I have a big task before me. I have to learn a whole new way of living. From now on, I do not need to buy enough food to provision a small army on a weekly basis. I won’t need to chase around the house trying to locate enough plates to feed said army at every mealtime. We won’t be tripping over piles of muddy boots in every doorway, or surveying the massive washing mountain with dismay. Yes, DS2 and his long-term girlfriend have moved out. It’s just us and the two girls under this roof full-time now, and DS3 back for the holidays. It’s going to seem very quiet…
They’ve moved into a bright, warm house shared with another young couple, for whom he was Best Man back last summer. They all seem to rub along very well together and three out of the four are offspring of big families, which means they know the ropes when it comes to the inevitable times when tempers flash, and how to let things simmer down again. And whilst he may have pushed the boundaries & got away with blue murder on the tidiness front here at home, I don’t doubt that he, like his two brothers before him, will somehow manage to be reasonably civilised when the chips are down. He may not always have obeyed them, but he knows perfectly well what the rules of civilised living are. And I expect Madam will keep him in order anyway; I have every respect for her managerial capabilities! It’s a shame they can’t yet afford a decent roof over each couple’s heads, but they are getting far more for their money by sharing; instead of a cramped little studio flat over a shop with no garden, no parking and a kitchen that would be better described as a cupboard (which they would be stretching themselves to the very limit to afford, round here) they are in a very pleasant 4-bedroom house with a lovely, big, well-designed kitchen, a pretty & practical garden, parking and a garage. So they can have friends over to stay, space for their musical instruments, and room for money-saving devices like a chest freezer. It’s an ideal compromise, if such a thing exists. It may not last very long, as the house is on the market to be sold, but fingers crossed they will have long enough to find somewhere similar, if the arrangement suits all concerned.
I suspect that energy, resource and financial constraints may mean that the days of the nuclear family in their little suburban home are limited, anyway, and we need to look for and accept a range of different solutions if we’re not to develop tent cities or shanty towns; people need homes but simply can’t afford them on average wages round here, where the jet set meet in summer to play polo on the beach. Multi-generation living is one of those solutions, as is house-sharing, taking in (or being) lodgers, or even communal living. All of these, to some extent, have always gone on quietly in the background; several members of my family back in the 1800s were named after a lodger, who one daughter/sister had married, and one of my own brothers still carries that name. When we moved here, there were two dear old ladies, ex-missionaries, house-sharing around the corner, which was quite a common set-up for those who had never married, and often worked very well, with none of the smutty innuendo that people attach to such an idea now. And I can see that the idea of a “companion” was a very good solution for older people who didn’t want to leave their homes & gardens to go into residential care or tiny “sheltered” flatlets, and a younger person who didn’t earn enough to afford a roof over their own head, or might not have wanted to live alone. In medieval times, very few people lived in nuclear families; you were part of your master’s household, if an apprentice or a servant, or a monastery/convent (not all inhabitants were religious; less than half might have taken vows, in most cases) once past childhood. And in your turn, you would shelter an assortment of other people’s teens or other waifs & strays, as you achieved masterly status yourself. And harems are an example of communal living, though not one that most of us would find acceptable, but life in one might have been better than for a young Victorian servant girl the master took a fancy to.
What seems normal to us would seem extraordinary to people elsewhere in the world or living at another time; and one day our current living arrangements might well cause incredulity & laughter to our descendants. And different solutions will suit different people. But it’s not just people; as DS2 leaves us, we have gained a new four-legged family member. The feral cat we’ve been feeding for the last year has finally decided to come indoors. And very polite & unassuming he/she is being about it, too; the resident moggies haven’t objected at all so far, not even when it turned up for breakfast with them this morning. It’s played a very long game, and clearly isn’t taking anything for granted; we still don’t even know whether it’s a him or a her! But it has evidently decided that this is home, and we are its people, and it will tolerate our eccentricities like wishing to brush it, as long as there’s food in the bowl & a blanket in a box to sleep on. It remains to be seen whether it’ll be any cheaper to run than an energetic & lively 24 year-old and his young lady!