Monday, January 29, 2007


"We have now had several generations growing up with either missing parents or well-meaning but “barely-there” parents. A lot of what we learn regarding intimacy we learn from Mom and Dad and Grandma. If they’re barely in the picture, from whom will we learn it?"

--The Anchoress

I grew up in an average- sized 1950's suburban house. Three bedrooms. One bathroom. A living room with a dining "L". A medium-sized kitchen. Two car garage.

The house was bigger than the homes either of my parents had grown up in. And it seemed plenty big when they bought it--for the three of us.

Twelve years later, there were eight of us living in that same house. I got used to getting up at 6:00 a.m. so I could have a half-hour alone in the bathroom before high school. I learned to do my homework despite the television, radio, chatter of younger siblings. I became somewhat territorial, somewhat fanatic about "my" things and asking permission to use them.

Sharing a dorm room and a bathroom on the floor was a snap after that.

When my dad was dying, the hospice worker asked my parents if there were any unresolved issues, anyone in the family that needed to make peace with another. My parents couldn't think of anything. Mom called and asked each of us. We couldn't think of any issues, either. The hospice worker was quite surprised. How could a family of eight strong-willed individuals get along so well?

When I was pregnant with DD#1, Hubs and I looked for a larger home. Our requirements were simple: he wanted a garage and a fireplace, I wanted three bedrooms (minimum) and two bathrooms. We found our house. It met our minimum requirements. Although the kitchen is tiny (I can't open the oven door and the dishwasher door), there is a family room. And the backyard has an amazing view. We proceeded to have two more children. Everyone shares a bedroom. The cars haven't seen the inside of the garage for fifteen years. The "living room" is the computer/study room. The dining "L" is the craft area.

I complained to my mother one day about how crowded we were. She pointed out there were two less people in more square footage than in the house where I grew up.

But my children, despite the gaps in their ages, are really close to one another. There are fights over possessions, there are complaints that the older two are "bossy" and that Hubs and I "spoil" the younger two. But they buy each other gifts with their own money, gifts that reflect the interests of their sibling. They know each other, intimately. DD#1 spends an hour helping DD#2 primp for a holiday dance, suggesting outfits, fixing her hair, applying just the right amount of make-up for a 13-y.o. DS#1 will spend thirty minutes explaining a math concept or a chemistry concept to DS#2. DS#2 will practice his Spanish with DD#2, who will make spaghetti for the family for dinner from a recipe DD#1 has taught her.

They come along for family parties and they come for important events, like graduations and christenings and my dad's Anniversary Mass.

Why are we so close?

My guess is because we are so close physically. There is, quite literally, no where to hide in this house.

Lack of privacy can be a problem. Hubs has to get up early, so he's often in bed before the adult children are. And the TV in the family room echoes up the stairs. The master bathroom has the only shower. DS#1 is easily distracted; to study he leaves the house for the library or a friend's home or even studies in the car.

But it's impossible not to know what's going on. They share music. They share anime shows. They share movies. They share discussions about the sacred and the mundane, the intellectual and the crude.

Long ago, a friend of mine pointed out that the British Parliament building was severely damaged during WWII. The British could have made the building larger, so that each MP had more room. Instead, they rebuilt it the original specifications. They felt that this forced an intimacy among the MPs. They could not hide from nor ignore their co-workers. They had to work together.

I often wonder, as I look at the new houses in my area, if the British weren't on to something. Homes are getting bigger as families are getting smaller. Days can go by where families don't have to interact--especially as the children move into high school and become more independent. With TVs and computers in every room, with iPODS and headsets locked firmly into ears, with everyone having their own phone, it's easy to lose the sense of "family." It's almost like the office--every worker ensconced in his or her own cubicle, moving to their own beat.

Families are messy, emotionally, often physically. It's where we learn how to live with other people, how to take care of not only our "stuff", but the stuff of others as well. Where we practice sharing and consideration. (Emphasis on the word practice here.) Isolating ourselves from each other physically limits our opportunities to interact, to learn.

And perhaps that is causing the increased isolation young people seem to be feeling.

Updated and bumped up.