When my dad died at the end of 2019, my mom was thinking of selling her house in Elmhurst and moving to a condo nearby. She and Dad had lived there since 1972. It’s where I grew up and subsequently where our three children spent a good deal of their childhood visiting their grandparents.
Even before Dad was gone, with coffee mugs in our hands, we used to gather around mom and dad’s dining room table and imagine how fun it would be to build a family compound together. My sister Cat was planning to return to Elmhurst to be closer to family, and she was part of it too. All of us enjoy doing things together—cooking, talking books, drinks on the patio with the whole family, Turkey Day poetry slams, Christmas parties with sing alongs…you get the idea.
For a while it was just fun to imagine the “compound,” but when Dad died and the pandemic struck, my husband and I plus my mom and sister decided that we would finally make the idea of a family compound a reality.
A former student-turned-architect of my father’s, who lives down the street from Mom, drew up the plans for our new multigenerational home. My sister sold her house in Alexandria. Bill and I sold our house in Elmhurst. Then we tore down my mom’s house and started construction on what would become the Riddle/Cloud Compound.
Our new house has three suites upstairs, a shared open floor plan on the main floor—including a music room instead of a dining room, an office, and a small sun room—a large basement with a guest bedroom, plus an extra room that is sort of a music studio, unless we need to turn it into another bedroom for one of our kids.
The thing that makes our three-story house doable for my 84-year-old-mom is the elevator. She doesn’t need it yet, but this way, she (and eventually all of us) can age out in this house.
Hearing all this, maybe you’re thinking, as a number of people said to my hubby, “Wow, I could never live with my mother in law.” His response? “You haven’t met Madge.”
Or maybe you’re like others who told us, “That sounds amazing!”
But perhaps most surprisingly are the number of people who upon hearing about our house adventure and visiting our new abode ask, “Can I have one of the rooms in the basement?”
So, what’s it actually like to live in a multigenerational home? Hmm, how to explain.
Well, take today, for example: I can’t have my usual coffee with my mom in the sunroom this morning because she is still feeling bad from Covid, sadly, something I no doubt gave her. Instead, my sister carries the white breakfast tray upstairs to Mom—a cup of coffee along with peanut butter toast, her fave. Bill and I work downstairs—me in our office and him with his laptop at the kitchen island, his preferred work station. Cat settles into her upstairs office as COO for a national non-profit in D.C.
I volunteer to make the beef stew for dinner, Mom’s recipe that we all love. From downstairs, I overhear Mom dictating the recipe to Cat to text to me.
Our dog Sylvie lounges in the family room awaiting her next walk (my turn) and lunch is on our own.
Those of us who are healthy will probably share a glass of wine at 5 PM while Bill heads off to the new music venue in town where he books acts for Wednesday night jazz. Tonight, the Cubs taking on the Padres at Wrigley will buzz in the background on the family room t.v. and later we girls will head off to our own rooms to binge watch our respective shows—Tehran, Conversations with Friends, and the Hallmark channel (don’t ask). Although I just overheard my sister say she’s heading to the jazz show tonight.
As I walk the dog this afternoon, I pass the grade school I attended, just three blocks from our house. That’s the weirdest thing about moving back to the actual lot where you grew up—all the childhood memories. I remember all those walks home from Madison Elementary School, splashing in puddles on rainy days, or, in the early days of spring, picking a lilac from the fragrant tree on the corner house. I always had such a good feeling as I walked toward home.
I think about that as I walk Sylvie the last block toward our new home. I’m still filled with that good feeling.
So that’s what today is like. Pretty ordinary, but kind of extraordinary, too. I hope many of you will get to visit our new “compound.” We look forward to having you. And if you want to add your name to the waitlist for the basement bedroom, just let me know.