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

On the road to 1 divorce, 2 marriages, 3 bikes, 4 seats, 1,800 miles

In response to our post about getting rid of the car, Danish friend Ernst Poulsen noted: “The European solution: Bicycles?”

Two other friends, Mark and Jutta Brayne, have taken Ernst’s two-wheeler notion to a whole other level: An 1,800 mile ride on a bicycle built for two — from the top of New Zealand’s northern island to the bottom of the southern one — in part to raise money for freelance journalists who encounter trouble (or worse) on the job.  After pedaling on their own for nearly six weeks, Mark and Jutta were joined for the journey’s final few days by their daughter, Katie, and her partner, Mela. Katie and Mela covered the same ground (and then some) but the advantage of individual bikes (and younger legs) made for fewer days on the road.

brayne arrival

Mark, Jutta, Katie and Mela celebrate their arrival at New Zealand’s southernmost shore

We were taken with this Brayne family adventure for all sorts of reasons. I first encountered Mark and his bike 35 years ago in Vienna, where he cycled to work at the old Bankgasse press center where we occupied side-by-side offices. Although in sporadic touch over the years, it wasn’t until last summer — during our final days at Beacon Hill Friends House — that the four of us re-connected in person. Mark and Jutta were visiting the U.S. from their home in Sheringham, on England’s east coast, and there was a lot to catch up on.

In Vienna, we were parents of young children and new babies. Last summer in Boston, we were 60-somethings comparing notes about new stages of life. 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

Mornings with Mateo: Body language reconsidered

As we shared our plans to move in across the hall from Kate and Marton and the kids, one of the frequent reactions went like this: Uh-oh, lots of baby-sitting in your future!

Fair enough. Mention grandparents living nearby and baby-sitting is a blessing or curse that comes naturally to mind.

But in the six months we’ve been living across the hall so far, I can count the instances of what I’d consider baby-sitting — supervising the kids while the parents head off for other pursuits — on a single hand.

Our alone time with the kids seems less like baby-sitting and more like hanging out. Mateo tends to hang out in the mornings, Leila after dinner.

Mornings work like this: As the early riser on our side of the hall, I decide when Apartment #4 is open for business with Apartment #3. When the time comes, I hang the OPEN side outside our door. If Mateo has also awakened early, Marton or Kate take occasional peeks across the hall to see if the sign is up.

If it is, Mateo makes his entrance. Coming up on ten months and 31 pounds, he’s a big guy whose mobility has not yet progressed to the stage of crawling that involves his belly leaving the floor.

He’s a contented kid, usually as comfortable playing with toys on a blanket in the middle of the living room as he is twirling around in his exersaucer. But we like to start the mornings in my lap.

Maybe like most people, I’ve always been a little lost when it comes to communicating with babies. Baby talk feels too cute; normal talk seems inappropriate in its own way.

With Mateo, I let him take the lead. His lack of words doesn’t appear to concern him one bit. He’s got his moves: gaze, grab and bite, all supplemented with his repertoire of grunts, squeals and raspberries.

My conversations with Mateo, such as they are, got me thinking about conversations I have with people closer to my age. We rely mostly on words, but body language certainly adds a layer of understanding. Continue reading

How many miles from Mom?

family by the tree 2

Clockwise from the white-haired guy: Matt, Lanie, Leila, Maleita, Carol, Marton, Matt, Mateo, Kate, Maddie, Mitch (Photo by Lauren)

The typical American lives within just 18 miles of his or her mom, according to a recent study by the University of Michigan, with 40 percent living within five miles.

That news hits home for us this week, with our kids (and their families and significant other) under one roof (if you include the roof across the hall) for several days between Christmas and New Year’s. This happens for us just once a year, and it’s a good occasion to reflect on the role of geography in the way we’ve lived our lives.

When Carol and I got married in 1970, we were pretty open about where we might live. We did rule out at least a couple of places: Florida and California. Funny how we ended up spending about a decade in each state.

We were each encouraged by our parents, especially our mothers, to seek our dreams wherever they took us. In Carol’s case, that meant living near home (Louisville, Ky.) for the last time at age 17, when she went off to college. Same with me, living in Groton, Ct. for the last time at age 18.

In retrospect, it’s clear I was never very intentional about the role of geography in my life. I’d never even visited Detroit when a Free Press alum in the New York Times Washington bureau (where I was an intern in 1971) set me up with my next job. Our next several moves were also the result of opportunities more presented than sought (in Washington, D.C., central Europe, Detroit (again), Silicon Valley and Florida).

We considered opportunities to live closer to my folks in Connecticut only a couple of times — Boston in 1975 and New York 20 years later — but neither job worked out and we ended up staying put in Michigan and California.

Ah, how the tables turn! This week we’re joined by our daughter and her family visiting from their home 700 miles away in Michigan and our son and his girlfriend visiting from — wait for it — 3,155 miles west in California. Continue reading

What’s next: Life across the hall

Fifteen years ago, when we were moving from California to Florida, I said to Bill that I hoped this would be our last move. The move to Florida was our ninth major move (not counting from one place to another in the same city) in a then thirty year marriage. I longed for the stability of sinking deep roots in a place and never having to go through such a major change again.

Much to my surprise, I was the one who pushed for the move to Boston almost three years ago. It would not be a move to somewhere we could remain, but to a temporary setting — a term-limited time in Beacon Hill Friends House, an intentional community run by the Quakers (read about that adventure here).

Now we have moved on to another adventure – living across the hall from our youngest daughter, her husband and their two children. There are no guarantees this will be our last move.

six of us in the hallway for first post

In pondering all of this I came across a quote from Gail Godwin’s book, The Finishing School. In  it she describes the kind of death we should fear:  “It can happen at any time you’re going along, and then, at some point, you congeal. You know, like jelly. You’re not fluid any more. You solidify at a certain point and from then on your life is doomed to be a repetition of what you have done before. That’s the enemy.” Continue reading