risk of her father’s comfort, perhaps even of his life, which must not be hazarded. Mr. Woodhouse taken from Hartfield!–No, he felt that it ought not to be attempted. But the plan which had arisen on the sacrifice of this, he trusted his dearest Emma would not find in any respect objectionable; it was, that he should be received at Hartfield; that so long as her father’s happiness in other words his life–required Hartfield to continue her home, it should be his likewise. . . .
This proposal of his, this plan of marrying and continuing at Hartfield– the more she contemplated it, the more pleasing it became. His evils seemed to lessen, her own advantages to increase, their mutual good to outweigh every drawback. Such a companion for herself in the periods of anxiety and cheerlessness before her!– Such a partner in all those duties and cares to which time must be giving increase of melancholy!
Now we’re finally getting somewhere! Think of Squire Allworthy in Tom Jones, whose home at one point houses (not including servants) the good squire, his ward Tom, his sister, her husband, her son, and several moochy houseguests whose residences seem to be of indefinite duration. Think of Shakespeare’s plays, in which whole clans of grown-up people, including parents and children, siblings and cousins, aunts and uncles, fill the lively (if occasionally murderous) multigenerational households of Verona and Messina, Elsinore and the Forest of Arden.
Going back even further still, think last of one of Jesus’ sayings on the cross, as recorded in John 19:
26When Jesus therefore saw his mother, and the disciple standing by, whom he loved, he saith unto his mother, Woman, behold thy son! 27Then saith he to the disciple, Behold thy mother! And from that hour that disciple took her unto his own home.
I don’t know about you, but that’s good enough for me.
P.S. You may be wondering where Ken’s parents fit in all of this. No, we haven’t forgotten them, and yes (weird as it may sound) we wish it were possible for us to live with them, too. We have high hopes that our new living arrangements will allow us (a.) to welcome them for longer and more comfortable visits here (visits in which we aren’t all crammed in like sardines) and (b.) to maximize efficient use of our finances and our vacation time so that we will have longer and more frequent opportunities to fly out and see them.
P.P.S. We’re still looking for a proper name for the house. A home like this deserves a name, we think. Below is a list of names we’ve come up with so far. (Most of these have already been decided against, but we thought you might enjoy them anyway.)
Emily (courtesy of Ela and Eva)
The Big House
Do you have suggestions to add to this list? Leave me a comment. We’ll consider them all!