Intergenerational Living…with a Newborn Baby


Daddo Jedssamyn MINION
















I’ve written posts in the past about the fact that I live in an intergenerational living situation (see “An Experiment in Intergenerational Living,” and “Intergenerational Living: The Experiment Continues”). My husband and I sold our house last June and our daughter and her husband sold their house in July. We bought a house together in a new community. With Kerry and Mike came our granddaughter Lilah, 4, and two geriatric Japanese chins. (Chins are small, fluffy dogs with bulging eyes, squashed-in noses and a gremlin-like ability to find trouble anywhere, anytime.) Tom and I brought with us a third geriatric dog (large mutt) and a small black cat.

Now we have a new addition to the family: Jessamyn, one week old today. Jessamyn arrived a couple of weeks early because Kerry developed pre-eclampsia and what with one thing and another, had a caesarian delivery. (Getting the baby out is the only treatment for pre-eclampsia, which is the beginning of kidney failure and results in death if untreated.) So we were all a bit surprised by Jessamyn’s early debut, including Jessamyn.

All newborns are unbelievably tiny and fragile-looking, and Jessamyn is no exception. So far, she has been fairly easy. She sleeps, eats and poops. The only time I’ve heard her cry is when her diaper is changed or when she’s hungry. Lilah is delighted with her and tries hard to be helpful by fetching things for her mother. She is fascinated by Jessamyn’s tiny nose, which she touches very gently. Marley (#1 geriatric chin) wants to cuddle. The other animals have noted Jessamyn’s presence, but are keeping their distance.

Tom loves to hold the baby. He will hold her literally for hours. The photo above isn’t really fair—but I couldn’t resist, given the expression I caught on his face.

So another life has joined the family, and I wonder what she will be like. Will she dance through the house singing off-key, like her big sister? Will she like to draw? Will she love words? Will she want to be a poet, or an engineer? Jessamyn is physically here, but I don’t know who she is yet. It’s odd, feeling all this love for someone I don’t even know. I look at her little face, and she owns me, just like her big sister Lilah owns me. I am theirs for as long as I’m alive.


Whales and Dolphins and Seals, Oh, My!

Yesterday afternoon, my husband, Tom, and I went for a walk on the beach. This is something we do frequently, now that we are living by the ocean. Actually, we live on the shores of Monterrey Bay in Northern California. For those of you unfamiliar with NorCal, it is not a hot, palm-tree-fringed coast. The Japanese current comes down from Alaska, and the waters are cold. Most of the summer, fog covers the coast in the morning, pulls out for a bit in the afternoon, and pours its chilly self back onto the land in the late afternoon or evening. When it’s 100ºF inland, it might get up as high as 80ºF here on the coast. Mostly, summer temperatures are in the 60s or 70s.

But yesterday afternoon, it was warm and the fog hung far out on the water. The sky was cloudless. I spent some time tipping crabs. There are hundreds of small crabs that thrive in the wave zone. They often get tipped upside down by the receding water and wave their eight legs in the air frantically, trying to right themselves. If another wave doesn’t come along to right them, they eventually give up and pose upside down, legs rigidly extended. If the tide is going out they are sometimes eaten by seagulls or just die from exposure. I have a hard time resisting their little flailing legs and I tip them back upright to give them a fighting chance. Yes, I know they’ve been getting tipped upside down for millions of years. Still.

I love shells of all sorts, and collect them whenever I am visiting a beachy place. The shells in our area tend to be a bit drab and there isn’t a lot of variety, but

Sand_dollar_testI look for sand dollars. They wash ashore frequently in this area. When alive or recently deceased, their shells are purple. I check to see if they are alive, which isn’t easy to determine, but if they still have their hair-like legs on the undersides of their shells, I pitch them back in the water. (I make it a point never to take a live shell. I never buy shells, because these are harvested live to assure they are unbroken and unblemished.) If the sand dollars have lost their legs and the “velvet” that coats the outside, they are truly dead and I pick them up if unbroken. The shells are quite fragile, so finding an unbroken sand dollar isn’t unusual, but it is the exception. I’ve been placing the shells to bleach in the sun on my front porch. They range in size from about one inch across to three or four inches.

The water was full of life—and not just surfers and screaming children. There was a huge pod of dolphins roiling the waters, their dark backs and fins rolling smoothly out of the waves like synchronized swimmers—which I suppose they are. There must have been a hundred or more of these beasts just offshore. A small seal or three poked their heads out of the waves. They come in quite close to swimmers, and they sometimes get quite a reaction from people who aren’t expecting a largish animal to surface right next to them.

And then we saw the whales. Further afield, perhaps a half a mile from shore, great spouts of water appeared above the waves. Like geysers, the spouts rose high in the air and lasted for a fairly long time. Several times, I saw whales breaching, leaping out of the water and falling back with a mighty gout of water rising as they hit the surface. I was told by one passerby that humpbacked whales had been spotted in the bay, but today I heard that blue whales were out there yesterday as well. They were too far away for me to tell which we were seeing.

People all along the beach were stopped, standing on the sand and shading their eyes as they stared out to sea. Everyone was smiling, pointing, talking to strangers. People were rejoicing in the sight of the whales as though they had just seen angels.

It was, in a word, magical.

Experiment in Intergenerational Living: The Gummy Bees

It has been a long time since Tom and I lived with a preschooler. Lilah, the preschooler in question, is four. She sailed through the twos without becoming terrible, skipped through the threes without becoming awful—and then hit the Frightful Fours.

Her former response to being thwarted was to assume a deeply saddened and affronted expression, rather like Mother Theresa confronted by, say, Lady Gaga. Then she would turn her back on everyone like an anchorite abandoning a wicked world. She did all this in perfect silence, which I thought was a dramatic underscore to her soul-gnawing sorrow at being denied Goldfish crackers for lunch.

Now if Lilah is thwarted, she will frequently throw herself to the floor with a scream. She will begin pounding the unoffending floor with her heels or fist, punctuating this with more shrieks. This is usually in response to being asked to eat something (healthy) or being told she can’t eat something (unhealthy), but there are many other triggers.

This bothers her parents a lot, but it doesn’t perturb Tom or me very much. She’s kind of a piker compared with her Mom or her Uncle Sean, although they went through it earlier than Lilah. It does raise the question of discipline, though. As Tom and I are sometimes the only adults around, permitting her parents to carry on their work lives, we are sometimes on the spot when it comes to applying corrective action. And disciplining someone else’s child is a sensitive matter. She might be our granddaughter, but she isn’t our child.

When Kerry and Mike are present, they get to do the disciplining. Tom and I are merely interested observers who need earplugs. When they are not here, we have relied on the Grandparent Card a lot, but who knows how long that will last? Counting to three (very slowly) usually works. Once in a while, a short timeout helps. So far, so good, but one of these days, Lilah is going to pitch a complete hissy fit on us, and we’re going to have to deal. The only advantage we have is that it really just doesn’t bother us. Raising her mother toughened us up a lot.


A Gummy Bee

A Gummy Bee

Now, what about those gummy bees? This is one of the great things about living with a grandchild—getting to hear a completely new set of wonderful mispronunciations. Her mother used to call flowerpots “flower pants,” which I always thought was brilliant. Her uncle used to go to “pretty school,” until Kerry finally scorned him into saying “preschool.” (Too bad.) Lilah has gummy bees: “I gummy bee a builder when I grow up.” “I gummy bee happy to see Auntie Cara.” I envision all these little gummy bees flying around her as she dances her way through life. They are all different pastel colors, and they have little smiles on their cute little gummy bee faces.

Because most of the time, Lilah is a delight. She has the most beautiful, sunny smile. She sings to herself as she plays, lining up her toys in the upstairs hall to “teach them school” or read them a story. She laughs readily and cuddles when she’s tired. She loves animals and art and playing games with Nana.

She can scream all she wants. She’s still my darling.

Intergenerational Living: The Experiment Continues

Inca and Her Mom

Inca and Her Mom

It’s the dog days of summer, and apparently all the literary agents are on vacation. So nothing is happening on the book front. That’s my excuse for now. However, much is happening on the living front, in the house by the sea where my husband Tom and I (both 63) now live with our daughter, Kerry (32), son-in-law Mike (36) and granddaughter Lilah (4).

It’s now been about two months since we all moved in together. At first, with boxes everywhere and the furniture all in the wrong rooms, and double the tools and food needed to stock and run a kitchen, things were a bit uncomfortable. After the first week, Mike returned to work, and the rest of us kind of lost interest in having to unpack even one more box.

Tom had a brilliant idea. He suggested that we put all the boxes and furniture we didn’t know what to do with in one room—the living room—and concentrate on making the rest of the rooms workable. This helped enormously. We were no longer tripping over boxes. The rest of the house began to settle down to more-or-less normal living.

But of course, the boxes did not unpack themselves. Last weekend, we bravely faced the room of boxes and began to unpack. Empty boxes began to pile up on the porch once more. We didn’t get through the entire room, but did make progress. We can now see the fireplace in the living room—Kerry had actually forgotten that we have a fireplace.

The people have been getting along well. No fights and no hard feelings, as far as I can tell. Everyone seems pretty happy. Mike is the one with the hardest situation as he has a longer commute to his job, and works the late shift, so he often arrives home when everyone else has gone to bed. He bought a commuter car to save on gas, which also helped his driving experience as he was navigating a winding mountain highway with an enormous truck. The smaller car handles better on the curves in addition to guzzling less gas.

The pets are having a somewhat more difficult time dealing with the blended family situation. We have Gigi, a 65-pound lab-shepherd mix with a saintly disposition, and Inca, a small black (formerly feral) cat who thinks Gigi is her Mom. Kerry has Hendrix and Marley, 15-pound Japanese Chins. Chins, in case you don’t know, are fluffy little dogs with squashed-in faces and bulging eyes. Marley has an overbite that makes him look aggressive, but he isn’t. Hendrix has a mop of wild hair and skewed eyes. He often has the tip of his tongue protruding as well, so the total effect is one of psychopathy—not too far from the mark. Hendrix appears to think he can take Gigi down, which apart from being delusional, is annoying. He will bite Gigi’s heels or try to take her gigantic toys away from her. Gigi, peaceable but insisting on her rights, retaliates, often by squashing him flat. Much growling and tussling ensues because Hendrix, far from being deterred by being squashed, keeps on coming. Adults scream at them, and Lilah runs away crying.

Inca, being a cat, hated being moved. Worse, we moved her twice—once into our friend’s home, and a month or so later, into our new home. She has settled down well, and is now trying to escape from the house. She’s gotten out twice, and apparently the local wildlife is terrifying, because she doesn’t seem to be enjoying her outings. There are a couple of known tough cats in the neighborhood as well as skunks, raccoons, possums and other assorted beasties. Inca may have once been feral, but I don’t think she was very good at it, and she appears to be better suited to lounging around the house and kissing dogs.

She’s an indoor cat, partly because I promised to keep her indoors when I adopted her, partly because indoor cats stay cleaner and healthier, and partly because she is black and what some people do to black cats is horrible. (Black cats are also harder to find adoptive homes for, so the next time you think about adopting, remember that black is beautiful.)

Being fond of dogs, Inca has been making overtures to the Chins. She tried to kiss Marley yesterday and he snapped at her, which may set cat-Chin relations back for months. She got out of the house again, but was back within a couple of hours, wailing and fluffed-up with terror.

So the non-humans are having a harder time than the humans in making this enormous adjustment. Hurray for the humans!

An Experiment in Intergenerational Living: Part 1

Read the instructions on the bottom box!

Nuthin’ happenin’ on the book publishing front right now, but there’s a lot going on in my life, which is why I haven’t posted anything for nearly a month.

We moved. But it wasn’t the usual sort of move. My husband and I moved to begin an experiment in intergenerational living—not a new concept, but not one that has been popular in American life for many decades. It has become a stigma for kids to move back in with your parents—even a sign of failure.

My husband and I grew up in a nuclear family: Dad, Mom, and kids. Grandparents lived elsewhere. We were lucky in that our grandparents lived more or less in the same towns that we did, so we got to know them fairly well. Our own kids grew up remotely from their grandparents—my husband’s family lived 3,000 miles away and my family lived about 500 miles away. The kids never got to know their grandparents well.

Then our daughter and son-in-law had a baby. We wanted to be more involved than our grandparents had been with us, and certainly more involved than our own parents had been as grandparents. (We didn’t blame them for their lack of involvement. It’s hard to be involved with someone who lives so far away from you. They did their best.)

Right after our granddaughter was born, her parents purchased a house. They moved in with us temporarily while the new house was rehabilitated from the squatter’s den it was to the cute family home it became. Coincidentally, at the same time, our son and his future wife needed a place to stay for a while (turned out to be two years), and our daughter-in-law’s mother came to stay for a while as well, so it was a very full house.

And we loved it. It was a lot of fun having young folks and a baby around. My husband and I wondered if it made sense to talk to the kids about doing it full-time, seriously.

As it happened, our daughter suggested it first. She and her husband did not need financial help; it was matter of wanting to be closer as a family. In particular, she wanted us to be close to her children. This triggered a number of discussions between all parties. Our son and daughter-in-law opted out with no hurt feelings on any side, but our daughter and son-in-law became quite committed to the concept, as did we.

Nothing happened but talk until the housing market resurrected. Our first plan was to renovate our guest cottage and make it a bit larger. This would be where my husband and I would live, sharing the downstairs common areas of the main house with our daughter’s family. The county planning commission said no. We could build an entirely new structure, but we couldn’t make the existing structure larger. Then we came up with a renovation plan for the house that would allow for separate living quarters, feeling that we all needed some private space.

Then we went looking for funding for the remodel. The banks wouldn’t lend us money. We had assets that the banks wouldn’t consider, but we hadn’t had paychecks for a while as we were working for a high-tech startup for equity. (That’s another story, and no regrets.) The only remaining options were to forget the whole thing, or for us to sell our house. The proceeds from our house would enable us to purchase another house on a cash basis. We would then allow our daughter and son-in-law to invest in the new house and become co-owners. I don’t know about you, but the words “mortgage-free” ring in my ears like celestial music. We don’t need no stinkin’ banks!

Once we decided to go for it, it happened so fast it took our breath away. We sold our house “as-is,” before it officially went on the market. We moved in with a good friend, intending to take as long as a year to look around or build a new house. But the first time we went out to look at neighborhoods in the seaside town where we all wanted to live, we found the perfect house. We made a lowball offer that was accepted without a counter, and within two months of making the decision to sell our house, we were moving to a new town.

Trying to cram two households’ worth of personal possessions into one house has been and continues to be a challenge. I said the house was perfect; well, it could use a few more rooms, I suppose. The three-car garage is full to bursting, and we have no idea what we are going to do with all these BOOKS!

But the intergenerational thing is going well. We are making cooperative decisions where called for, and butting out of things that don’t concern us. The young marrieds have built-in babysitting for date nights, and we have built-in pet sitting for trips. Our economic situation on all sides is improved (although the younger parents still need to sell their house). All the pets have settled in sufficiently to start making trouble. The cabbage-rose wallpaper in our bathroom and bedroom is gone. The kitchen is set up and working and we are all glorying in the wonder of double ovens, a gas stove and many, many cupboards and drawers. (Did I mention how much I hate putting shelf paper in? I spent five days doing nothing else.)

Through it all, we have been buoyed by the sweeping view of the ocean, the clean air, the breezy, light-filled rooms, the hot tub and the happiness of being a close-knit family. I think it’s gonna be good.


How To Stay Married for 41 Years


Giorni_Wedding_photoMy husband and I were celebrating our 41st wedding anniversary the other day. We were having a meal in a restaurant, and unusually, it was just us and our grown son and daughter. It seemed kind of odd; none of the many other assorted relatives and in-laws were present for once. It was just the four of us together, as it had been when the kids were growing up. After we ordered, our son asked, “So, what did you do to stay married for 41 years?”


We were caught flat-footed and unprepared. My husband, as always, had a snappy comeback, but I just shrugged. How to explain? But I thought it was a good question, one that deserved a good answer. After some rumination, I arrived at what seemed to me to be the answer–for me, anyway–and sent it off to the kids. Our daughter thought it was good enough to share with others, so I am sharing it here:


“The other day in the restaurant, Sean asked how we managed to stay married for 41 years. Of course we were unprepared, and your Dad’s response of “Don’t get divorced” is certainly one approach. But I thought it was a good question, and one that deserved an answer, so I have been thinking about it.


“I think the answer is: Get over yourself.


“I probably don’t have to elaborate, but I will, a little. Marriage requires consciously working at it all of the time–and never more than when there are difficulties. We all go into a romantic relationship with a lot of expectations and fantasies. In the beginning, we think all our expectations and fantasies have been realized. (Nature’s sneaky little way of assuring the DNA gets passed on, I suspect.)


“Eventually, after the fairy dust wears off, we start to realize that the beloved is not, in fact, perfection. In fact, he or she definitely has some flaws that need looking after. And maybe he or she isn’t Prince Charming or Princess Aurora after all.


“It takes some effort to also accept that you yourself are no prince or princess either.


“So then it becomes a question of can you accept your spouse, flaws and all? Because you cannot change another person. You can only change yourself. Either you are willing to accept that other person with their flaws and disappointments, or you are not–it’s your decision. As far as your own weaknesses and imperfections are concerned, you also have to decide if you should and will change them to accommodate the other, or not. Obviously (I hope), it’s a process of mutual accommodation, which involves both spouses abandoning those expectations and fantasies that aren’t helping.


“It’s also important to abandon resentment against the other for not being the person you hoped and wished they were and appreciating who they really are. Resentment will poison a relationship to the point where it can never recover, and after all–is it his/her fault that you made them up?


“I don’t mean that you have to abandon your dreams, just your fantasies about what marriage with this person was going to be like. As they say, it is what it is.


“And pick your battles. Some things are just not worth fighting about. It’s just not all about you.


“As Anne Landers used to say, when troubles arise in a marriage, you have to ask yourself if you are better off with your spouse, or without him/her? It’s a simple, but very important question that can sidestep a lot of kerfuffles and soul-searching.


“And I guess my final word is: it’s important to remember that everything changes. For example, when a couple has a new baby, it’s gonna be very tough. Stress, sleep deprivation, not enough sex (for the guy), and (for the woman) too many demands on her (including sex)–all are a perfect recipe for a failed marriage. But it changes. Newborns grow and start sleeping through the night, and eventually you wean the baby, and get enough sleep to start feeling like yourself again. So it’s important to hang in and keep working at it until things get better–or at least long enough to see whether things will get better or not.


“I hope I didn’t come off as some old crone pontificating about life. I think both of you are doing great and do work hard at your relationships. But you asked.


All my love,