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

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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.

Four kids under four? What were we thinking??

 

Four kids under four means there’s always someone crying, or whining, or yelling with joy (all equally annoying, it turns out). There is always someone needing oatmeal, or asking for milk, or chasing the dog, or hitting their cousin, or dripping snot down their face. It’s rarely relaxing and it’s never easy.

This is my take. And I’m somewhat surprised by how hard it’s been for me. It may be due to how hard it’s been for my daughter, who has been a whiny mess since we moved in. I thought this was due to the flu, which she caught the day before we moved. But the flu seems to be gone, and the whininess and tantrums seem to have stayed.

A think a lot of my stress also comes from the state of the house, which I know is temporary (I know this because I repeat it to myself constantly whenever I’m home… “this is temporary, this is temporary.” A mover’s mantra.) Picture a whole family’s worth of boxes taking up every room in the house. Now multiply it by three.

My hope is that once the boxes are unpacked and the kitchen is organized (I guess my husband’s need for order has rubbed off on me more than I realized), I will be a calmer, happy person. Unfortunately, those words cannot describe me at the moment. I look forward to returning to a better me.

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.  😀

Waiting…

Wow, I’m blogging.

Building a house is a lot of hurrying punctuated by a lot of waiting. And you often find yourself hurrying while you wait because it’s better than waiting and hurrying later, which means more waiting.

Right now we’re waiting for our certificate of occupancy, which is issued after final inspection and proves to anyone who cares that the house meets building codes and is safe to live in. If you’re wondering, as we were, if you really have to wait for the certificate to move in, you’re not alone:

cert

The consensus on the internet is that it’s not such a good idea. So we wait.

In the meantime, I’ll entertain you by rambling about my history with roommates. I grew up in a single-family home with my parents and my sister. I started living with roommates in college and had roommates and housemates almost continuously until now. For a long time I assumed that I’d eventually have a place of my own that I’d share with just my family.

But why? Some of my housemates have become life-long friends. It’s been a pleasure to live with them and get to know them so well. And they made our lives so much easier after the little ones were born. So why wouldn’t I want people around all the time? I realized, over time, that I was only attracted to the idea of one family under a roof because I was accustomed to it. The single family home is a relatively recent invention and I wonder if, like many other modern habits, there’s more merit in the old traditions.

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.