Strangely calm and composed

Hm, I guess that person would be me. ¬†ūüėÄ

I’m not usually described as “calm” (too much energy), but perhaps unstressed is more accurate. ¬†I am not feeling any stress from this new housing situation. ¬†Am I happy? ¬†Heck yeah! ¬†Feeling at home and in my element? ¬†Absolutely. ¬†Loving living with others despite the chaos of boxes, the lack of kitchen shelves/cabinet doors, the almost complete lack of furniture in our bedroom, or any of the other slight frustrations? ¬†Definitely.

One¬†of my reason for feeling so comfortable in the house is my personality: as I mentioned before, I’m an extreme extrovert. ¬†But another¬†is how clear it is to me that my son is much much happier here with his faux-siblings around most of the time than in our old house where there were no other kids at home and our housemates worked every¬†day. ¬†He probably has my extroversion, and he’s just a lot happier here. ¬†(I wouldn’t call him calm or composed either, though.)

I’ve also lived in coops for so many years that I’m accustomed to the general “social contract” that comes with. ¬†I am not picky, so I don’t have a lot of policies I want to communicate with others. ¬†But since I’m not picky, I don’t mind following most policies if it makes my housemates happy; just let me know. ¬†There are a lot of things we haven’t worked out yet, like who does which chores or where to put all our stuff. ¬†But I know we’ll figure it out eventually, and in the meantime it is refreshing to live with a bunch of people who are kind & thoughtful. ¬†Looking back at my past coops, it seems like most of the real problems came from housemates who were just too selfish or self-centered and unable to be thoughtful or generous or empathetic.

Oh, and let’s not forget that my house growing up was so messy on a daily basis that one time when my dad asked a police officer inside (because he’d seen a teenager jump the fence at the pool next door) the officer thought our house had been broken into and trashed. ¬†So I have a very high tolerance for mess, but I’m not messy myself.

So I’m happy to be that person who’s just really content right now. ¬†Could it be improved? Sure! ¬†And it will be. ¬†We make great strides at organizing every week, and that is no small feat when smushing three families into a one-family house.

Oh, and it could also be happiness by comparison: we spent the previous six weeks couch surfing with a one-year-old.  Our last place was very small and our son would get so bored there that he would literally beat on the door and cry.  So I took the bus into Berkeley (from Oakland) and spent the entire day shuttling him from the YMCA to the library to a restaurant for lunch to the occasional muddy park (because it was raining almost every day during that month) and back to the Y and back to the library for 8 hours every day because we had no nanny.

So maybe that was just so stressful for me that this seems like heaven!

 

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Babies & Papasans; my aggressive hugger

I just had to blog about an adorable scene. ¬†The two one-year-olds love the papasan! ¬†One of them will go up to it and say, “up! up!” and the other one will run over and say “up! up!” to get in at the same time. ¬†Then they sit in it together, laughing and hugging and pushing each other. ¬†Tots adorbs.

And I think the other kids are beginning to get used to our son’s style. ¬†He is an aggressive hugger. ¬†He loves hugging people, especially little kids. ¬†So he chases each kid around (and the poor dog) multiple times per day so he can hug them. ¬†Occasionally knocking them over while he does so. ¬†After he hugs someone he grins & claps. ¬†I can’t help but think it’s ridiculously cute even when the other kid is trying to avoid the hug.

The nuclear family is rubbish!

(Okay, so my mom is a Brit.)

Dang, we’ve only been in the house for a few days and it is soooooo easy to take care of kids this way! ¬†This is the way human beings are supposed to raise kids. ¬†Multiple kids, multiple adults.

The kids entertain each other.  The adults trade around watching them naturally and with little effort.

Yesterday Eliza asked me if I could watch her two kids this morning while she had an early telephone meeting. ¬†I blocked off the time: 7:30am to 9am, and the mental space: three kids, possibly by myself. Be prepared — could be tough. ¬†We had plans that if her 1yo was particularly fussy and needed to nurse I could try to carry him to her quietly while somehow also watching the other two kids.

But it wasn’t anything like that. ¬†Around 8:45 Eliza came out and thanked me, and I couldn’t remember why — oh yeah, I had “watched her kids” — ha! ¬†I didn’t do anything. ¬†The kids all wanted to eat at the same time (cuz the littler kids want to do whatever the bigger kids are doing), then Audrey happened to give the older two kids¬†a bath, which the younger two found fascinating. ¬†And at some point Nate came down and “watched” them while I took a shower. ¬†Did I even do any watching?

The other evening Wes & Audrey came out of their rooms while I was playing with two of the kids and said, “oh! we forgot that were were supposed to be watching Eliza & Harry’s kids!” ¬†Apparently I had one of them and Nate had the other. ¬†And we didn’t even notice. ¬†It’s actually easier to watch two kids than one, because you don’t have to entertain them, they entertain each other.

Anyway, a longish post just to say wow, the kid watching part of this setup¬†is even easier/better than I expected. ¬†And I expected it to be pretty great. ¬†ūüėÄ

A note on house size

A friend just asked me if we were moving into a three-family with two other families. ¬†And that brings up my only real concern with this living situation: the size of the house. ¬†It is a single-family which will have three families living in it. ¬†We have all purged half of what we own, and are also expecting to leave quite a few of our remaining belongings in storage. ¬†But even with less stuff, the tightness of the physical house is the one thing that I expect might lead to more friction than would normally occur in a coop. It’s easier for dishes to pile up, harder to find a quiet space when you need one, easier to double-book guests, and harder to put things away when there isn’t really space.

If any of us have another kid, it will quickly become unworkable. ¬†And as our children get bigger, it will slowly become unworkable. ¬†I don’t think any of us see this as our permanent living situation because of the size of the house.

My ultimate dream is a big sprawling house, ideally with at least two¬†kitchens & dining rooms, with three (or more!) families with similar age kids. ¬†My ideal two-kitchen setup has a main kitchen that everyone uses on a daily basis; cooking and eating together in the shared kitchen is my favorite part of coop¬†living. ¬†The second kitchen & dining room allow anyone in the house to host an event that doesn’t have to involve or interfere with everyone else in the house. ¬†An old friend reminded me that I used to host amazing dinner parties, but since I’ve been living in my coop in Boston (for over 10 years) I stopped¬†hosting them. ¬†It’s too disruptive to have housemates coming and going.

Life is rarely perfect. ¬†This physical house isn’t perfect. ¬†But I’m incredibly excited and grateful to get the opportunity to “live the dream” with these particular people, who share many of my values and are also fun, smart, caring, and generally awesome people.

Post-mortem on co-ops with a newborn

Having just read my post from before my baby was born, I have to say that I am soooooo glad I trusted myself and not the people who told me to get my own place. ¬†I was told quite a few times that I’d regret living with others when I had a newborn, but¬†I just couldn’t believe that I would suddenly become a different person with different needs. ¬†And I was right. ¬†I loved living with others while I was home with a baby.

Our old coop was five adults and our tiny little guy.  I barely remember anything from that first week after our son was born, because I was almost completely without sleep and having a newborn is so repetitive (cry, change, cry, nurse, sleep briefly, cuddle, repeat every hour or two around the clock).  I do remember these events:

  1. When we came home from the birth center, our housemates were sitting on the porch with a bouquet of flowers and a big sign saying “Welcome Home LEIF!” ¬†Tears came to my eyes.
  2. My mother-in-law Betty was staying with us and helping with everything.  One evening that week she cooked dinner and all our housemates were home.  We lit candles and ate at the table, and everything was perfect.  That was the first day our sweet housemate Mike held the baby, who was four days old.

The other memories I have from¬†that week (and the next few) were¬†nursing (which was quite painful) and walking Lief up and down the stairs (the only way to calm him…we called him our personal trainer).

As for the rest of that year, it was hard, but not because we had¬†housemates. ¬†Nate’s startup took off, and I did way more baby care than I ever expected. ¬†Having housemates made this¬†more bearable. ¬†I had a terrible experience at work that summer. ¬†We spent months preparing for our move to the west coast, purging about half of our belongings. ¬†I had lived in Boston longer than anywhere else in my life, so it was hard to leave.

But I’m also really excited to be here in Berkeley. ¬†Our old housemates were great, but they were single. ¬†Our son is an only child, and he is extremely social. ¬†We want him to be around other kids and we want to be around other parents.

If you read my post from before he¬†was born, I am happy to report that none of the things I was warned about came true. ¬†I was completely comfortable having others hold my baby, try to calm him, or occasionally babysit. ¬†In fact, it was a godsend. ¬†As far as seeing me at my worst, we joked about the donut-pillow I carried around everywhere for the first week — the relationship I have with my housemates is not a very private one. ¬†I was very happy to have an excuse to mostly clean up most of the time (sorry about those other times!). ¬†And the extra burden of maintaining interpersonal relationships was no more than it had been before.

Everyone was incredibly helpful to us the first few weeks, and after that it was wonderful to have my housemates occasionally organize events at the house. ¬†There was a Princess Bride party at our house that was lovely: about a dozen very nice people came over, shared food, and watched the movie. ¬†Since I wasn’t organizing it I could come and go as needed to nurse or change the baby.

Overall, I’m very surprised that the googs can’t find more information about the great joy of living with others while having small children.

So what do I expect from this new house? In many ways I expect more of the same experiences as my old coop: house meetings where we try to compromise to make everyone reasonably happy; random deep conversations about life, the universe, and sleep training; occasional frustration as dished pile up for some reason; coming home to a home-cooked meal and a housemate playing guitar.

In addition, there will be eight stompy little feet chasing the dog and squealing. ¬†There will be piles of kids laughing while we tickle them. ¬†There will be outings to Totland or the library or a museum. ¬†And there will be four more brains to pick about what to do if our son¬†falls asleep an hour early or gets an ear infection¬†or throws a temper tantrum because we won’t give him dad’s iPhone to smear food on during dinner.

I’m looking forward to all of it. ¬†And to blogging about the experience so the next person who wants to try living cooperatively with kids finds more info than I did.

My post from before the birth of my son

I’m going to be lazy and simply post what I wrote while living in our old coop when I was pregnant. ¬†This is context for my other posts that will be about this house with one dog, three couples, four kids, ten people (11 if you count Rusty).

The WayBack Machine from July 20, 2014:

When my partner and I found out we were pregnant, we started thinking about our housing. ¬†We had been living in a coop for a while (me for many years, him for two), which is more than just living with roommates. ¬†It‚Äôs an ‚Äúintentional community‚ÄĚ of people who not only share food and chores, but host events together and actively participate in each others‚Äô lives. ¬†So as you might imagine, we thought a lot about our housing.

I have always said that living cooperatively is a luxury when you‚Äôre single, but a necessity when you have kids. ¬†As we got more pregnant (and please don‚Äôt tell me that the word ‚Äúpregnant‚ÄĚ is binary in the English language ‚ÄĒ that proscriptive definition can only be enforced by people who have not gone through the many trials and science fiction-like changes that happen to your body in the various trimesters), I began to get questions about where we would live. ¬†When I said we‚Äôd be living at our coop, some people would ask why I didn‚Äôt want us to get a place to ourselves. ¬†This post is about why I am devoted to living cooperatively when I have a newborn, infant, small child, and beyond.

Nate and I are both software developers and we are very logical and proactive about improving our lives. ¬†When faced with having children (which we both wanted very much), we started reading as much as we could about what it is like. ¬†In case you don‚Äôt know, the first month (or few months) of having a newborn is usually very hard ‚ÄĒ so hard that people call it ‚Äúunimaginable‚ÄĚ how difficult your life is. ¬†Here are some of the top reasons given:

  1. Hormonal changes¬†‚ÄĒ immediately after delivery, the level of progesterone in the mother‚Äôs body plummets. Progesterone is a happy drug, which you get pretty used to after 9 straight months,¬†so the¬†low is unavoidable. ¬†75% of women get what‚Äôs called the¬†‚Äúbaby blues‚ÄĚ which can last for a week or two.
  2. Lack of sleep.
  3. Isolation.

The first of these is pretty unavoidable, and my plan there is to be very aware that it is hormonal and will go away.  The second one is partially unavoidable, and Nate and I have been reading a lot of books on newborns and their needs (1,2,3 among others).  We will be interacting with our newborn in the way we believe (after much research) is most likely to lead to our best sleep.  We’ll also be keeping a log of eating & sleeping patterns for all three of us so we can test our assumptions and change things that are not working.

This leaves item number 3: isolation.

Extroversion

Remember the Myers-Briggs personality tests everybody took in college? ¬†I‚Äôve taken them a number of times throughout my life (though not recently) and have always¬†ranked 100% extroverted. ¬†That‚Äôs right, not one question on the introvert side. ¬†I love being around people, and feel no need to be alone. ¬†Which doesn‚Äôt mean I don‚Äôt like to journal or think about my life or spend time immersed in flow-type projects¬†‚ÄĒ I love those things, I just prefer to do them around others than to do them alone. ¬†I do my best work in coffee shops and get really distracted when in a quiet library. ¬†If I‚Äôm feeling really down, I‚Äôll go to a busy local bar and sit right in the middle of¬†the crowd; somehow the sound of people laughing around me makes me feel better, like everything is all right with the world.

So you can imagine my reaction when reading that isolation is one of the biggest problems for new mothers. ¬†I would find an apartment with just Nate and me to be too isolating even without the prospect of a baby ‚ÄĒ I would be pretty unhappy. ¬†And for the record, Nate and I are both self-employed, and spend tons of time together. ¬†We often work out of the same co-working places, or both work out of our home office, or go to our local coffee shop¬†together to work on our¬†respective projects. ¬†We could (and have) easily spend 24 hours a day together and be very happy. ¬†So it has nothing to do with Nate, and there is no one in the world (either real or imaginary) that¬†would make a two-person house okay for me. ¬†I just need more¬†company.

Communal Living Is Not Weird

Without belaboring the point too much, I do want to express my bafflement at the people who think I’m weird.  I have lived in Boston for almost 11 years now, and most of the people I know consider themselves introverts.  And there seems to be a pervasive assumption in American culture that living alone or in a nuclear family (two parents and their children living separate from any others) is the only right way to live.

<rant> ¬†I will briefly state that if you look at our¬†distant past, it‚Äôs hard to¬†believe that human beings evolved to live¬†like this. ¬†No one really knows what life was like 10,000 or 100,000 years ago, but it most likely included groups of people spending their days and nights together the way that modern hunter-gatherer tribes do (or did when they were still¬†relatively isolated from Western culture 30 years ago). ¬†No separate rooms, no separate houses. ¬†You eat together, you hunt together, you gather together. ¬†And my understanding is that¬†hunter-gatherer societies spend a lot of time socializing (3-4 hours/day are spent doing work, and the rest of their time is spent¬†socializing or preparing for socializing). ¬†Don‚Äôt get me wrong, I support my friends living whatever lifestyle makes them happy and have never suggested to a friend that their chosen lifestyle is not right for them¬†‚ÄĒ everyone should live¬†the way that makes them happy! ¬†But I don‚Äôt understand why some people get¬†judgmental about the way I¬†want to live; I’ve been told I’m crazy to live with others while I have a newborn, and that I will deeply regret it. ¬†So I¬†guess this is just my way of saying hey, just because I‚Äôm not like you doesn‚Äôt mean I‚Äôm wrong. ¬†</rant>

Why this blog

And that leads me to how this relates to us with a newborn in a coop. ¬†I was surprised to find that there is virtually no information on the internet about what it‚Äôs like to live in a coop with kids, or even to be the roommate of someone who has a newborn. ¬†While there are a few posts that turn up in google searches about this, most of them are either people temporarily living with a family member who has children or people who have never wanted a roommate but are in a position where they have no other choice. ¬†Inevitably, the advice on forums where these posts are made is¬†‚Äúget out¬†of this situation as soon as you possibly can,‚ÄĚ with very little actual discussion of what it is like.

I have thought for years that we¬†have come to a point in internet maturity where there is no topic that isn‚Äôt widely covered by google (i.e. forums, blog posts, articles, etc), so I was quite surprised. ¬†I know we are not the first people to do this since the early 90s. In fact, I‚Äôve talked to people who‚Äôve done it (one was the roommate of a mother & newborn, the other was the father of a newborn who had a roommate)¬†‚ÄĒ but no one posts¬†about it on the internet, apparently.

And so this blog was born.

Why not live with others

Before I answer the question of why I want to live with others, let’s take a look at the reasons people give to not live with others when you have a newborn.  Here are some of the reasons I have come across and how I feel about each:

  • Not trusting others to raise your children.

I really don‚Äôt feel that protective. ¬†Maybe I¬†suddenly will once the baby is born, you might say, and we‚Äôll see‚ĶI‚Äôll certainly keep it in mind as we continue to blog. ¬†But to live in a coop you have to be pretty flexible about what room you live in, what furniture sits in your living room, the kitchen upkeep, noise, and so many other things. ¬†I am rarely (if ever) the person in¬†the house with a strong opinion on any of these issues. ¬†And remember that I am not about to live with strangers¬†‚ÄĒ my housemates are people I¬†care about and respect, people who make me happy. ¬†I look forward to hearing their ideas!

  • Not wanting others to see you at your worst.

Again, I’m living with people I really care about.  One of my best coop memories was from a very dark time when I was going through a tough breakup, having trouble at work, and we had just gotten an unexpected 30-days notice to move out from our deadbeat landlord (who was in bankruptcy, divorce, and foreclosure).  I came home to an empty house, sat on the stairs, and burst into very loud sobs.  As it turned out one of my lovely housemates was home, and she came downstairs and gave me a very long hug.  To me, having housemates there when I’m at my worst is a bonus.

And a note from my brother, who had a housemate when he and my¬†sister-in-law were having their kids. ¬†He said that there were moments when they might have said pissy, irritated things to each other out of exhaustion but didn‚Äôt¬†because of their housemate,¬†and that he was really grateful for her presence and the effect it had on their interactions. ¬†Sometimes your¬†‚Äúworst‚ÄĚ is really not where you should let yourself be.

  • Not being able to leave the place a disastrous mess when you need to.

Yeah, Nate and I will probably wish we could leave our sh*t all over the house.  And we’ll have to spend a few extra precious minutes (no sarcasm intended) putting our gobs of new baby paraphernalia away after we’ve used it for the 14th time that day.  On the other hand, I really believe in feng shui in that I think your visible environment has a strong effect on your mood.  If you leave your place a disaster because you’re down, you’ll come back to it and feel more down because it’s a disaster.  I’m hoping that the need to keep it relatively neat will help us feel like things are not out of control.

  • Worrying about the baby crying and waking up roommates.

We definitely worry about that, but in reality it’s our housemates’ concern more than ours.  A wise person convinced me a while ago to stop worrying about other people’s needs.  Our housemates feel pretty confident that we can work it out.  We’re definitely going to be more affected by it than they are, so we’ll be doing everything we can to have a happy, minimal-cry baby.  We look forward to their ideas, because anything that helps the kid cry less will help us too.

  • Not wanting to deal with any additional interpersonal¬†relationships.

Guess what?  Living in a coop requires upkeep of interpersonal relationships.  It does.  I’ve lived in a lot of coops and they all require everyone in the house to spend some extra time making sure everyone else is doing okay.  I’ve always found that pretty fulfilling and very worth the extra time.  Our housemates also understand that the first month is likely to be tough, and that it may take us a few weeks to get into a routine.  We feel confident that none of our housemate relationships will blow up in the first four weeks, and then we’ll be taking the time to check in with them more regularly.

Why live in community with a newborn

My number one reason why I am devoted to living with others when I have a newborn is this:

For various mostly unavoidable reasons, the first few months with a newborn are among the most physically and emotionally draining you will ever experience.  So what you really need is to live in whatever way makes you feel most centered, most calm, most pampered, loved, warm and fuzzy.  For most people, that’s having a place to themselves.  For me, that’s living in a coop.  No one way is more right than the other; the most important thing in this time is to meet your own personal needs, because you are going to be really busy meeting the baby’s needs.

Because of the demands of breastfeeding (which can consume up to 12 hours a day, every other hour), this is even more true of the mother than of the father.  Nate would be fine living either nuclear family-style or cooperatively, but I really need the extra company.  So that’s it, really, the only reason I need.

But there are other things that I believe will be bonuses, and these might be more convincing arguments to people who may be on the fence about having roommates while you have a newborn, so here goes.

  • You¬†don‚Äôt have to leave the house to get a¬†little easy social interaction. ¬†Given that isolation is¬†one¬†of¬†the most-cited reasons for¬†postpartum blues and/or depression (the more serious version), it‚Äôs nice to¬†have friends you¬†don‚Äôt have to schedule with, who will just show up at breakfast or dinner.
  • Fewer chores.¬† Guess what? ¬†If you live by¬†yourself, I do fewer chores than you do. ¬†I share them with my housemates, so,¬†for instance,¬†I never go shopping. ¬†Instead of having to do everything myself, or between two people, our chores are split among five people, which really cuts down on time (and can be more fun if you do them together).
  • Trade chores over time. ¬†We don‚Äôt expect our housemates to do more house chores than we do, but we plan to do extra chores before the baby is born so¬†that we‚Äôre¬†‚Äúahead‚ÄĚ and can slack off a bit in¬†the first few weeks post-delivery.
  • No gendered chores.¬† I never thought about¬†this until I read this article (http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2014/07/two-couples-one-mortgage/374102/), but the author is right. ¬†Living cooperatively removes gender roles in chores, and I‚Äôm happier that way. ¬†Chores are rotated or volunteered based on interest or ability (like owning a car for shopping), and each month at our house meeting we can change which chore we do.
  • Save money. ¬†It is definitely cheaper to live with others. ¬†Rent is cheaper, groceries are cheaper, utilities are cheaper‚ĶI‚Äôd personally pay more if I had to, but it‚Äôs a nice bonus.
  • Emergency help is right there. ¬†We don‚Äôt expect to have any emergencies. ¬†But if there were one, having housemates you get along with is amazingly helpful. ¬†For example, I was stuck at a hospital a couple of years ago after a painful and emotionally stressful medical procedure during the complete shutdown of Boston when the marathon bombers were on the loose. ¬†No subway or buses, no cabs, I couldn‚Äôt get home, and I really needed to go home. ¬†Our housemate who normally doesn‚Äôt let anyone drive her car let Nate use it to come pick me up¬†‚ÄĒ which by¬†the way was illegal, since all car traffic was shut down too. ¬†It‚Äôs like a good insurance policy¬†‚ÄĒ you don‚Äôt have to think about who you¬†would call if you¬†really needed something.

I hope this explains my thoughts about living in community with a newborn child, and helps others who are thinking about doing it too.  I welcome questions from anyone and hope this blog will start a vibrant discussion!

Footnotes:

  1. Our Babies Ourselves: http://www.amazon.com/Our-Babies-Ourselves-Biology-Culture-ebook/dp/B005HE8DXA/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1405905345&sr=1-1&keywords=our+babies+ourselves
  2. Happiest Baby on the Block: http://www.amazon.com/Happiest-Baby-Block-Crying-Newborn-ebook/dp/B000SEI6L8/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1405905414&sr=1-1&keywords=happiest+baby+on+the+block
  3. The Sleep Book for Tired Parents: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0943990343/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o06_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1