The blessings are charmingly quotidian: "Once in a while, the laundry fairy visits and my clothes have magically moved from the dryer and are folded in a basket at the bottom of the stairs." Most important is the relationship her children have with their grandmother and great-grandparents. "My 2-year-old enjoys going downstairs in the morning in her footie pajamas to sneak a piece of bacon from the early risers. They entertain her, or, more accurately, she entertains them until I've had a coffee fix." Autumn knows this arrangement is not permanent. But, she says, "This time is a gift that I wouldn't trade for any McMansion."
A Friend Indeed
Having a single woman friend move in with a married couple is a premise well-suited to farce. But Leslie realized there was nothing farcical about the financial situation of a friend who lost her job 18 months ago. The friend qualified for a worker-retraining program, but there was no way she could afford both tuition and rent. Leslie and her husband had an empty guest room, so they offered her a place to stay rent-free while she completed her studies and looked for work.
Before the move, Leslie and her husband worried that a strange power dynamic might develop with a friend who would be living on their largesse. Other questions also loomed: "Would we resent her presence? Would we feel like we couldn't make noise during sex? What if she met a guy we didn't like and started having him sleep over all the time?"
Instead, Leslie has found, "We are simply all adults who try to be considerate of each other. We keep the common areas clean, have a Saturday morning brunch ritual which includes NPR's Wait, Wait … Don't Tell Me!. We had a good time integrating her belongings with ours and rearranging the house so that it reflects all of us."
Occasionally Leslie and her husband treat themselves to a hotel for some private time, and her friend's been too busy with school work to do much dating. Leslie says of the experience, "We've become more than friends—we've become a second family. I wouldn't change a thing."
Our Ceramic Toothbrush Holder
When people move in with friends or family, they must often say goodbye to their possessions, if only temporarily. The first night after Caitlin Seidler and her boyfriend moved into his parents' place, she tried to imagine all the belongings she had boxed up and put in storage: "Our ceramic toothbrush holder, our rubber spatula, our set of juice glasses with red roosters painted on them. I genuinely missed these things."
Seidler and her boyfriend had two years of graduate school ahead of them and his parents had offered to host them so they could pay for their studies without going broke. It all made sense, but Seidler soon got tired of her fellow students' reaction to her living arrangements: "It was usually accompanied by a facial expression that indicated the person would rather dive into a pool of glass shards then find herself in my situation. And then there was the frequent follow-up question: 'Do they let you sleep in the same room?' " (Yes.)
The couple got engaged and later married, all the while still living with his parents. Over the years, Seidler came to appreciate the financial wisdom of their offer, realizing that she and her husband had saved about $40,000 in living expenses. Seidler and her husband are a success story. They completed their studies, both found good jobs in their field (education), and today they have their own place in another city. As they contemplate eventually having a family of their own, Seidler says her in-laws are "a model for the type of parents we'd like to be." Oh, and when Seidler finally reopened her boxes two years later, she realized, "Most of the items, I had forgotten about completely."
In late 2007, Shannon Mitchell and her husband could no longer afford the rent on their apartment. Mitchell, who works in public relations, and her husband, who is a contractor, were expecting their first child. They moved in with Mitchell's grandmother-in-law, an Armenian émigré who had lived under Soviet rule and who ruled her house Soviet-style, too. "She owned a dishwasher, but used it to store her tinfoil and wax paper; owned an oven, but kept her pots and pans in it, preferring to use the stove top alone for cooking; and owned a dryer, but used a clothesline religiously. Consequently, hubby and I were not allowed to use these items, either. So I had to wash dishes and baby bottles by hand, learn to make food on a gas range, and ended up needing surgery on my knee after stepping in a hole in the lawn while hanging laundry," Mitchell writes.
Grandmother also believed that artificially warming or cooling the house is bad for the body and definitely bad for the budget, so there was no air-conditioning in the summer and no heating in the winter. Fortunately, Grandmother no longer lived in Armenia but in southern California. Her frugality was extreme. "When clothing became too old to wear anymore, it was cut into squares and stored in the bathroom as toilet paper. When she goes walking she brings a bag along to collect bottles and cans for recycling."
Mitchell and her family stayed for two years, but while they were hard years, she says she learned many valuable lessons. Grandmother had survived deprivation Mitchell could only imagine; she was a magnificent cook, and she allowed Mitchell to stand in the kitchen and be the first to write down the family's Armenian family recipes. "She taught me how to be a penny pincher, although you won't catch me looking through my neighbors' garbage. But I do now know where to shop for fresh, inexpensive fruit and veggies, how to get the most out of my local markets, and to not be afraid of the thrift stores. Her wisdom has rubbed off on me and made me a better person."
"Rajni," the 37-year old who worries about finding both love and work, ended his letter with some thoughts on what it means to be living with his parents a second time around. "Who gets a do-over with his parents? After the first few months we figured out how not to drive each other absolutely crazy, and since then we've had these moments to reminisce and even share new experiences. I've done landscaping with Dad, helped babysit my niece, obsessed over the election with Mom. I'm surrounded by pictures of us together 10, 20, 30 years ago. And here they are now, pushing 70. For the first time I see that not only will I not be young forever, I won't have them too much longer. I still desperately want to find new work, move out, and start a family with all I now know. But I wish every adult could spend a few months at midlife with his or her parents, just to love them, or settle things, or share a few last moments."