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When a woman friend in her 70s made the decision to sell her house and buy one in another town to share with two adult children, her neighbor was shocked.
“Oh no, Sonja,” he said, “They have a pill for that!”
Her neighbor’s reaction isn’t so surprising. Only recently is intergenerational living gradually becoming more popular in the United States — more popular than it has been for a very long time. Living with children and grandchildren was once the norm, especially in rural areas. Then trends changed and more seniors chose to downsize, get help in their homes or move into independent/assisted living establishments. Now the tide is turning again and the generations are more likely to make plans to live together or adjacent to each other in a variety of configurations. One thing for certain: A single size does not fit all.
Roy and Evie Hoeven-Arterburn are in their early 80s, and in the last few years Roy experienced enough significant health issues that they had begun looking at options. Roy loved his garden where he raised flowers and vegetables with a view of Terry Lake in the background. Their home was light and spacious and they’d put time and effort into making it feel just right for them. But it had become too much to manage.
Both lost their first spouses and met through a newcomers golf group 15 years ago. Their blended family includes six children and 15 grandchildren, nine of them living in the area. Their home in Terry Shores north of Fort Collins was the scene of many a family gathering and holiday gala.
While they were still in the “What shall we do?” phase, they were presented with an opportunity. Matt Hoeven, Evie’s, youngest son and his wife, Dani Grant, parents of three teenage daughters, approached the Arterburns with a possibility. Would the Arterburns consider moving into a “mother-in-law” addition, planned but not yet built onto their present house in nearby Waverly?
That was when Evie realized how hard, in fact impossible, it would be for her to leave the lake. She could not imagine herself away from the neighborhood where she’d lived for 48 years and that held so many poignant memories of Chip, a son who died years ago in an accident, and her first husband, Jim. They had to say no.
Matt grew up on Terry Lake and had always had a yearning to live there again one day. After giving it some thought, a new plan emerged. Matt and Dani offered to buy the Arterburns’ house, remodel it to meet their family’s needs, and add on an attached living space for Evie and Roy.
“Let’s do this now, before it becomes a critical situation,” Dani said. That was two years ago.
Remodeling, which included gutting most of the main floor and constructing bedrooms and bathrooms for each of the girls on the lower level plus a roomy addition for the Arterburns, has been underway for months.
“It’s more than a home, it is Matt’s eco-friendly work of art,” Evie says describing the beetle kill wood, radiant hot water heat and solar panels. The plan is to be moved in by Christmas.
Evie visits the site almost daily and true to her outspoken personality, has a suggestion or two, some of which Matt is happy to comply with. Others he doesn’t. “I don’t care as much about these little things as I do about our relationship,” Evie says. “Arguing about them isn’t worth it.”
Matt caved on the skylight Evie insisted upon in her bathroom. It’s being installed. The architecturally designed carport isn’t what Roy and Evie would have chosen, but there it is. Evie gave up a a sculpture studio to accommodate solar equipment. Roy loves to read and got his way when he insisted that their section of the house be soundproofed. It also has a private entrance and a small kitchen.
Compromise. Loss of a degree of independence. The need to shed possessions and then shed some more. “How do you create ‘cozy’ with contemporary furniture?” Evie asks. These things are all a part of the process for the Arterburns. But Evie is grateful for this rare opportunity to interact daily with her three granddaughters, to share her skills with them.
She has fond memories of growing up in a home she shared with three grandparents. She looks forward to watching old movies with the girls and critiquing their theatrical performances. Evie’s an artist, art teacher, tennis player and coach and amazing seamstress. Tennis is her life-long passion, one she has passed on to her whole family. No doubt the girls will benefit from access to the wealth of tips and strategies she has to share.
After a short stint in a senior living center during the remodeling process, Evie knew that she’d not be a good fit, in fact she called herself an inmate. “I missed about half the meals we’d paid for and I kept getting locked out because I wasn’t home in time at night.”
Roy was more comfortable in that atmosphere, but Evie could not thrive there though she loved and appreciated the young employees who she observed were so kind to the residents.
Dani looks forward to living with the Arterburns. She has a deep love and respect for her mother-in-law. “If Matt and I ever part, I get Evie,” she says. She wants them to feel that they are living together as a single unit, that the kitchen is the Arterburns as much as it is theirs. (Roy is a master cook.) She admits that right now, there are many unknowns and she’s fine with that.
She believes the details of living together will work themselves out over time. She sees this move as a learning experience for her children. How often will they eat together? How will the grocery shopping go? How will it be when the Arterburns want to entertain their friends? How will they blend their decorating styles — contemporary versus traditional? What will it be like when Dani and Matt have the occasional “heated discussion?”
Roy has measured each piece of the furniture that will go into their new place by the square inch to make sure it will fit. The Hoevens will load up a moving van and wing it, tossing out what doesn’t work as they need to.
Together the two couples have been smart about setting up the financial structure ahead of time so as to avoid any future hassles with inheritance issues. “We never wanted it to appear as if we were taking over their house,” Dani said.
It should be said that a project as extensive as this one, that meets the needs of all the family members, could only happen when there are sufficient funds to make it doable.
The Hoeven girls look forward to being closer to cousins who live in the neighborhood, “interior decorating” their own rooms and hanging out with their grandmother, already an important part of their lives. “I feel lucky to be loved and accepted into this family group,” Roy says. The granddaughters look forward to talking politics with him — explaining their liberal outlook and maybe even changing his mind a little.
If all goes as planned, Christmas 2015 will find grandparents, parents and grandchildren gathered around a festive table in a familiar spot to celebrate the beginning of a new adventure.