I’m the youngest of ten children. I’ve been continually surrounded by a symphony of people, each with their own unique expression on the earth, like flavors in an ice cream shop, dizzyingly delightful, sometimes scary. I like it like that—the raw material of life that makes a certain sense when you look at it from far away. Like an impressionist painting—at close range, a confusing smattering of blotches and smears, but from a distance, when you scrunch up your eyes and blur them, the image is breathtaking, ingenious.
My Brothers and Sisters, minus the eldest.
The sound of pots and pans clanging in the kitchen, water running through the pipes, voices of loved ones in the distance is the music of life in motion, conversing, arguing, learning, creating, struggling growing, and loving. Here, in my home filled with friends and family, I am certain of something. That life simply is.
I’m in my 40s now. My brothers and sisters all have their own lives. My parents have passed on. I am divorced with two kids, and I finally have the opportunity to create another family to travel along with my children and me and to be of service to. It’s taken me this long to figure out that I don’t have to go through life alone as a single parent, and I don’t want to. I can choose to surround myself with people who like who I am, who believe in my life purpose and who challenge me to live it out; who are willing to let me be imperfect and are willing to be imperfect too.
A wonderfully strange twist of fate dropped just the right mix of people into my life to be my new family—the family of my choosing. After my divorce, I was alone for the first time ever. [And I loved it!] I spent time getting to know myself and started to truly value who I am. I dated a bit and within a couple years, settled into a new and very different relationship with my now fiancé, Timothy.
During a time when he and I had stopped dating, I got a roommate, Kat, who, with her eleven-year-old son, rents the downstairs floor. She’s a nurse, a single mom, and a woman of piercing insight and deep spirituality. I didn’t realized it at the time we agreed to be roommates, but she turned out to be an amazing friend and confidante. A short time later, when Timothy and I reunited, he slowly, gingerly moved back in with his kids. Now, we three share my six-bedroom house with our five boys.
Very quickly, we realized we had a well-functioning combination of kids, schedules, and personalities. And magic happened. We were happy. Each of us began to feel a deep contentment with our lives—even the struggles were more fun and enlivening. Combining our resources—both mental and physical—we became more than the sum of our parts.
A few months later, one of my two dearest friends from California visited and, seeing how we worked together, decided to relocate here. Alexis moved in three doors down with her ex-husband Todd, their two children, and her boyfriend Dave who drops in and out. Shortly after that, my former nanny, Corina started working for Alexis as her executive assistant and also moved in with her (Hooray!)
Alexis and I have another friend from California, Joanne, who also landed permanently in the area, not too far away. Each of the three of us, who had been married when we met ten years ago, had since divorced or separated. Joanne lives about 15 miles away with her two boys—longtime friends of my and Alexis’ children. Joanne’s husband bi-locates between here and Los Angeles.
Between nine adults, we have nine children, three dogs, three cats (not mine), and various small animals and fish and five ex-spouses; one very present grandpa as well as a handful of other grandparents who visit often and offer their wealth of life experience.
Yes, that’s right.
The question you’re asking is, “Is that a commune or what?”
Well, I suppose you could call it that, but we don’t, mainly because the word “commune” is loaded with baggage. We refer to it as “living in community,” and we all sense that the way of living we’d stumbled on is the way humans will have to live in the future to prosper and be truly alive. Had it been more acceptable in the 60s, without so much of the “commune” baggage, I think more people would have opted in.
The next question that might have popped into your head is, “Why on earth would you want to do that?”
Because it’s easier. Plain and simple.
Life is easier when people support you—people who understand you, who care about you, and who want to help you thrive. Thrive, not just survive, though that’s terrific too. What’s so remarkable about our community is each person’s unstated agreement to contribute to the whole. There are no slackers here, no hangers-on, no free riders.
Everyone works or is working on their advancement in some way. Everyone contributes of their time, their finances, and their talents in whatever combination they are most able. Yet, no one has been asked to make a commitment for any particular thing (except housing expenses and that without written agreements, which for two lawyers should shout, “Danger, Will Robinson!”) Each adult puts in whatever they can at any particular moment to logistics and operations.
If a child has to be home sick, there is usually someone around to stay home with them to minimize the impact on that parent’s work. If someone needs an ingredient, one of the houses probably has it. If someone can’t get their kids to soccer, someone else can.
Each adult has a relationship with each child and some are closer than others. The kids have some adult they can play, talk, be vulnerable with. Each child has someone other than a parent to help with homework resulting in a giant reduction in homework drama.
We cook for each other, a meal a week, which alone is a giant blessing because each person only has to cook once and that meal can be as elaborate or simple as the chef wishes. As it turns out, we all enjoy cooking more and create make more extensive menus. We have all week to figure out what to make and can put some real effort into it. Each person is nourished inside and out in a way we could not be alone.
Consequently, we can all ease up a little and enjoy our children more. We avoid being the helicopter parent because there are other people to tend to and the children see that each person is vital to the whole. When working on our relationships with our ex-spouses, we rely on each other to keep us real and in control. When confronting our own feelings of inadequacy or fear, we help each other see a better reflection of ourselves.
What greater lesson in life is there than learning to live together, resolve conflict, cooperate, grow, thrive, and love?
Next Up: Part II. How does it work and why?