In its inaugural collection of stories this past May, Bonedale | Amplified Magazine began a housing series to explore the various ways locals navigate untraditional housing and living situations in the squeezed market of Carbondale. So far, we have been invited into the lives of two modern day gypsies, a his and a her, choosing to live alternative lifestyles, #vanlife. We also heard from several adults choosing the social, creative and financial benefits of elevated communal living. This month, I share the navigations of a solo-flyer mamma in the Bonedale housing market.
THE FIRST DAYS
Stacks of boxes filled unfamiliar rooms. My tiny daughter was clingy, unsettled in this place that was not our home. At first I tried to make us small, to not disrupt my girlfriend’s home– the power balance of our friendship had shifted in but a moment. Over the first few weeks, as the bed filled with Juniper’s stuffies and plants and sunlight discovered relation in our spaces, Juniper Sprout blossomed. After a year and half of just the two of us, she was so very eager to wake each morning, run upstairs and flirt with my girlfriend. It was gonna be okay <3
It was more than okay. It was ideal.
We were welcome to the run of the house and yard, and oh, so lovely it was– plum and cherry trees. Red and golden raspberries. Apple trees. Beautiful raised veggie beds filled half the back yard and we could plant anything! I cleaned the scragglers from the interior of a pine and Juniper learned to climb trees, do flips on the trampoline.
We had all gathered at my former home for years on a weekly basis– Hump Day barbecues, welcome to all throughout summers. Thursday Soup n’ a Movie nights after skiing all day in the winters. Here, in our new shared home, many of the same faces gathered, and several new– but in a startling configuration: my girlfriend sat next to her boyfriend. Her ex-husband sat between their two daughters. His son from anotha’ mother sat shyly across from us, next to said mom…all around a circle of wood, cloth, food and wine. As Juniper went back and forth between her two homes, she would also absorb a new definition of Family.
We might not get to choose what life throws at us, but we do have choice around how we manage ourselves in it.
I watch some divorced parents stretch themselves across the rock trying to hang on to former lifestyles. Legal debt, mortgages, new outrageous rents or changes in employment fuck shit up. There’s no other way to put it. Divorce can strip a soul of every shred we’d clothed ourselves in to define who we wanted to be…and then toss us naked into the town square. Of course we want to hide in a hole– er, house– of our own, lick our wounds and rebuild in privacy (isolation).
If I could give advice to any friend considering new family configurations, choose to live with another family.
Parents cringe at the idea of giving up privacy. I promise, you can still walk around naked, just not at your regular hours! No, you can’t drown your divorce sorrows in wine every night; friends will call you out. Yes, you hear feet on the floor, but yes, they hear you, too. And, oh, pooping is a new experience; get over it. There are other reasons adults resist, of course, but this one causes more chuckling than most.
Yeah, we get exposed living with other people.
The flip side of that, though, is that I’ve had the support of what has felt to be an extended family. Amid a family crisis they suffered, we had to move from my girlfriend’s home to make room for her own family. Despite my emotional upheaval– where the hell will I go in this rental market?!– it was actually seamless. Because of all those shared moments with their extended family, the ex-husband, also a single father, invited us to move in with him– “There’s no reason for me to rattle around in a five bedroom house alone, when you girls could be here.”
And so it began again: rooms filled with boxes, moving into another’s space, feeling the need to be invisible. Worried about living with men we didn’t know well, and a young boy.
All mental head shit. Worry. Fear– pointless.
He invited us. We were welcome. I’ve learned to poop where everyone can most likely hear and smell me. That’s pretty dang exposed 😀
Solo parenting is thing unto itself that nothing in our culture prepares us for. And as you navigate its hits ‘nd bumps, it’s easy to say “Fuck this! I never chose this!” It’s easy to blame divorce and single parenting for everything. But the reality is, married parents hit road blocks too. Life is just full of challenges. Sharing a home as co-family units, not only do you jump hurdles in a single bound or two, you do it with an audience.
I say, Can I get a witness?!
Juniper is not an easy or early riser. We battled the clock.
Every. Single. Morning.
With Dave and Dale and Forrest in the kitchen too, I became much more aware of our family circus than I would have living alone as a single mom. Yes, I had an audience. A sweet, loving, gentle peanut gallery that through word and gesture, let me find a new rhythm with Juniper, changing our mornings forever.
Watching their laid back, been there, done that style, I realized I was stuck in proving my Good Momminess to the world, getting my child to elementary school on time every day, worried about what the school thought, with their own critical socio-developmental agenda as well. Watching the fellas tease and flirt with Sprout, craft their friendships, help her along with humor (versus freak) saved our mornings…My housemates “saw” me. I let it in. Our mornings are deliciously memorable these days. We’re winning by our own rules, as crafted by me and buncha guys.
And that’s just the first lesson. They’ve continued to present themselves!
Living with another dad– not another ‘her’ dad, but a guy who has children– in each of her homes, Juniper (and I) derive the benefits of having masculinity around.
When I changed the shocks on my truck, I had a big-daddy shop full of tools. Navigating two break-ups over the years, Dale poured the margs; I had emotional support and a fella’s perspective. As parents of divorce, we have one another to feel things out or sound off. We’re checks and balances with each other.
The relationships between my daughter and these boys is invaluable to her in uncountable ways. She just started hugging Dale last week! She (and he) negotiated the terms of their relationship without me interfering. In the friendship of a 7-year old girl and a 58-year old man, she has learned trust. Boundaries. Courage. Acceptance. This friendship will help lay the foundation for every male relationship she has the rest of her life.
And in sharing a roof and welcoming us into his family, Dale too has chosen a place of vulnerability. We both share front row seats to conflict, challenge, peace and triumph. Ever onward!
We were so very lucky. Twice, I faced losing custody with the loss of our housing, or disrupting her entire life in a forced move to a less expensive state where I could work full-time year around.
Moving in with others, I could stay small, and operate from an ingratiating place of meekness. But the reality is, Dale needs me to be my strongest self to help maintain a wholesome, flourishing household for all of us. In our living situation, whether we are divorced solo flyer parents or simply grown adults in a single-roof, landlord rental situation, we each are called to be our best selves.
And maybe that’s why adults cringe at the thought of living with other adults– “I could never live with someone else!” Rough translation? “I have to deal with someone else’s shit!!”
And perhaps at a deeper level, “They might see who I really am…”
Loneliness is rampant in American society. Families text one another from their separate rooms, or so I’ve heard and witnessed. Why choose solitude?
When I first realized I was to be a single mom, I determined to make the best of it and start with gratitude– not pride: comfort of the ‘Complete’ family unit, fractured. My identity as Significant Other…..R.I.P. Trophy home– gone. Excessive luxury cars and private aviation? Leisure, world travel? Emptier losses, true, and no more.
My first year and half living in my own place was actually very sweet. The community rallied to help me to fill the gaps in our new digs. The parade of friends, new friends, and visitors through our door that year was a dream. For the months I spent in fear of losing ‘my own,’ and the two weeks I spent packing it all up, Hope and Faith played a gnarly frikken game of leap frog with Ego. I had to admit I was loathe to lose my autonomy, my status as head of household.
I would no longer call the shots. Anyone who knows me, knows I’m a force of nature.
Loss has proven my greatest teacher. It kicked the shit out of me but left me wide open to new possibilities.
ECONOMICS AND EMOTIONS
Living with other single parents the last five years has been ideal. Financially, like the three couples in last month’s housing series, my landlord’s willingness to share a home affords me to live a quality of life I could not finance alone: we live on three city lots, with cherry trees, apple trees, abundant shade and moments with wildlife. We have chickens that make me laugh every day and provide clean protein. His hen house and chicken yard afford Juniper raising chicks and learning how to parent– at the age of seven! We have access to ditch water and a gently aging greenhouse; we are welcomed to grow bountiful, organic food. We have shared meals, holidays, vacations and outings. I could do few of these things living on my own.
Living with other single parents the last five years has been emotionally humbling as well. Seeing the kinds of conflict I bring to a household has taught me how perhaps my family of choice failed. That’s big stuff. Historically, the emotional charge I bring to bear on situations has been unfair to everyone around me. Seeing how other people roll, paired with with almost six-figures in counselling over the last decade, I am growing up. I could not do this living alone. Enough said.
I will choose sharing a home every time. Emotional growth is good and that’s what human relationships give me.
AGAIN, THAT “CHANGE” THING.
And everyday I am aware that my housing situation could change in a moment.
Every time I catch myself grumbling, I check myself. Am I working to secure financial solvency? A stabler, more fulfilling career? Can I do MORE every single day to make us welcome in someone else’s household? Am I living my values? Am I recharging self worth?
As long as all of these are Yesses, I am doing my part. That’s ALL I have control over.
In choosing to co-exist with others under one roof, I place myself at risk. So do you, getting in your car. If I lose my housing, I could be fucked, to be sure. But risk is every where, and the benefits– connection, nourishment, support, shared levity, shared parenting to an extent– far outweigh something so nebulous as risk.
I don’t know what tomorrow brings– what if Dale marries and she wants us out? What if his son decides to hate me? What if I die in car crash?
What if? What pointless mind streams. I am going to harvest eggs, some greens. A few cherries. I can’t deal with a What If on an empty stomach~