When our daughter and her husband decided that they were finally ready to build a house that suited their growing family, they followed the usual steps. They checked out builders, poured over floor plans, walked countless empty lots, and even met with a mortgage broker to determine their exact real estate budget. What they didn’t plan for was how quickly the present condominium they were living in was going to sell.
As you’ve probably guessed, they all ended up moving back in with us. My husband and I went from living alone to suddenly cohabitating with a young family. Our daughter came with her husband, two rambunctious young boys, a house cat, a gecko, and a visiting teenage daughter from my son-in-law’s previous relationship.
Luckily, our basement had been completed years before, so my daughter and her husband set up their bedroom in the basement while their two school aged boys took the spare room across the hall from us on the second floor. Realizing that many combined families live in quarters considerably smaller than ours, I didn’t think it would be that much trouble sharing a common kitchen, living room, and washrooms.
Since my job allowed me a fair bit of flexibility, I found myself quickly slipping into the role of ‘morning referee’. Take heed well-meaning grandparents, this isn’t a job I would recommend. The pay was nonexistent, the hours were always fluctuating, and nobody ever appreciated the squabbles I was forced to resolve. Giant issues concerning who ate the last of the favorite cereal, and why the boys couldn’t eat their grilled cheese sandwiches in the tub easily erupted into tears and raised voices.
Mornings started early in our house, as my husband liked to be on his construction site before 6:30 am, leaving home with a full lunch, complete with ice packs and the days beverages ready for travel no later than 6am. My son-in-law was the next out the door, always in a rush, and never quite sure where he’d dropped his jacket or keys the night before.
That left my daughter and the grandkids, a totally manageable amount of people if you were all working together. Many days, we weren’t.
It took a little time to realize that the kids were taking full advantage of the television hanging on the wall in the spare room they inhabited. Cranky and exhausted every morning, we finally realized that their late night and unsupervised viewings were to blame. Solution number one. We were forced to take the television out of the bedroom when my youngest grandson actually fell asleep in the entrance way while putting on his coat and runners for school.
Although in years prior we had still dined together as a family unit at least once a week, it turned out that when living together, our daughter’s family ate a little differently than we were used to. I had raised the kids in a meat and potatoes farming community, but over the years our daughter had evolved into what I call the ‘Pasta and Rice Generation’.
I realize that young mothers from double income families like my daughters don’t have time to throw in a beef roast and start peeling potatoes after picking up their kids from the day home, so I thought they’d all appreciate the home cooked meals I was lovingly preparing. They didn’t, and after one disastrous night of trying to get the kids to finish eating the shepherd’s pie I had served, my daughter confessed that her husband didn’t even like gravy, and my cooking was kind of old fashioned. Solution number two. We cooked separately for our families, and my husband and I found ourselves dining out on a regular basis.
It would be remiss of me to not mention the pet problems. Since we already had two spayed female cats in our home, we didn’t think that the addition of our daughter’s housecat would be that much of a problem, as it was also a spayed female.
The cats instantly hated each other, and no amount of coaxing or kitty-treats was going to change their minds and build any kind of temporary friendship. Solution number three. Our daughter’s cat lived in the basement, meaning the door had to be constantly closed to keep my cats from sneaking down to steal her food and engage in hissing contests.
Workable, except if either her cat, or either of my two fur babies were on the wrong side of the door when it was closed, neither would use the other’s litterbox and we were subsequently treated to little mounds and wet spots on the carpet when we returned home.
Now the gecko was an interesting guest all in itself. Apparently, this creature lives its entire life in a large glass case complete with heat lamps and special lava rocks. Not a problem as far as I was concerned. We made room, gently moved the case into the basement, and I almost forgot about it. Well almost, until the night our daughter brought home a plastic bag of live crickets from the pet store and they quickly escaped from a weak seam in the bag while everyone was eating supper.
Let me tell you something about crickets. It’s not that they’re fast, or that they have creepy long legs and had managed to scurry behind the fridge and stove before I could even grab a broom. It’s the fact that crickets chirp. They wait until nighttime when the house has quieted down and then the male of the species starts signalling the world that he’s looking for a prospective mate.
It’s annoying, trust me. Sitting in my living room and listening to sounds from the Nature Channel strangely echoing from my own kitchen was quite unnerving. And for anyone who asks, we tried pulling out the appliances, but my daughter warned that when the crickets felt movement, the little buggers seemingly hopped up into the wiring of the stove or fridge to temporarily hide out. She’d obviously dealt with this problem before.
Screw the price, I told my husband as I dialed an exterminator who told me that in five to seven days the crickets would be dead as long as I vacuumed the kitchen floor after every use and moved all pet food and water off the main floor of the house. Solution number four. My two cats now ate in our bedroom and my husband cursed under his breath every time he walked by their dishes.
After two months, our living arrangement had finally settled into a semi-liveable kind of situation. The crickets had stopped chirping, my son-in-law mysteriously developed a taste for gravy, and the kids had adapted to rising the extra twenty minutes earlier to accommodate their extended drive to school.
Then the phone rang. My step-granddaughter was having troubles at her home and wanted to stay with all of us for a week or two. Hmmm. What to do? I truly did think of this young girl as extended family, so when our daughter backed out of the discussion saying it was up to me, I relented and welcomed the teenager into our living arrangement for an agreed two week visit.
After fourteen days of firsthand observation, I now realize that teenage girls either giggle, text, or pout. They don’t seem to do much else these days. No matter what was going on around her, she managed to sit in a room full of people with her legs tucked under her, a blanket wrapped around her shoulders, and her head buried in one electronic device or another. Totally oblivious to the family life taking place in her midst.
I tried spending time and talking to the girl on numerous occasions, but I only had a rudimentary knowledge of the Twilight Saga, and I really didn’t have a valid opinion as to whether or not I should be for team Edward, or team Jacob. As for her Cosplay characters and their strangely erotic/violent cartoon adventures, well I can’t even put those conversations into words.
Having this girl camped out on an air mattress in my living room meant that within a few days her clothes, books, and other electronic gadgets had oozed out of her unzipped duffle bags and had found refuge on both couches and each armchair. Moving through the room was like walking in a minefield. Power cords were strung from every outlet and the piles of dirty laundry obviously preferred to dance with the clean laundry I had futilely piled on her mattress.
If my daughter had gently reminded me to ‘pick my battles’ one more time, I think I might have blown a fuse. That was the longest Easter Break of my life, and I couldn’t believe how much I missed my living room until I found myself pondering whether or not I could cram my favorite arm chair and a small end table for my laptop into the laundry room.
By early summer the new house was finally ready, and in a flurry of action, my daughter and her entire family, including pets, moved out of our basement and into their new home in under twenty-four hours. They were obviously ready to be on their own too.
Sitting in my vacant house, I did what every loving grandmother would do. I immediately booked an appointment to have all my carpets steam cleaned, hung the fancy towels back in the bathroom, and heaved a huge sigh of relief as my husband and I settled in to watch Coronation Street instead of Mike the Knight.
Over the years we’ve all come to joke about our time together, having survived for nearly five and a half months without anyone running to a hotel, or the exterminator having to pay a house call. It takes time, but I’m now back at the stage where I yearn for my grandchildren to visit, all three of them.
I believe that grandparents and grandchildren are a fabulous match for sleepovers, impromptu visits, and camping adventures. Living together? Not so much. As a proud member of The Fifty Candles Club, I must admit that my husband is an extremely patient man who can handle a lot of change, probably more than I could in retrospect. But honestly, if our daughter and her family needed a place to stay once again, I know I’d swing open the doors and invite the entire menagerie back under our roof. That’s what families do.