Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Family Life in a Smaller Space -- Ça Marche. . .

 Surprising how much fun you can have at Nana and Granddad's new digs with a few empty packing boxes.  Seven-year old G'daughter constructed fifteen or twenty feet of tunnel with them on the weekend -- and convinced Nana to belly-crawl through them after her! -- and a few days later, the Three-year old G'daughter folded herself into one and pulled the lid down. Little Brother thought this might be the best game ever. . .
 I'm delighted to see how well the new, smaller space accommodates family life. After years of being able to host our kids and grandkids in a house with nearby tiny guest cottage, an entire beach as their playground, a small island's dirt roads to explore by foot or on bikes or in Granddad's wheelbarrow,  I worried about whether we could sustain our appeal.

I might write more about this fear and how much it is or isn't being assuaged as we settle into our new reality -- considerable identity may have coalesced around our roles as Providers of Parental Hospitality or something like that. Linen cupboards full, dinner plates and cutlery and coffee mugs to host twenty without borrowing from the neighbours (and neighbours who would readily have lent if needed), two kayaks, a canoe, a child-size kayak, a bicycle for whatever size the visiting grandkid might be. A garden (complete with a fishpond) dotted with tables and chairs, benches in just the spot you might like to sit and have Nana read you a story, hammocks for reading your own or whispering secrets to your doll. . .

And for the adult kids, room to put the littles down for the night within secure earshot but far enough away that Grown-ups could unwind with their siblings and/or with us, catching us up anecdote by anecdote over a weekend. . . . Being able to carry a few blankets down to the beach chairs to wrap my grown babies against the night's chill. . .

I suspected I'd miss all of that, miss being so clearly still in the role of Mom. And as I say, perhaps I'll write more about that as I experience and perhaps begin to analyse the shift. Or not.

But I will say that on Sunday, we had one of our families stop in for a short-notice dinner here, and it was a relaxed, rich, hugely enjoyable meal despite us currently having only six dinner plates and the cutlery sloshing around in a drawer without dividers. Earlier that afternoon, we'd got caught up in the purchase and delivery of a new sectional for the terrace, so instead of preparing a "proper" meal, we picked up Indian takeout for a restaurant I can see just across the road as I write this. Pater slipped around the corner, as he waited for the takeout to be ready, and bought a growler of beer from one of the three microbreweries in the immediate neighbourhood. Our daughter brought a cake she'd baked that afternoon and Granddaughter wielded the can of whipped cream she'd begged as a special treat.

 And between that lovely evening and the text message a few days later that Another Daughter was walking her two Littles over to our place, I'd found the highchair and the box marked Kids' Toys, and we played out on the terrace while Pater walked the few blocks to pick up ingredients for a simple pasta meal.

It's going to be more challenging, I know, when the rains set in and we lose that outdoor room, but why borrow trouble, right? For now, there are train tracks and dinosaurs and afternoon sunshine. Dads/Sons-in-law join us after work, filling a plate as their kids tell them about adventures with moving boxes, and we all move onto the terrace, soaking up the evening sunshine before Little People get scooped up, whisked off home for bedtime. Our new bathtub has been assessed (yes, I found the rubber duckies!), and we've agreed pyjamas might be included with provisions next visit.

And the next afternoon, Nana sits alone, listening to the echoes of the family meals (writing a new post for a Readalong you can join here) and thinking "This might just work."

As I round out this post -- which, honestly, began as a potentially Wordless Wednesday post until words somehow took over -- I'm wary of seeming to speak only to the mothers and grandmothers in this community. I don't want my blog to become a Nana's Blog, but there's no question that being a Nana is a big part of my life.

To keep the conversation open to all my readers, I'd like to know how moves that you've made or that you anticipate or consider making have changed the ways you interact with friends and/or family. Does the size of your home make a difference in your entertaining patterns? Do you wish for more or less space, for more or less control or responsibility in family entertaining?

Or, of course, any other question or comment you care to make. Off now to meet my sister for a run, our first since the move and one that's had to change to accommodate my new location. Still super early though -- she's such a lark, that sister!

23 comments:

  1. Love that outdoor space and hope you will share the interiors when you get unpacked...we are still in the home that we raised our children in so cannot imagine moving. Children make fun wherever they are...boxes are so versatile!

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    1. I expect I will share some of the interiors as we get unpacked, but I also expect that will take some time.
      You're very fortunate to still be in that beautiful home and have your children and grandchildren nearby!

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  2. An encouraging post! This is a big concern of mine as we contemplate downsizing after I retire. Right now, Grandmama's House is right up there with Disney World in my grandchildren's eyes, and I don't want to lose that, even as I realize the older pair, at least, will soon be too busy to visit very often.

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    1. It's true -- when they're little, they love to visit Nana and Granddad! Our older one still does, but so much else begins to demand her time. . .
      I think you'll be able to transfer the "Disney World" effect to whatever home you create next, though ;-)

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  3. My parents have both, in their time, provided The House. In our family, intensified by the fading family fortune and the grandeur my generation can't afford. My guess is that in the beginning the gatherings were made frequent by The Houses. But now, I think we'd get together where ever we could.

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    1. Good point -- I do think having A House or The Houses to set patterns creates a momentum that can then be fuelled more modestly or even, perhaps, more creatively if less pecuniously. . .

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  4. If there's a will,there's always some way. I don't have grandchildren (yet!),but I always hosted a lot of my friends with or without their children,or my son's friends. At home,carriyng everything from first floor to the garden,at the vineyard house carrying a lot of stuff from home,at home with everything I need....... From my 18th year I was the host for family feasts,than 18 (ha,interesting....) years ago my father got a stroke and couldn't make the stairs so we shifted to my mothers dinning room....
    One has to be flexible and the main thing is that there'll always be Nana and stories and love.....and miraculous fairy tale box town or tunnel or everything you wish for...
    Don't be afraid of changes,they will inspire some good new things!
    Dottoressa

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    1. This is key! Maintaining the will and committing to flexibility, remembering what the true priority is. It sounds as if you have done that in spades throughout the year.

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  5. Those are big changes but it looks like your new abode will bring great delights to both you and Pater, and to your visitors. Have fun! especially the box tunnel :)
    Our most recent move saw us losing a handy guest room on the ground floor. But we gained an extensive basement rec room (currently the cat's spider hunting arena). We don't get many visitors staying over, and we don't have family around for drop-ins. I'm hoping this year that I get back to some of the entertaining I used to do in my first and tiny house. In addition to ignoring the domestic chaos and keeping up with friends more consistently ... !

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    1. Isn't it funny that sometimes the smallest spaces host the most frequent socialising? So many elements overlap and intersect between life stages and the spaces we live them in. Dedicated guest rooms are wonderfully handy, but if you don't have many guests, easily sacrificed for even more recreational space, especially with young folks growing toward manhood in your home!
      And you know I'm all for ignoring domestic chaos whenever possible and have been making an effort myself toward the friendships ;-)

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  6. We are still in the family home but I would like to move in a few years. I think it is important to strike out and try something new later in life. Nothing makes me sadder than seeing old things looking faded and damaged and unchanged. I'm not who I was even 15 years ago. And neither are my needs. Place settings for 6 or 8 will do me, thanks.

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    1. Agreed, and this is what we've done. All things being equal though, I'd have loved to stay where we were if family had been nearby, and I suspect it's possible to do considerable renewing in a home that provides security and constancy. It's all an adventure for now!

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  7. My husband and I have lived in the same home for almost 31 years, during which time we raised our two adult children. One of those kids is married, and the other is about to wed. Since one of them lives across the continent and the other 1000 miles south, visits from either of them (with or without spouse) are treasures, and whole-family gatherings at our home are miracles. Neither of our kids plans on moving back to the Pacific NW, where we live, any time soon, and neither has any children yet. When we (and our two dogs) do the inevitable downsizing move in 1-2 years, we most likely will stay in the region, as it is paradise and our kids live in the two most expensive urban areas in the U.S. Our plan is to move to a single-family dwelling that is at least 1/3 smaller than our current house and with much less outdoor space than our current 3/4 acre. We'd like to have a bedroom for each child+spouse, an open floor plan (and lots of light) for the public spaces and an outdoor area conducive to entertaining. We hope to entertain our friends and extended family much more often if/when one or both of us retire/s. I'm not sure we will be able to find what we want, within our budget and within a reasonable distance from an urban core. You can imagine why I, a very recent subscriber to your blog, am going back and reading all I can find about your downsizing process!

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    1. There are many considerations in that scenario, not the least of which is giving up what I imagine must be a wonderful outdoor space. Smart to begin thinking about the process now and identifying what's most important to you (i.e. staying in "Paradise," having room for visiting kid+partner, open floor plan -- we wanted this as well, and did find it). I can say from this perspective that there were some significant incremental shifts that took us from a certain kind of parental role to another. I might try to articulate this someday, but for now, I'm pleased that you're finding it useful to read about our downsizing process. And I can't say emphatically enough that I'm glad I did it now rather than ten years on. . .

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  8. Our place for family gatherings is the lakeside cottage. I share it with my sister and her family, but agreeing on who is going to use it has never been a problem. When my son and his cousins were small, the cottage offered much of the possibilities that you describe as having had in your island home: access to the water, a garden with many different corners, meadows across the street, a lot of wildlife to observe... Now that the children are grown up and grandchildren are not in sight, the place serves for inviting friends to spend a summer weekend, sit on the deck and watch the sun go down. Having this, I find the idea of downsizing in the city very easy. But I am privileged, I know.

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    1. You are wonderfully lucky, Eleonore, and sharing a cottage is a beautiful solution to enhancing a smaller urban space, especially if those sharing get along as well as you and your sister. We think that in future we will find ways to get out of the city for brief and/or extended periods by renting holiday properties, perhaps even purchasing something very modest down the road. For now, the downsized city space is a good base for imagination to roam from. . .

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  9. Frances, I love the descriptions of the casual gatherings you are having now. You've lost the magical island setting, but gained the opportunity for more frequent gatherings without the need for major travel, right? It sounds like it will work well. I love the photo of that beautiful toddler boy with the glimpse of his sister (or cousin?) in the box.

    This is so timely for me. In the last two weeks, my divorce became final and my son left for college. My ex bought me out of the beautiful, largish family home where we'd lived for 20 years, and where I raised my sons. My plan is to relocate to a city where I'd lived for 20 years before the unwelcome move here for my ex's career for a career opportunity. When I am there, I feel happy and hopeful about a new life. When I am here, I feel depressed with my son gone, and my reasons for being here evaporated.

    I've started looking for houses and I'm struggling with defining my needs. A short commute is paramount. At this point I need bedrooms for my two sons, I cook a lot and love having people for dinner and for holidays, so a kitchen and dining room are priorities. I am considering only single-family homes because I hate apartment living. I feel that I "shouldn't" buy another family home, as I'm at a new stage of life, but that seems to be what fits my needs.

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    1. It's really true, Marie. The island had such a strong hook, so many associations, that it was hard at first to think of relinquishing it, but we're both astounded really by how much more freedom we feel and how much more time we have available while managing to see more of family.
      Congratulation on making it through those big life changes, particularly on having been so obviously capable and resilient that your son could embark on college life.
      It took us quite some time to find this place, to see enough places to understand what it was we wanted or needed, letting go of some items on our "Must Have" list while others became non-negotiable priorities. I hope you can allow yourself the luxury of this time.
      Depending where you are and what's available, you might take a peek at some of the newer possibilities in apartment or townhome living. But I can certainly understand why a single-family home might be best, for now at least. My brother and his wife bought the sweetest small home which I secretly covet. . .

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  10. I think I've done far more socializing and entertaining here, in my smaller house than in the previous, larger one. Not perhaps in absolute numbers (I was there longer) but as a part of my life. I'm thinking about downsizing again in the future, but also about how I can facilitate greater connectivity and gatherings while I do that. But that remains a bit in the future...

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  11. The last bit of your comment resonates -- I think once we figure out how to facilitate the connectivity, the gatherings accommodate themselves to the space we have, within reason. And I also applaud your ability to recognise the moment you're in, to leave future steps for the future. . .

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  12. This one speaks to me very powerfully. We have the house and the extra cottage and the two acres of land and the access to hills and beaches. Our house has been on the market over the summer because I wanted to find a simpler way of living which was easier to leave, Ian was not so convinced but came along because it seemed to matter to me so much. Now it looks like we will take the house off the market as we have had no interest at all (Brexit might be a part of that as people stand back to see what will happen now?) I love this place and wonder why I would ever want to leave it but I can see very clearly that it is not a place to grow old in and I would rather ship out while I have the energy to make a new life. Ian I think loves it with a deeper passion and wants more time here, even if he acknowledges that it cannot last for ever. Hard, but fascinating to see how it is for you.

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    1. And I see that I have not said how important the house has been and continues to be to grandchildren and to spending time with them. I come from a family which moved about and have a sense of family which comes from people much more than place but still I know how much this place has mattered...

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    2. So much of what you say here resonates deeply and broadly with me. Even from afar, I love what I've seen of your home and I know how that kind of vista, but also the daily intimacy with Nature in its many forms and moods, nurtures the soul and keeps the body and mind healthy as well. So much of this was also part of our lives and it nurtured our family life as well. These transition years of making the decision to let go and to open room for new possibilities are tough ones, but you've begun the process and I have no doubt you'll manage it well in your own time. . .

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I'd love to hear your response to my post. Agree, disagree, even go off on a tangent, I love to know you're out there, readers. Let's chat, shall we? I apologize, though, for the temporary necessity of the Word Verification -- spam comments have been tiresomely numerous lately, and I'm hoping to break that pattern.

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