The high cost of low maintenance
By Jon Anne Willow
I have the good fortune to be in a family situation that most now consider old-fashioned for all of its modern details. My sisters, my best friend and our respective partners have taken up the old standard of extended family and applied it to the structure of our daily lives. My youngest sister and her four year-old son share my house with me. My middle sister and her three children live in the upper of the duplex behind me, with her partner and two dogs in constant attendance. My best friend and her son live in the lower. My boyfriend and his four kids spend weekends with us. My roommate-sister’s boyfriend has custody of his young daughter and takes care of his toddler nephew; they are increasingly often in the mix. Between us, we have five dogs, three cats, four fish and a guinea pig. For those of you keeping score at home, seven adults and twelve children share three bathrooms and three total garage parking spaces, one of which belongs entirely to bicycles and sleds. It’s not for everyone, but it’s perfect for us.
With all this closeness, however, comes a sometimes complex and even sensitive communication network. It’s easy to figure out the morning carpool to school; at 8:00 someone makes the first call and by 8:20 the four elementary school kids and at least two moms are in one car and on the way.
The late 20th century created the mobile, global society and successfully fractured the practical application of family as people’s social and emotional center. Today, the majority of “family life” outside our own walls is lived through email, phone calls and stressful, architected trips “home” for cornerstone events. Friends, jobs and even homes come and go, becoming memories that never had the chance to settle into our bones before they’re gone. Our parents live in Texas; our best friend is in New York. Our corporate headquarters is in Idaho. We’re spread out in ways perhaps not even suited to human nature. It’s okay to leave a job, spouse, a friend and even family members when we’re uncomfortable and don’t know how to deal with the situation. We sell our homes and leave our neighborhoods when we want an extra bathroom, instead of working harder to share the hot water and turn on the exhaust fan. And we’ve lost something in translation. When times get tough, we can’t stick it out. As a result, we’ve traded out long-term fulfillment for the quick fix and lost sight of what our grandparents knew innately: life is long and all things pass.
Today in my family, some of us are on pins and needles about who’s going to live with whom, whether we approve of each other’s choice of mate and who’s supposed to know what about all of it. But in a year it won’t matter. And in ten we won’t even remember this part. Our kids will be graduating high school and starting their own lives, and it will be their turn to choose how they, as a generation, will live and move in the world. Will they even know that the only way to achieve balance (because happiness is an attitude, not a condition) is to choose their causes carefully, and then practice patience in pursuit of their goals? Let’s hope so; throughout history, focus and tenacity are the established hallmarks of achievement. It’s a path that doesn’t fail – unless it’s never chosen.
Happy New Year,