Self-portrait: After the Thanksgiving feast, Berkeley, CA.

The above scene is the dining room at my brother-in-law’s,  also effectively known as my back yard. Of interest to no one except my cat, who can’t read, is that the critter to my left is Emma, also known as She Who Can’t Stop Raiding My Cat’s Food Supply.

We co-house with my brother-in-law and his family, but in the cheating way, since by now (after 5 or 6 years in the same duplex) we have our own discrete homes on the shared lot. They’re heavy investors in our home, and we share finances and water bills and vehicles and lawn mowers and waffle irons and the gargabe & recycling cans and, up until recently, a phone bill (my brother-in-law’s tweens began to have their own cell phones and the number of accounts just got an eensy bit too much to manage).

We have neatly printed lists, sequenced by general food category and aisle, for our two local grocery stores (the mainstay, Trader Joe’s, and the organical produce source, Berkeley Natural Grocery), and we alternate taking on grocery runs for each household weekly. The cashier usually gapes at the groaning shopping cart (to the brim! every time!) and I have but to say: “Co-housing for the win!” It being Berkeley, they pause a beat, get it, and then tuck into the multi-family haul.

The pièce de résistance?  We swap childcare. They get our kids and we quid pro quo with their kids.  Not every week, and yes, since the boy child in their house has begun to babysit some kids up the street, their childcare needs are lesser and lesser.  But I have to honestly admit that it has been a rare night that Mrs Dad and I have born the typical fiscal brunt of a date night, because we moved heaven and earth to pull off this extended family co-housing thing and we hella reap the rewards with date night childcare. All the true fax about having a lighter footprint on the earth notwitshtanding (and those are core), if you’re a parent, the childcare swap possibilities alone are well worth giving co-housing a long, serious look.

What makes the whole co-housing dealie a bit less cheating, a bit more authentic, is that my old pal of 25+ years bought and lives in the adjacent duplex. So all three households share the same yard, and the same sense of extended enlightened self-interest, and a deep concern for one another’s well-being. Also we share the same butter/ sugar/ eggs/ whatever-it-was-we-forgot-to-stock-in-the-larder.  Also we all stare at the lawn and wonder: will the 13 year-old mow it this week? Or will the old lesbian have to do it again?

I’m the old lesbian, by the way; my old chum and my partner are the other lesbians. Slightly less old than me.  My brother-in-law is the solitary adult (hetero) male, his spouse is the solitary adult (hetero) female. We five grown-ups encircle four kids smack dab inside a big, honkin’, process-happy, self-employed/ self-empowered wolf pack of non-nuclear arse-kicking extended family. They don’t know how good they got it, is our perpetual line. Later, when they’re in therapy, we’ll discover the tidbits we’ve overlooked. Ahem.

Still, at family-gathering times like Thanksgiving, so very much feels so very worthwhile.  We spent the first five years here processing and calculating and negotiating and conceding the bejeepers out of every element of our home lives, wondering, at various enormously stressful milestones: is it worth it?  We each gave up much more than we expected.  And times like this–if it’s not already abundantly evident in the bright, confident shine in our children’s eyes–we know why.


14 thoughts on “Post-prandial”

  1. This is lovely, Polly. What a cool way to live. I read this wishing for a similar sense of connectedness. Love the picture, too. Happy Thanksgiving — in general, and for all of the good you bring to the world.

  2. i so loved reading that description of how you and your family/extended family have creatively come up with a living situation that sounds so ideal. I will you all the best in it’s evolution as the kids grow older, live evolves. It’s inspiration to all of us who are trying to live creatively and amongst family/friends/community!

  3. I’m grateful and honored to share in this grand experiment with you, bro. Thanks for chronicling it so well in gorgeous photo and matching words.

    Yer know it all bro in law.

  4. I love this post. And I love your backyard. I was looking back at some older pictures on my computer and came across shots from the first time I visited Casa LD and the Extended Familial Yard. I have 6 or 7 pictures of you standing on a swing, swinging back and forth. 🙂

  5. I remember fondly our visit to your yard. Our own living situation is nearly the opposite, living on a fairly main street that barely gives us the opportunity to feel like we have a neighborhood, much less a cozy enclave like yours. I’m not complaining, really–we convene with family and friends in our own way and time–but the childcare swapping does sound like a perk.

  6. This is fantastic. I wish we had someone close enough to us (emotionally and geographically) to do this with. Maybe date night would come more often than Halley’s Comet.

  7. All of this, all of this effort, shines forth with your open smile.

    This post here is what we see when we look into your eyes.

    You are special person walking this planet, Polly. I am so lucky to know you.

  8. hi Polly — (Emily from Providence long ago here) This was the perfect post for me today — we are considering (i.e. need to decide asap!) buying a duplex upstairs from friends — who no, have not committed to co-housing just yet 😉 — and while the home itself means giving up a lot, I think the life itself would be great. I just need to reconcile myself to having more of an apartment feel than the house we live in now. Your post is definitely going in my think-tank…such gorgeous wisdom.

  9. This kind of communal living has always been a fantasy of mine. We bought on the same street as several friends but it just hasn’t facilitated the level of community we were hoping for. I like that you guys are intentional about it.

  10. Not all co-housing requires duplexes & assembling your own crew. We live in a formal co-housing community that was built just for this purpose (almost 10 years before I arrived in it). We don’t do shared bills (well, except for our super-cheap radiant floor heat & hot water that is solar w/ gas back-up) or groceries but it is designed for shared resources (like lawnmowers) & living lighter on the land. Most intentional communities have some sort of formal decision making structure (such as consensus) as well.

    Here’s a nationwide directory of formal cohousing communities:

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.