Gathering the Family: Where We Live Is Everything

It's an old house, but it's new to them. It's a small house for the street, but it feels big to us. And most importantly, it's close to my house in the beautiful neighborhood where I chose to start my own family, a better neighborhood than any I've ever lived in before. Welcome to my parents' American dream house.

A good human habitat isn't just about the house itself but about location and environment. My parents now have the best neighbor of all: nature. The backyard leads to a forested park. You can see the river from the master bedroom and family room windows. Wild turkeys and herds of deer hang out in the yard. Possums gobble up the ticks, birds sing in the branches, and foxes occasionally appear. Living under trees and near flowing water is so good for humans (like other animals) that walking through natural areas is prescribed as medical treatment in some countries. And in others, spending time in nature is like, well, breathing air.

I'm loving these green walls, bringing the outdoors vibe inside. My mother chose this light and cheerful color. I like it a lot, and--because I am a different person than my mother--I'm feeling inspired to paint my own dining room a different, deep, mossy shade of green.

This big, beautiful wood-burning hearth is viscerally satisfying. Mmm, the smoky flavor of luxurious winter survival!

A three-seasons room allows for panoramic views of nature and fresh air during all the mosquito seasons.

There is a whole upstairs (!!!) room with a picture window where my dad can play his piano. There is nothing like playing and listening to live acoustic music, and now they can have it at home anytime--without venturing down into a cold, dark basement. (The large finished basement is a great space for, say, a ninth birthday party, though!)

My daughter calls this a "walk-in" closet because, well, you can walk into it, as my mother is demonstrating. Fancy! This is the "granddaughter's room," apparently. It is larger than my daughter's bedroom in her own house, which really is kinda fancy.

The best thing about this house is its ability to host family gatherings and fun with friends. We'll celebrate Thanksgiving and Christmas and my daughter's ninth birthday here, and I am so excited. My parents have always been warm and thoughtful hosts, and now they can entertain in style.

My family is part of a larger trend (at least in my acquaintance) of pulling the generations of our families closer together. It's funny, because I still remember the thrill of getting as far away from my family as possible as a young adult (college! study abroad! internships! travel just for fun to places my parents have never been!), which is a natural part of growing up. But so is circling back. And in this particular moment in history, and at this stage in my life, it feels right to be close together again.

Grandparents stay healthier and live longer when they help care for grandchildren; parents get relief; and kids are in absolute heaven at their grandparents' house. At least, that's the idea!

This shouldn't be shocking, but the extent of it surprises me every time: that strong interpersonal relationships are, for Millennials and Boomers and everyone else, far more important to overall health than health-related lifestyle choices or access to medical care. So much more important. It's mind-blowing how big this is and how little attention is paid to the importance of meaningful connection. Yes, my parents (and the rest of us) need medical care. Yes, we should follow well-known advice on smoking, drinking, exercise, and eating. But far more importantly, we need to be near each other and care for each other emotionally.

It's also sad but true that America lacks quality care for our children and our elderly. Many Americans believe that care-giving should be provided by family rather than the state, but the truth is that we aren't able to come through on those values. Big families are a relic of the past for the most part, and working-age people tend to be stretched too thin. But living close to as many supportive family members as possible helps a lot.

Families and social support systems can be built in all sorts of ways, not just genetically. There are national trends in co-housing for people who wouldn't be healthiest living alone (which, honestly, is almost everyone) including young families and the elderly without adult children nearby. And there's nothing like a good neighborhood, where people look out for each other and open their doors to each other. I'm grateful during this schmoopy and, yes, propaganda-riddled season of Thanksgiving that I have a healthy and friendly place to live, which I now share with multiple generations of my family--and that my parents can do all the party hosting from now on!

Happy Thanksgiving! If you don't have the good fortune of having non-toxic family to visit this year, get thee to your nearest interfaith (or tradition of your choice) Thanksgiving public event, or volunteer to provide a warm and nourishing holiday for others in need. The benefits of volunteering are even greater for those who give than for those who only receive the help.


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