When I was a young girl in elementary school, my paternal grandparents came to live with us. I don't remember feeling anything odd about this arrangement; it seemed perfectly normal to me. My Grandad told me how much he enjoyed being around his grandkids and their friends, he said we kept him young, and besides, the extended audience meant that his well-worn yarns never grew old. We'd watch western movies with him, talk around the dinner table, and when he became ill we sat beside his bed and told him stories.
For my siblings and I, Grandad was the keeper of our family's history. His eyes would shine each time he told us about Uncle Tasman, whose grave is marked by a wooden cross at the Prospect Hill Cemetery, Gouy, France. Grandad would bring out 'the box,' reach inside and reveal Uncle Tasy's medals and yellowed postcards written by a youthful soldier; letters asking his father to tell his mother 'not to worry... he'd be home soon'. These stories, told to me by Grandad, in the endearing raw Australian quality reminiscent of author, A.B. Facey, have been carried with pride on to my children.
My two sons now live with their paternal Grandmother in Los Angeles, and for this I am eternally grateful. They have both become what used to be the norm in L.A.: commuter students, driving hours on freeways to get to university classes. At first, members of our extended family seemed a little wary about this idea. Would it be too much stress for Grandma?
For my sons, I've no doubt that when the topic of where they live comes up in conversation with their classmates, the words, 'with Grandma' isn't exactly what they had envisioned saying in their 20's.
Over the past few years, my sons have watched more episodes of Dancing With The Stars than they ever thought possible. They've chauffeured their beloved Grandma on Target and supermarket runs, held back on their political views, and acted as guinea-pigs on many a recipe, but what they've received in return is gold.
They live under Grandma's roof and that means her rules apply. In many ways, it seems easier for grandchildren to take heed of their grandparents rather than their parents. I would never have dared spoken back to my grandparents, I did, however, like most young adults, push boundaries with my parents.
I enjoy hearing stories from my mother-in-law and my sons, of wisdom and youth living under the same roof, without parental pressure. My sons say that if they ever run out of supplies Grandma pretty much has everything, and if it's not in the house then look in the garage! They're grateful they live with such a dear lady, and for how much she cares about them.
When I asked my mother-in-law for a quote about living with grandkids, this was her reply.
"This morning, when I woke up, I could hear my grand-daughter and grand-sons laughing together in the living room. I love to hear that sound. Having the kids around puts a smile on my face and keeps me young. I love it."
Just as my grandfather shared stories of our convict history and fallen loved ones on distant shores, similarly, my mother-in-law shares her family's stories with my sons; moments from her brother's life as a POW during the WWII, growing up in Pittsburgh, and relocating to Los Angeles in the 1940's.
I'm grateful that my son's lives are focused around family. In my youth, I listened to Grandad's words of advice, and heeded his warnings. But what I miss more than anything are his stories and how he made me laugh. We are each our own person, but our family stories are part of who we are.
My sons and mother-in-law share the same sense of love and respect for each other. But the magic word is 'community.' In many ways, the shift to living with family members and extended communities is brought on by economic stress. It would be foolish to think that living within a community comes free, and living with family is no different. It takes work, respect, and patience. But the payoff is well worth the price of admittance. Perhaps Princess Dianna said it best.
"Family is the most important thing in the world."