My daughter-in-law Madison came downstairs last night with the news: Owen, my 4-year-old grandson, wanted Pop Pop to give him a hug and kiss goodnight. Not five minutes had passed since I had hugged and kissed Owen after lying on his bed listening with him as the lovely and talented Angela, “Gran Gran,” had read him ‘The Troll Music’ for a bedtime story.
I wouldn’t have denied the whippersnapper in any case, but since last week I have had all the more reason to cherish such requests: Zach, Madison, Owen and “Emmarie Lyn Baby Sister Chandley” are moving after nearly five months of sharing our home.
The Chandleys departed a rental house in haste shortly after Thanksgiving when its longstanding electrical issues went from annoying to dangerous. We insisted that they temporarily refill our empty nest for safety’s sake, none of us knowing whether the arrangement would last one month or several.
After tripping over toys, tiptoeing through nap times, sharing a kitchen and joining the other adults in manifold adjustments to our routines, I can best sum up the experience as one of the richest, most memorable periods of my life. The proverbial peace and quiet may have been in shorter supply during this season, but shalom (peace, completeness, prosperity, welfare) was abundant.
It is right and proper that the younger portion of the extended family, having benefited from our time under one roof just as we elders did, transition back to their own place. Fortunately for us, the Chandleys will be barely a mile away. I hope that frequently on weekends, Owen and Emmarie will be here to kiss us goodnight and let us tuck them in.
God willing, I will remember with joy until the day I die the pad of Owen’s feet in the morning as he would come downstairs some weekdays to ask two things: “Pop Pop, will you make me Gollum pancakes?” and “Can I play Super Why on your computer?” Homemade pancakes and a few minutes of learning games on pbskids.org – could you say ‘no’ to that request?
I’ll remember life talks with Madison and Zach, and growing closer to my daughter-in-law than I might ever have otherwise. I’ll remember sticky floors, cracker crumbs in unexpected places, watching Emmarie go from barely walking to practically running and listening to her vocabulary sprout as prolifically as the teeth in her mouth.
This time so close together was an unexpected blessing, but through the course of human history such things have been the norm. What seems normal to us today – lots of space in big houses, with members of our extended family living in their own homes whether nearby or far away – is a historical anomaly. It has its conveniences and advantages, to be sure, but privacy and material abundance cannot replace the irreplaceable – family and community in close contact, with all the messiness and richness that brings.
If the prospect of taking relatives into your home, be they older or younger, comes your way, I urge you to consider not just the costs, but to take my word for it that the rewards are bountiful.
In just a few weeks, I’ll be able to go upstairs in the pre-dawn to a spare bedroom where my work clothes hang in a closet, and flip on the light, where today I had to quietly fumble in the dimness for pants and shirt. There will be no possibility that a tousled head, having heard my rustlings, will pop up from one of the two twin beds and tiredly ask if it’s Pop Pop.
I’m going to miss that, rather terribly.