Wednesday, November 15, 2006

All in the family

In a comment on yesterday's "the tedium of me" post, MothersVox left a list of compelling topics she'd like to see me cover as I struggle to fill bandwidth during the NaBloPoMo experiment. One of those topics jumped out at me immediately. She wrote,

More on how you and DAD-NOS navigate household and childrearing responsibilities together. You both work, so how to you navigate all the housework. Just curious.

It's simple, really. We have a secret weapon: live-in grandparents.

For obvious reasons, this is not a solution that would work for everyone. And there are many folks in our inner and extended circles who are incredulous that it works for all of us. But it does. And mostly - most importantly - it works for Bud.

Interestingly, the journey toward cohabitation began when we discovered that we were expecting twins and our heads started swimming with questions about how we'd manage it. My parents lived a state away from us at the time, and we had no relatives who were local. But my mom was approaching retirement age and my dad had been retired for years, so they started making plans to move away from the town in which they'd both been raised to buy a house around the corner from us.

They were in the final stages of planning their relocation when Bud was born and his twin brother, Pal, died. But, even though we were no longer facing the daunting prospect of having two babies at the same time and even though we were not yet aware of Bud's autism, my parents moved forward with their plan to move to our neighborhood. When I look back at it now, I recognize that it's yet another gift that Pal gave us.

In the early months of Bud's life, I worked days and my husband worked afternoons and evenings, and we had a complicated choreography of shift-work childcare, which involved drop-offs and pick-ups and fly-by visits for nursing. As Bud got a little older, my husband switched to a daytime shift and Nana and Papa took on the full-day responsibility of caring for Bud. In a short time, and as a result of a complicated series of events, it became clear that consolidating our households would make the most sense for all of us. So the summer before Bud turned 2, just before we got Bud's "official" diagnosis, we pooled our resources and bought a big house with a lot of levels and a great deal of elbow room.

As with any shared-living experience, there are negotiations and compromises that have to be made. There have been some tension-filled moments. But there has also been a house filled to the brim with Bud-focused energy and insight and love.

It's hard to imagine what Bud's early years would have been like without Nana and Papa in his daily life. The reality is that before the day he started first grade (at almost seven years old), Bud had never spent more than four hours without at least one of the four of us. His life has had the kind of consistency and predictability that he's needed to feel safe and to build a sense of competence. Though he struggled with language for many years, he was always secure in the knowledge that his Big Four would be able to read him.

But Bud hasn't just gained a sense of stability from our arrangement. He has also developed a genuine flexibility and an understanding of human difference. At a very young age, it was clear that Bud understood that Mom is different from Dad who is different from Nana who is different from Papa. He knows us all well, and he has developed a unique relationship with each of us. He navigates the subtleties with ease - he knows what works with each individual: when to turn on the charm, when to push the issue, when to use humor, when to back down. We provide a real learning laboratory for the art and science of human interaction every single day.

And we benefit from having four sets of eyes and ears and hands; four minds; four hearts. We problem-solve together. We worry. We celebrate. We hope. Times four.

Is it a challenge? Of course it is. But we all keep our eyes on the prize. And our prize - our grand prize - makes the challenge seem very small.


Anonymous said...

Wow, what an awesome situation! (Not for everybody, but in your case.) Bud is one lucky little punkin.

With this information, however, I now see no reason that you shouldn't take that weekend away that we talked about awhile back.

And I'm late to comment on yesterday's post- I, like all the others, am enjoying your daily postings. It's like getting a phone call from a friend every day for a month!

JenF said...

I'm also enjoying your daily posts!

Bud is very lucky to have such a great family all within his immediate reach!

My parents and I have discussed this possibility before, and without a very large house - with separate living space - it just wouldn't work for us.

Anonymous said...

Wow that sounds like a great arrangement. I've tried the autistic son and my Mother in a house approach but there just wasn't enough room. I think space is the key to success.

Wendy said...

We're making plans to hire an architect to draw up plans for a mother-in-law suite. With three sets of parents and one set of grandparents within 20 miles of us, we figure someone will always need to live with us. But sezz is right - space is the key. Bud is lucky to have so much love and support around him 24/7.

Anonymous said...

I so enjoyed this post! Everyone needs a Big Four, whether it comes in the form of a biological family or not. Everyone needs to feel that kind of love and acceptance.

kristina said...

It takes a village, NOS!

MothersVox said...

So glad if my curiousity created some posting traction for you! I am always curious about how people manage all the things that they do.

I actually had about twenty other things to ask you, but got interrupted when a mom from Sweet M's school called to talk to me about an outrageous and egregious use of "responsibility room." I think we need a responsibility room for a couple of the teachers at her school, but that'a an entire post, not a comment on your blog!

I'll try to think of the other things I was wondering about you, and Family-NOS. m.

Anonymous said...

i LOVE your situation! i know we all thrive when my mom is in town. her house is only a mile or so away and she comes every day. not the same as having her live WITH us but i adore the family connection, the extra pair of eyes watching, celebrating, problem solving, loving!