Wednesday, February 20

finding community and finding strength

Wren, as drawn by Luke

Something you may not know about me is that I live with people.  Not just my husband and offspring people.  But like the roommate kind of people.  In October we jointly decided to merge 5 adults, 1 toddler, and 3 households into an old 3-story townhouse by a creek.

And it's been wonderful.
"family potrait", December 2012 (I promise this happened, but it was also a big joke)

It's true that we all approached the situation cautiously and with a whole lot of honesty and intentionality. There are very obvious risks and fears associated with moving a married couple and their baby into a shared space with a second married couple and a single guy, most of whom are introverted.  Many very practical and caring people warned us of these dangers with disbelief in their eyes and a hand-smack to the forehead, making it clear that we were probably destined for disaster.  I understand that clearly, to most people in our society, having roommates is not the sort of thing that stable, responsible adults revert to.

But we all came into this arrangement slowly, thoughtfully and with as many varied reasons for wanting this as were necessary to make it happen.
Luke, colored pencil self-portrait on paper

For Luke and I, it had nearly everything to do with the fact that our first year as parents was completely life-altering.  I've written before about our first 3 months with Wren- of that incredible and wonderful learning curve that all new parents experience, amplified by a litany of disasters and trying situations that, quite frankly, left us feeling weak and vulnerable.  On top of that, early in my pregnancy we decided that we would make whatever financial sacrifice necessary to allow me to stay at home with the baby.  I won't go into details, but we took quite a cut that is noticeable and difficult, but that we've never once regretted or second-guessed.  We also share one car which Luke takes to work everyday.  That meant that I (an uncontrollable extrovert) found myself home alone with my sweet girl day after day after day after day after lonely day.
Keith, ink and crayon self-portrait on paper (he goes with Katie)

I am surprised to find that often I am embarrassed or ashamed to tell people that we are better off now living with our old college friends (a small portion of that group we dream with regularly), than we were as young parents on our own.  Everything in the world around us screams at us to be independent and to owe nothing to no one.  In some ways it feels like admitting that we failed at the American dream.  That we are weak.

Katie, wood-burnt self-portrait on scrap wood (she goes with Keith)

But here is the truth, as vulnerable as it is to say:  We are weak.  And I think many people who are honest with themselves would  admit the same thing.  It is hard, hard, hard to make ends meet with young kids.  It is not easy to live with one shared car in a place where you must drive to see anyone.  I believe for many people it takes creativity and flexibility to find that strength.
Josh, colored pencil self-portrait on paper

Living here in this space with these loved ones (our own version of creativity and flexibility), I know for a fact that if I've failed at the American dream, it has been for my own good and health.  When I moved into our rented house I felt nourished, like taking a long, cold drink of water after months of feeling parched and thirsty for human interaction.  And we are saving money.  And we are sharing meals.  And Wren cannot get enough of her live-in 'aunts and uncles'.  We pray together.  We do art together.  We walk together.  We fight together and move on together.  We dream together, and invite other friends into our home and community as much as time allows.
me, appliqued and embroidered self-portrait on fabric

I have no idea how long this arrangement in this beautiful old house will last.  I don't know the logistics of how we'll make space for any future babies.  I don't have the practical answers that practical people want to know up front.  And I know this is temporary and we will all move out and move on in the directions we are supposed to go.  We are just taking this thing as it comes.  And for the time being Luke and I know without a doubt that here is exactly where we are supposed to be.


  1. I think it takes a lot of guts to open up your mind to allowing other people to live so intimately with you, beyond college and marriage. After Kevin died, I had a girlfriend live with me for about a year. Her mother had passed from cancer 6 months before Kevin, and we had bonded in our friendship. We were both feeling fairly homeless and living with our parents felt more like a failure than anything in our 20s, so we bunked up together and it was great. We had a wonderful security blanket in one another. It wasn't always easy, but it was probably the least stressful living situation I have ever had. I hope this can continue for you guys for a while longer!

  2. Thanks Brenda. I think you're absolutely right. A living situation like this/that can be a 'security blanket' that is really helpful at the times in life when we're most vulnerable.

  3. I love this idea. I think it is wonderful and it is clearly working. My sister and her 2 kids lived with their best friends and their 3 kids during a transitional time for both families(years ago). It was a great situation for all of them and the kids got really close as well. I think it is a time that both families will always treasure.