Slacking, building and choosing

Tech geeks that we (some of us) are, we have decided the primary communication between house members will be on Slack, a messaging app.

“What?” you say, “Your primary communication method isn’t speaking face-to-face?” Sure, sure, that would be very civil and touchy-feely. But no, we prefer to message each other making no sound but a vibrating notification, like passive-aggressive bots.

At every house meeting I say: “You all know that blah blah blah.”

Housemates: “No, I didn’t know that.”

Me: “But I posted it on Slack! Why does no one read my Slack messages!”

Housemates: “Well if it was less than 72 hours ago, we might not have read it. Remember the rule about 72 hours.”

Me: “It was a month ago.”

Housemates: “Then maybe we’ve forgotten.” (Ok, they didn’t actually say this).

Me: <Grrrr>

Tonight I was sitting with Harry and I mentioned that I posted the dinner with the neighbors to the #calendar channel of Slack. If you aren’t familiar with channels, think of them as ongoing e-mail threads with particular topics, or themed chat rooms. Harry said he wasn’t on that channel. He didn’t even know about it. My own husband was ignoring the channel I created.

“Did you invite everyone?” he said.

“Yes, I wrote @channel.”

“That’s not how you do it,” he said. He opened the channel. “Wait, is anyone even on this channel?”

The channel showed a long history of Eliza dutifully posting every house event since April (APRIL!) and every scheduling change.

May 23rd – Eliza: House dinner tomorrow (Monday) at 7:15. Enchilada casserole.

June 8th – Eliza: Scott, the blinds guy, is coming Wednesday at 2 to install the missing blind.

June 10th – Eliza: Scott, the blinds guy, changed his appointment from Wednesday to Thursday at 1:30.

You know when you suddenly realize everyone has left the room while you were facing away, and you’ve been talking to yourself for the last 2 minutes? Make that the last 4 months!

Color me sheepish. Now I know why Wes inexplicably did not know I had scheduled regular Tuesday night house dinners. And why no one moved their things away from the windows for the blinds installation. And why everyone was ignoring me. Sorry, everyone. My bad.

On another note, I’m boiling a sponge now because it smells like a rat died on it. This is no knock on anyone’s personality, but could we just please, please, PLEASE squeeze out the sponge and place it in the holder when we’re done using it? That’s really my main wish in life.

Things in the house are going more or less smoothly. Anna’s planning a garden party. She showed me the plans tonight and they look exciting. They look like the kind of thing I would never have thought up myself. A mud bath for the children? Herb gardens in dresser drawers? Wow! Some of us doubt that our party will accomplish all she has planned, but I very much hope to be proven wrong.

We’ve had scaffolding and floor covering in the living room to install sound absorbing acoustic panels on the ceiling because we have a grave echo problem. The stairs have cardboard on them that make a cracking noise with each step. Not like cracking eggs; more like cracking granite. You can no longer sneak up the stairs to spy on your children. While scaffolding and thunderous stairs aren’t an ideal match with young children, the project has had big benefits.

The main advantage of the construction is that Chris the Task Rabbit is now in our house every day pounding on our ceiling. You couldn’t ask for a more pleasant companion. Jeremy chats with him for hours at a time and he never complains or makes snarky comebacks. Today I overheard Jeremy taking things to the next level with Chris. The ellipsis in the following quote indicates it was preceded by 79 minutes of Jeremy talking.

“…and after we do this work we can build a house together.” Jeremy said to Chris, “Then we can all live together.”

I love that Jeremy is so keen on Chris. I also love that, to his almost-four-year-old mind, building a house and moving in with a guy who installs your ceiling panels is just a normal activity.

Jonah calls Nate “Da-da”. Nate is not his dad. He calls Audrey “A-da” and Anna “A-na”. Always with excitement. He calls our nanny, Glenda, “Hola” because that’s what she and I say whenever she arrives. He even says “Leif” and “Mina” sometimes. What does he call himself? “This.”

We had this housemate outing that Audrey planned. Biking and a picnic! Nate, Anna and Leif couldn’t make it to so it ended up being just my family and my sister’s family.

“Only our two families,” I said to her as we coasted in the sun on our 2-wheelers, “But not our parents.”

“Our chosen family,” she said, “Parents are your given family, but then you have your chosen family.”

“Only I didn’t choose you,” I said.

“I didn’t choose Mina either,” she said.

“I didn’t choose Mina either,” I said, “Or Wes, or Jeremy or Jonah. I only chose Harry.”

“And I only chose Wes.”

“Hm.”

We pedaled for a while, having exchanged these not necessarily complimentary remarks.

“But we chose to live together,” I said. Ah, that’s the important bit. Chosen family.

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Hygge

There is a German word for (gemütlich) it and an even better Danish word (hygge). I’ve felt it throughout my life though it has no name. Playing cards with my dad, sister and friends in the evening. After a Thanksgiving meal playing charades with my parents, aunts and uncles. In my college suite where we gathered and joked about sex instead of studying. With my 20-something roommates, sitting around the kitchen table, talking and laughing about everything. Vacations in shared cabins with good friends. We need a compound word that means “a warm group of people laughing in the evening.” I wish I spoke or German or Danish. In Chinese you could use the word 熱鬧 (loosely translates to “hot-noisy”), which is how I’ve heard big family meals described.

I’ve always believed that my life would continue to be full of that hot-noisy. It ended abruptly the year that I got pregnant with my first child and bought a house. My roommates who were like family to me moved out. The replacement roommates kept to themselves, and so did the next set and the next set (with a few exceptions). So I felt lonely and built five bedrooms into my dream house to make sure it would be full of people. I built a common area with room for everyone a kitchen at its heart.
I must have missed some critical piece. Maybe it’s because the house isn’t cozy enough or because the kids are too young? Maybe everyone has Things To Do that are more important. Maybe I’m just not fun anymore. I don’t know, I don’t know. I go to sleep troubled every night. I worry about chore wheels, dented floors and children’s conflicts. I’m finally realizing those are all decoys. My mind and body are disconnected because of chronic sleep loss so my emotions aren’t as clear to me as they once were. But I know now what it is that I want so badly it aches. It is that thing that has no English word, that sounds gooey or antiquated when you try to name it (“the soul-feeding company of merry spirits”?) I need this. It isn’t happening yet. Dinner is frenzied with young children, we put them to bed and then the house seems to die for the night. I don’t know how to even ask for it, or how to make it happen.
Then should I post this in the blog, for my friends, roommates and family to maybe read, or forget to read? For the World Wide Web to know? Would that make the lonely less? Would that create an awkward flurry of unspoken concern in my house that only makes things worse? I tend to scare people away with my blunt desire. But I’m going to work toward it. Because I need this, you see.

One big happy family

For the first time since my second child was born my husband is spending one night away. If we still lived in our old place I would have been scared to handle my two kids at night on my own. But with families around it’s ok. I noticed today I was waiting subconsciously for him to come home, and I had to keep reminding myself that he wasn’t coming home tonight. When he is home, then everything feels right. After the fourth time I caught myself waiting, I shifted my thinking. My husband is my family, the person I lean on the most. But in this new house we have a new, bigger family. We are here to lean on each other. Just a little at first, and then maybe more once we build trust.

We made dinner. Anna put up with Jeremy “helping” her cook in the kitchen while I sort of watched the younger kids and tried to chop sweet potatoes at the table. We sat down to a tasty dinner and the kids all ate with only minimal plate-throwing and choke-vomiting (1-year-old M.O.) Then my sister came home with her friends and their kids, initiating a delightful buzz of adult conversation and children fighting and playing with pillows and ride-em vehicles. Way past everyone’s bedtime, my sister read to the older cousins while I put the baby to bed.

Remember Real World where they put all these random people in a house together and incited them to quarrel? I have not watched reality TV since the 90s, so perhaps that’s still the standard plot; I don’t know. Either way, this is our Real World. I’m expecting fights or people not able to handle things. Especially considering the boxes everywhere and the disorganized kitchen. But for now, it’s working just as I had hoped.IMG_9363

Transitioning

It’s the one-week anniversary in the new house (it was when I started writing this). I have been crazy overwhelmed every minute, with no rest and no leisure for me or my husband. Some of our roommates seem strangely calm and composed through the chaos (especially Rusty Dog). I would like to have that kind of personality, but it seems I’m pretty excitable.

Good parts: having people around all the time. I don’t have a lot of need for alone time. I’m most at ease when I’m sharing a space with a few people I know well. I love waking up to a bustle in the kitchen and someone frying eggs. After the kids are in bed if I have any energy at all I walk downstairs and feel the quiet comfort of people using their laptops and sipping tea.

I love the casual collective parenting that happens effortlessly. It means I can steal a few minutes for myself in moments I never could before we moved. As the only party with two young children, rather than one, I benefit more than anyone. I can sleep in a bit even after my co-parent has left for work. Thank you, roommies!

In writing the list of good things, I started to forget what the difficult parts are. Which means I’m getting more sleep. Still, let’s disclose them…

Difficult parts: There are dozens of tiny household policies to be defined, discussed and communicated to everyone. I general enjoy these kinds of conversations, but I started to get very weary partway through the week. At its worst, it is policing and being policed. For example, “Hey, do you mind if we don’t listen to talk radio in the common space?” that was me policing. Mostly it’s just peaceful discussions, but usually only with 2-3 participants. Then you have the remaining 3-4 participants not aware of the discussion, so you have to schedule a part 2. This should all be resolved with a house meeting, but good luck scheduling that on short notice! Also, we have to inform the nanny about any decisions that affect her.

One issue is particular to me and my husband because we built the house. Every choice we made about the house becomes something we have to explain or defend or just sort of shrug at and say “oops”. Why do we have an induction cooktop that renders half of our pots useless? Why can’t we install shelves in the upstairs hallway? It’s really very hot in here! And so on.

The bittersweet parts: The sound of children playing loudly. Happy chaos, but sometimes too much chaos. Right now – sad, troubling, but a tiny bit satisfying – the sound of two children crying, neither of which is mine.

A Crazy Marriage

I’m getting married to 6 people and a dog.

I gave notice to my landlord for January 31st. On February 1st I will no longer have a landlord; I’ll be one. My tenants will be my roommates and my family. If you think this is awkward, we’re just getting started. There are two reactions when I tell people about my future living situation:
“Oh, that sounds so wonderful for you all. I love it!” and,
“That’s crazy! You’re going to hate it. I would anyhow. Good luck!”
This blog will document, play by play, which reaction is on target.

I live now with my husband and my two little boys, ages 1 and 3. My future roommates are two couples, two children under the age of three, and a schnauzer-type dog. I’ve lived with roommates from the moment I was born, with the only exception of my first year in college. I had a roommate, but she spent the semester camped out on her boyfriend’s lap. So I know what I’m doing when it comes to roommates. I’ve never lived with other people’s babies and dogs. I’ve also never owned the house that I live in.

I don’t just own it. I made it. My husband and I made this. Three years of tears, stress and so, so much money. Now we’re going to invite a dog and other people’s children into our masterpiece. Crazy?

Maybe. But, it’s a marriage.

I probably don’t need to tell you that people have been living with extended family since there were people. The nuclear family only started with industrialization, when younger people had incentives to move toward industry, away from their parents. But there are still many places less touched by industry where grandparents, aunts and uncles all live together with their progeny. If you think, “Yeah but they hate it,” I would wager a large percent of my house that the most complaints about in-laws are heard in the nuclear-family US. Family relationships, like marriage, require work and love. The payback is the warmth of living in a community where people know you and love you unconditionally. We will help each other, share meals, games and conversation. We will escape the isolation that is the American family’s burden.

Known challenges:
– My brother-in-law likes everything to be labeled or he can’t find it. My husband prefers seamless label-free beauty.
– All the other parents intend to work full-time while I’m mostly home with my children. I’m sad about this, but I’m hoping a full time nanny will keep me company. Not my nanny; Leif’s nanny.
– I don’t like dogs. I especially don’t like children splashing in dogs water bowls and eating dog food. As much as I don’t like dogs, I love my sister and her (human) family. So I will deal.
– I don’t like people scratching my Teflon. Almost every roommate I’ve ever had has scratched the Teflon. Touching metal to Teflon removes the non-stick of it, and also scrapes up toxic Teflon flakes. Can we please use only rubber or wooden utensils on the Teflon? Also, don’t overheat Teflon. That’s also poisonous.
– We don’t have much storage space or fridge space. This has been a topic for debate and sore feelings already, even though we haven’t moved in. People love their stuff. Yes we do.

Silly Eliza, you say. Those aren’t even the beginning of the challenges. Of course they’re not.

Six years ago I married my husband, knowing that there would always be conflicts, usually the same ones again and again. They will never resolve. But I also knew that keeping a marriage is a choice. We choose to we remember that we are on the same side. We choose to communicate openly and kindly, even when we’d rather pout alone. We work to keep our empathy as strong as our love for ourselves. These choices we make again and again are what will keep us together and make us better for it.

Now I’m marrying into a much larger group of people. It doesn’t have to be forever, of course. But we can choose to make it work using the same tools that each of us is using in our marriage and with our children. If all of these tools aren’t enough, if we come across some vast differences about Teflon or labeling that just can’t be overcome…at least this kind of divorce doesn’t need lawyers; just a moving van.

But we’re all ready to try it, on February 1st. We all think it just might be ok. Crazy as it seems…I do.