The contract was signed verbally, committing us to multi-family living for 15 years. Having moved and changed schools frequently as a young child, ED was determined to provide a home to anchor the boys close to their friends through college (four-year plan). Although looking to downsize, Mike and I intended to assist ED as a single mom who traveled frequently for work. A shared house eliminated the need to displace the boys or us when our help was needed. Although ED maintained her house and yard primarily on her own, cohabiting would reduce house and yard maintenance to one property.
At the time, I questioned the need to stay through the boys’ college years but acquiesced to ED’s preferences. Our role was to support her in raising the boys not to tell her how to do it. So we found the house, made major changes to accommodate our immediate needs, and embarked on our 15-year flip with unending renovations.
That was six and a half years ago. Global and personal changes are affecting our needs. School zone variance places many of the boys’ friends outside the neighborhood. Technology allows them to interact with their friends no matter where they are. ED’s employers acknowledge, thanks to COVID, that she need not travel to fulfill her duties. Mike and I are retired and getting tired. The boys are maturing and showing themselves to be responsible, diminishing our role in their lives.
A few weeks ago I brought up the topic of shortening the contract, while promising to get Blue Boy through high school (less than three years). ED acknowledged that her expectations had modified, and we all agreed that we need our own space. Where would we go? ED’s house which she leases out would be too small if the boys joined her. I tease about moving to Norway (it’s a happy country), dreaming dreams but making no realistic plans. We are adapting our remodeling goals are for a shorter term, considering function and comfort with an eye for resale.
It occurred to me that the boys need to be in on this conversation. So we told them at dinner last night that we are considering moving on after Blue Boy graduates. Blue Boy responded with a semblance of a nod and a grunt.
It wasn’t until later that it occurred to me that this next move could be very unsettling. The boys have not had a father for over 10 years, meaning Mike has been the steady male figure. They have spent most of their school years in our shared home, growing up here. Honestly, I can’t imagine what that feels like and won’t pretend to try.
John Hodgman writes that Parenthood begins as an expression of narcissism, of personal genetic redoubling; but that selfishness is quickly burned away in the crucible of tears, vomit, fevers, and close calls; and it is repaid only in the incalculable joy of seeing someone else thrive in happiness and apart from you. (Medallion Status: True Stories from Secret Rooms by John Hodgman.)
Grandparents who share their home with their grandchildren share much of the same sentiments as they witness daily physical and emotional growth while being the targets of the love and tantrums inherent in maturation. The Norman Rockwellian portrayal of family life eludes us most of the time.
Here is what I do know: despite noise, chaos, dog hair, teenage angst and moodiness, I like this arrangement. Do I need my own place? Yes. But what a great experience this is!