Upstairs, downstairs; across the hall: Looks like we’re part of a trend

A piece by by Kara Baskin in this  morning’s Boston Globe explores multi-generational living with a particular focus on joint purchases of multi-family homes. It’s an option we’ve considered but are not sure we can afford in this high-end market.

Screenshot 2016-08-07 10.48.17Joint ownership raises a host of issues we’ve mostly avoided as across-the-hall renters: What happens if one part of the family decides to move? Just how might the sale proceed when ownership is entangled with family members upstairs?

The challenges are not insurmountable, especially if there’s a lawyer in the family who can draw up some specific agreements in advance. But it’s a complication we feel blessedly free of so far.

The Globe story does explore the everydayness of intergenerational living, an aspect of across-the-hall life that we appreciate more every day.

Lyn Shamban, who lives in a two-condo arrangement with her daughter and family in East Arlington, told the Globe: “If my friends come over, I don’t expect that they’ll see my grandkids, but I’m always thrilled when they do.”

We know the feeling.

This old wreck

One of the mixed blessings of living across the hall is the constant reminder of the down-hill slide of aging. The reminders come in many forms. It makes me tired just watching daughter Kate and son-in-law Marton chase after two active wee ones while working or dealing with graduate school, all with too little sleep. I did it, but couldn’t possibly manage it anymore.

Then there’s three-year-old Leila who is so at home in her body. She is athletic and adventuresome, graceful and confident. What a contrast to my awareness of the need to be careful going up and down stairs. And she has questions: “Amma, what’s that?” pointing to a wrinkle or a varicose vein on my leg.

So why would I call it a mixed blessing rather than just a curse? Probably because I sense there is some gift in all of this loss of stamina, all these signs of an aging body.

Last summer Bill and I took a landscape photography class in Donegal, Ireland. We were taken to countless old wrecks, some all the way ashore, some still in water. At first I didn’t get it. Why would we want to take pictures of these beat up old things?

skeleton wreckAs we were coached in taking pictures from different angles and in different lights, I began to see the beauty. Some wrecks were worn down to their skeletons. We could see the graceful arc of their bones, often reflected in water. Some just had holes here and there through which one could catch glimpses of sky or out of which grasses and wildflowers peeked. Continue reading

The pesky question “why?”

I had completely forgotten about that stage of toddlerhood when “why?” becomes the most important question.

It goes something like this:

Me: “Leila, look at that bird in the tree”

Leila: “Why is the bird in the tree?”

Me: “Maybe she’s looking for something to eat.”

Leila: “Why?”

Me: “Maybe because she’s hungry.”

Leila: “Why?”

Me: “Because she hasn’t eaten for a while.”

Leila: “Why?”

And so on into infinity.

I often wonder if the word “why” means the same thing to her as it means to adults. If you Google “why do toddlers ask why?” you’ll find some answers. But mostly you’ll find advice about how to handle the frustration of constantly being asked questions you can’t always find answers for. The site I found most informative suggests that toddlers aren’t as interested in cause and effect as we are. Rather, they want to know more about a subject and have discovered the power of that little word to keep an adult talking about it. They’re also learning about and practicing conversational give and take.

Maybe all of this is fueled by wonder – that sense of looking around outside of oneself, marveling at what’s there, and wanting to know more about it.

Leila looking upOur daughter, Kate, when pushed to the limits of her knowledge, often tells Leila, “I don’t know. We’ll have to look it up.” She began to notice that whenever she asked Leila a question she didn’t know the answer to Leila would tilt her head back and examine the ceiling. This puzzled her immensely until the day she asked Leila if her brother had taken a nap while the nanny was there. Leila said “I don’t know, Mommy, let me look up.” Continue reading

Wednesday’s choice: Mateo gets the nod over Mateusz

Mateo and Papa

Mateo and Papa hanging out at lunchtime. Photo by Marton Balla

The (mostly) retired life in Boston holds two big attractions for us: Proximity of not only family but of more interesting things to see and do than we’ll ever have time for. Sometimes, like today, those two attractions collide head on.

Monday night, taking advantage of one of those many interesting things to do, I joined an SRO crowd at Harvard to hear Washington Post (and former Boston Globe) editor Marty Baron interviewed by On Point’s Tom Ashbrook. I bumped into Grzegorz Piechota, a Polish journalist (and Nieman Fellow) who tipped me to another cool event upcoming on campus: A lunchtime discussion with democracy activist Mateusz Kijowski.

A relative unknown (at least to me), Kijowski in recent months has assembled what the Associated Press describes as “the largest civic protest movement that Poland has seen since Lech Walesa’s Solidarity defied the communist regime.”

Thirty five years ago, I was excited to be running around Warsaw and Gdansk in pursuit of Walesa. In those early days of Solidarity, there were so few foreign correspondents in Poland that it wasn’t unusual for several of us to follow Walesa and his family home from Sunday Mass and squat on his living room floor as he sketched his vision for a democratic Poland.

All of which is to say that the chance to get a look at “the next Walesa” was pretty intriguing. Until I was reminded this morning that I had lunchtime duty with Mateo, covering an hour’s gap between Marton heading to work and Kate returning from school.

As I’ve written previously, there have not been many occasions — despite our across the hall availability — when Carol and I have found ourselves in traditional babysitting roles. But this was one of them.

At first I whined to Kate about not wanting to miss Kijowski (her furrowed brow spoke louder than words: “Who?”). But then I did my best to man up and come to grips with my new reality: Hanging out with my grandson instead of pondering the looming power struggle in Poland.

I’m sure Mateusz was compelling over there across the river. But there was no way he could measure up to the clapping, grinning and drooling choice I made instead.

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What are some of the interesting choices you’ve found yourself faced with recently?

Reclaiming delight

My best teachers these days are my grandchildren. Since they range in age from one year up to twenty years, there is quite a range of what they have to teach.

The other night our eighteen-year-old granddaughter, Maddie, called to interview me for a project for school. She’s a freshman in college in her first year of nursing school. The assignment was for a psychology class and involved interviewing a grandparent about their life and the aging process. Her questions made me think a lot and drew things out of me that I hadn’t entirely claimed before.

When Maddie asked about the good parts of aging, I found myself saying that having more time to notice things and take joy in them was one of the very best things. The two grandchildren across the hall have been teaching me about that.

mateo in sunlight

Mateo, age one, laughs easily about the simplest things – peek-a-boo or sunbeams in his face. He teaches me to be silly again – to make funny faces and funny noises and then to laugh at them. It brings back memories of my own grandmother, Martha, playing with me and even more so playing with my children. The older Martha got the sillier she got. I start to realize that all this being so serious and adult all the time really stifles the little kid still trying to live inside of me. Continue reading

“Knock, knock. It’s Leila”

I’m just back from spending two weeks in California teaching in a prison. The prisoners with whom I work are learning to become addiction treatment counselors. Many of them are lifers, doing time for murder. Of necessity, they have to do their own recovery and rehabilitation work in order to become effective counselors. It’s a long hard road for them.

The majority of these prisoners were seriously abused and/or neglected as children. Terrible things happened to them. Most of them used substances to numb the pain of those terrible things. Because, for whatever reason, they couldn’t recover, they, in turn, did terrible things. Author Richard Rohr says it like this: “…if you do not transform your pain, you will surely transmit it to those around you and even to the next generation.” (The Naked Nowpage 125) Continue reading