We are back. Thirteen years and eight houses later, we have returned to our first home, twenty eight minutes outside New York City. The month is July, and it is getting hotter by the minute around here.
We moved from a small, idyllic, coastal, Connecticut town, with beautiful houses, stone walls, landscaped properties, winding roads, and more. Now, we are living in one unit of our two family house: two bedrooms, two baths and a renovated basement. We are in a suburban section of a city so there is a subtle urban edge. We are a family of six living here. This is fine, but a little tight. The personalities are strong. Life at home is loud and “discussions” are… impassioned. Sometimes I wonder how it got like this. They were four, adorable, loving siblings, living here happily. The older ones would help the younger ones. They’d zip their coats and tie their shoes (no Velcro for us. We were going old school). Walking to town to get a cookie at the bakery was our favorite activity. Harmony and laughter, with an occasional rumble, were the norm. The children were also a lot smaller.
“What the *#%$ happened?!! asks our 22-year-old son, standing in our suddenly small seeming living room. We alllaugh. He has said what we are all thinking.
I laugh, but inside me, questions begin. What did happen? Did we make the best decisions, in general, and as parents? Suddenly I am very aware of all the choices, decisions, moves, etc., we have made. College for four children was our goal. We did it and I am proud and grateful. However, I am not sure we thought about after college. What now? What is our plan?
So, here we are: us and four “children” ages 25, 23, 22 and 18. This may be many stories in one. Among them, could be our realization that we may not have made the best move, the best grown-up decision as parents. This story is heightened by the unsettledness of our children. They do not understand this move back. The other story, the one we can’t admit to, is that my husband and I are beginning to agree with them.
We rent out the upstairs apartment to a young couple with a one year old. He runs everywhere and all the time. We call him “Forrest Gump.” He wakes up and runs the length of the house, all day long. My husband and I love this family and this little boy. This is life – the days when you are starting your family. The parents are pained by his running, knowing we are below, but they simply cannot stop him. We would never expect, nor want them to. Our 22-year-old (the one whose exclamatory question opened this story) is not appreciating this, especially when he tries to sleep. I hear the running, look at my son and smile because I know, he knows this was him. He begins to grin. A little boy must run! My son was this child upstairs. He was the runner in our family.
You may be wondering why they are all home. I should defend them so you do not judge them to be entitled children who expect us to pave and fund their way. They are solid, good people – honest and real. One is a nurse in her first year, living at home temporarily in order to help pay back a college loan. The other does live on his own and has a full-time job; however, he visits often, which we love. The third has just graduated from college, is living with us (for now?) while finishing up a summer job. He plans to begin the search for a “real” job after this. The college daughter gets a pass. Maybe their status is: ‘preparing to launch,’ but the result is still the same; three are living with us.
My husband and I have made our living buying and renovating houses. Two family “fixer-uppers” are our specialty. My husband is a plasterer from Ireland. He is meticulous and maintains a high standard. I am from suburban New York and by nature, an organizer. Our livelihood suited us both. I edit and purge everything – stuff, thoughts, plans, mental and physical clutter, and constantly! I love to create, stage and change-up a home. I am a Virgo. Most Virgos think organizing is fun. I can’t help it; I was born in September. I simply enjoy taming chaos. Together, my husband and I, we are a good and unstoppable team. We loved what we did.
So, what the *#@+ happened?!! Aside from 2008 and its impact on real estate, here’s what happened according to one of my dearest, most rational, lifelong friends. He told me to tell them: “you kids have sucked every last penny we have earned up and left us with nothing.” and continued “that’s what I tell my family because it’s true.” He is also a wonderful father. He is loving, fun, patient, kind and guiding. He is not an angry person. His words sound angry, but I know him; they are not from anger. They are from frustration. He too is feeling the pinch of being near retirement chronologically, but nowhere near it in reality.
My son’s question is real and valid. Many of us are challenged at this point. Most of our friends are in the same boat. All of us thought we would be in a different situation (less financially stressed) at this stage of our lives. However, we are also all well aware that we are very fortunate and things could be far, far worse.
July and life, in our two-family home in New York, continue. Home from work, I enter the living room. The sun is shining through the large lead pane window. My 22-year-old and my 18-year-old are sitting on the couch. The little boy from upstairs is between them, dangling his legs off the edge as if he is fishing at the end of a long pier. All three turn to me. All three smile.