From full house to empty nest redux

Family Scanlan in 2013

A guest post from Chip Scanlan:

For 15 years, my family was blessed to live in a beach house that sat 84 steps from the pearly sands and azure waves of the Gulf of Mexico on Florida’s West Coast. It was a roomy Colonial, with four bedrooms and three baths, more than enough space to raise our three daughters.

But as children do, they grew up and out. One married and headed west to Montana with her new husband; her twin moved to Richmond, Va. to pursue a career in musical theatre, while our eldest decamped close enough to return weekly to do her laundry.  A story familiar to Baby Boomers like Kathy and me unfolded. By 2011, we found ourselves rattling around in a beloved home that was too big for us and too expensive to maintain. A For Sale sign sprouted in the front yard and after a year waiting for a buyer and looking for a replacement, we sold the house and Kathy found a bargain replacement: a fixer-upper with 3 BR, 1.5 B and 1,000 fewer square feet in a quiet, leafy neighborhood ten miles west of the beaches in the city of St. Petersburg. We moved in while a small army of workers replaced the roof, electric, AC, restored the original hardwood floors, IKEAd the galley kitchen, then added a shower to the downstairs half bath and, finally, expanded a tiny living room by glassing in our front screened porch. With a Miniature Schnauzer rescue named Leo for company, we were cozy, but our empty nest was quiet, very quiet, too quiet.

Chip and the newest grandchild, Eleanor

Eighteen months after we moved in, a trend sweeping America began to envelop our family. By 2015, nearly 40 percent of young adults lived with their parents, stepparents, grandparents and other relatives, the highest point in 75 years, according to the real estate tracker Trulia. We had already become part of that sea change. In 2013, our Western daughter returned with her husband and a two-year-old son and moved in while they saved for their own home. In 2015, our grandson got a baby brother. Nine months later, the Virginian reappeared after the funding for her traveling troupe ran out. In what seemed like the blink of an eye, our empty nest became home to 7 people. This December, our third-grandchild arrived, a raven-haired girl; on the same day our youngest moved into her own apartment.  Once again, seven humans, one canine, one house.

Many parents of millennials find themselves with empty nests filled to bursting. In 1981, Kathy and I were able to buy our first home on our salaries as a reporter and copywriter: a triple-decker tenement in Providence, RI for $35,000. That’s $35,000 for the whole place. We lived in one unit and rented out the other two. A deal like that is unimaginable today. Our kids, like their millennial counterparts, inherited the after-effects of the Great Recession of 2008, stagnant wages and housing prices that put home ownership out of reach for reach.

The good news for Kathy and me was that our kids were home again. I can’t say the same for them, crowded as they were into small bedrooms. Our galley kitchen was a claustrophobic nightmare, the dining room table too small for our multi-generational brood. The joyful presence of grandchildren helped offset the challenge of cramped quarters, but it was clear we needed a change. From the start, Kathy and I knew we would ultimately need a one-story house for our silver years. Last year, an uptick in the housing market offered a solution. Two weeks ago, after several months of our son-in-law painting and repairing while the rest of us decluttered, we put our house on the market.

Our plan: find a duplex or, ideally, two houses within walking distance. I doubt we’ll be as lucky as the Mitchell family, separated by just 12 steps. And it also will mean a return to the empty nest that probably will be quiet, very quiet, too quiet, although one I hope will frequently resound with the chatter of visiting children and their offspring. But I know it won’t be the same. For all the trials of a bursting household, I know that when Kathy and I are once again rattling around our empty nest, we will miss the flock that for the last few years fluttered around us.


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