Living in Community: Part 1

I really have so many thoughts swirling, so I'll do my best to keep this concise. Actually, this is just going to be "Part 1" of a multiple part series, so that I can kind of cover it all, not only to share but for my own future reference.

The big news is, we had our close friends (and farming partners) move in with us over the weekend. Two adults, Bri and Brett, and their two young kids, Lilly (3) and Jude (3 months). They have their own house, pets, and garden. They are not in financial trouble. They are not particularly far away from us, either. They live just on the other side of downtown, less than 10 minutes from us in traffic. We recognize that this may seem a strange decision to the people in our lives. My house is not very large. It's an average sized cape cod style house, about 1400 square feet. We also have our friend Lindsay and her son Eli (5) living in the basement apartment. The main floor of our house has a kitchen, dining room, living room, bathroom and two bedrooms. The upstairs is a long open space where we recently put up a dividing wall, so it's two large rooms now (one of which is a bedroom for Jeff and I and Asa).

Bri, me, and Lilly swimming in Lake Huron.

Perhaps I'm just a little preemptively defensive. When we mull over the reasons that we've done this it all seems so wonderfully practical. Why is it that the decision to co-house seems controversial? I'm certain that many people won't care and will see the sense in it all. I think others may not understand but will choose to be open minded about it. And then others will speculate about our personal lives (for the record, this is a platonic partnership between two families).

So here's a little list to explain the "whys" of it all:

  • We really love them. These friends are special. I love many people in my life, but these are the friends that really understood and shared our passions. We have lots of differences, but the parallels are striking. These are people who we want to carve out a way of life with- farming, raising our kids, activism, and just being a witness to each other.

  • I don't want to do this alone. I know I'm not technically alone- I have an amazing support system. A beautiful family, lots of friends, an incredible partner. But many days still leave me weary and overwhelmed. Who will do that mountain of dishes? Who will plant the garden? How can I do everything I want and still hold it all together? It occurs to me daily (especially as the mother of young children) that human beings are not meant to live in isolation. We are meant to live together- meaning, it's no wonder certain areas of my life suffer when I endeavor to do more than just the basics… there simply aren't enough hands!

Lindsay and Asa napping on the couch together.

  • I need a tribe. I can already tell that I greatly benefit from seeing people that I love and who love me on a daily basis. Not just the kids and Jeff at dinnertime after a long day of work. But I mean being with others for a lot of the day. Not just anybody, but people who feel like my people. Always someone to call on, to ask for a hand, to be open with, to confide in. And I benefit from serving them in the same way. I need to get outside of my head on a regular basis. Sometimes just seeing that someone else needs your help, that you can be of value and service to them… it's very gratifying.

A friend's son, Eli, and Vera playing one afternoon.

  • I get a bigger family, and I get to love more kids. If the world were not in the trouble it's in, Jeff and I would have had a gaggle of children. I would have loved to have 5 or 6, honestly. Things being as they are, we made a solemn decision to stop at two kids, with the option of adoption and/or foster care if we felt able in the future. Considering everything that we've taken on, our financial situation as it is and will be, and all the things that are up in the air… well, adoption seems a bit far fetched for us. Living in such a tight knit community means that I get the benefits of the larger family I long for. I get more playmates for my children, more snuggles, less boredom/laziness/entitlement from everyone because we have to think more about each other. 

Brett and baby Jude napping.

  • It's practical. This is true on a number of levels. I'm already really seeing the benefits.
    • Let me paint a picture for you: Jeff and I left for the weekend to visit some family on the other side of the state. Bri and Brett and their kids and Lindsay and her son were home for the weekend. In our absence, the chickens and dogs were taken care of, and the microgreens were watered and a new batch was planted. I even left a big pot of stock bubbling away on the stove. When Bri needed to get some stuff done around the house, Lindsay took the kids out around town. Then later that night, after the kids were put in bed, Lindsay went out with friends assured that her son would be taken care of if he woke up. When I came home, there was freshly canned stock and jars of fermenting pepper and tomato relish on the counter. The next day was a hard day for me. I think Asa and I were a little under the weather, just enough so that we were tired and cranky. I also dealt with some anxiety about all the mess around me with everything being moved around. I spent some time upstairs trying to fix a problem and came down a little frustrated. But while I was upstairs, there were people downstairs to occupy the kids. In the same time I was dealing with that, Brett had cleaned the kitchen. Later that night when Jeff came home, Bri and I decided to take ourselves out to sushi. Then yesterday, Jeff and Brett went out to get loads of compost and deal with some things in the morning. So Bri and I stayed back and made breakfast and took care of kids. I harvested our microgreens and some kale for market, and then we sent Jeff to man the tent for the afternoon. Brett went to work, while Bri and I made mozzarella and ricotta cheese, and then made a potato leek soup for dinner with the leftover whey… I mean, I could go on and on. I woke up this morning to find that they had already started the diaper laundry. This afternoon Bri took a nap with the baby. Need I say more?
    •  There are financial benefits, too. We can split the utilities at this house while reducing our use at the other house. We can plan and utilize both gardens for one household, and combine our efforts for food storage and menu planning. The other house is now going to be a very multi-purpose space- more space to grow microgreens, a space for Bri to have her massage practice, a guest house and a get-away space for either family, and we're talking about using it as an office/meeting space for our doula business.

Homemade raw milk mozzarella cheese.

So, hopefully that gives an initial look into why this feels like a really good move for us right now. I think next time I'll talk a bit about the challenges we face.


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