A woman whose retirement income mostly died with her husband (who says you can’t take it with you?) now is being supported in part by her son, who lives with her and works at a nearby bakery.
Another woman whose husband became disabled has been rebuilding their home to create a main-floor bedroom for him. She works starting at 4 a.m. restocking shelves at a big box, which brings in some money and (after a year) has earned her some health insurance. Their adult daughter has just moved in, adding to the income pool.
Next door, seemingly endless vans full of grandchildren arrive for Grammie and Grampie daycare during seemingly all the hours Grammie and Grampie aren’t at their own full-time jobs. No complaints, you understand. This is what family does.
Our Family of Two Becomes Four
And behind our front door, our family of two has become four, as my husband’s brother and a friend have joined us from their group home, which was facing foreclosure for the second time in 12 months.
Un-emptying the nest isn’t a terrible thing, we’ve found. First, we’ve discovered that there’s a reason so many things haven’t moved from where we placed them 12 or 16 years ago. They just sat because we didn’t need them. That means that in our new household economy, keeping shelves full of books that just tell our history of learning (and beach reading, if we’re honest) seems much less important than having space for beds and nightstands and bureaus. I’m finding it easier to recognize that many of the clothes in the “off-season” closet are just plain “off.” And the more precious every foot of storage is, the more precious every item kept must be. Everything else has to go to yard sales, thrift stores and friends that need it now.
Less Stuff, Less Free Time, Fewer Arguments
The trade-off for us is easy to recognize. We’ve got less space, less stuff and fewer arguments. We have more to do, less free time and more affection. And that’s just talking about what’s happening in our marriage.
We live in some of the smallest, most cramped housing that our community has to offer — housing that was literally designed for “affordability” in the wealthiest community of our county. Still, after living in group homes for six years, our brother and his friend can’t stop talking about how nice it is to live here. “You have such nice furniture. It feels like my grandmother’s house,” says the one who grew up in a golf resort community. “I feel like I’m back at the country club,” he says at our lunch table.
He has a habit of generous exaggeration. Lunch is served on a 1930s farm table that my father and I refinished after I scrubbed off three colors of paint — black, yellow, and aqua. The placemats are handsewn from a quilting plaid; the dishes are inexpensive stoneware. But there’s always enough food. And that has been in short supply for these guys.
The first day they sat down to lunch with us, they looked at the plate of sandwiches and the bowls of homemade vegetable soup and the salad bowl — “Help yourselves, as much as you want” — then looked at each other and said: “Where’s lunch? I don’t see the Ramen noodles!”
They laughed, giddily.
That’s what their “thrifty” lunch has been for the last six months or so. Half a package of Ramen noodles. Or maybe one hotdog. They had been spending their pocket money on extra meals at a local sandwich shop three or four times a week because they were hungry. When the sheriff showed up this year to initiate foreclosure on the property to which they’d been relocated after the sheriff’s deputy evicted them last year (making this the sixth home in six years for each of them), we decided it was time to do something.
So we’ve un-emptied our nest to allow a relative and a friend to join us. Like all of our neighbors, their presence benefits us and offers some challenges. We’re on a new schedule; we don’t have any more leisurely Saturday coffees in our jammies; we have some shared income and somewhat less space.
Love Others As You Love Yourself
And like all of our neighbors, we and they are practicing what Jesus said was most important: loving others as we love ourselves.
We love ourselves enough to have a house and food. We love our brother and his friend enough to share. They have some income and energy to do chores. They love us enough to share.
This house has become more nearly Jesus’ home since it became un-empty and we began loving others more nearly as we love ourselves. I can’t say I’m all the way there. I still have my stash of chocolate and English tea I don’t share. We still take ourselves off in private to events ($2 movies with popcorn!) that they might not afford and couldn’t get transport to without our help.
But I’m somewhat more confident that we’re living more nearly as Jesus intends us to live. Because we are loving others more nearly as we love ourselves. Not from behind our walls but within our walls. As friends, as brothers, as members of the same Body.
We do expect bumps on this road. Every family experiences bumps. Feel free to ask how it’s going.