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The baby — her face smeared with pureed peas, carrots and onions — squeals as Sunny, our rescue dog, scurries around the high chair, hoping the child will throw more scraps to the floor. On a chair at the dining table, our daughter tries valiantly to get food into her baby’s mouth. She chats with her college-student husband, who tonight has cooked a savory pasta dish, about her job as a law clerk. The couple’s cat, Hermes, pads across the printer on the countertop, ignoring the dog’s antics below. Across the table, my wife relates the events of her day caring for our granddaughter, which can be exhausting but feeds her soul. And me? Eating ziti with meatballs and marinara, I beam.
As empty nesters, my wife and I missed our crowded table. Now we’ve got that back, and much more, in this house of multigenerational madness.
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Last year, after 35 years of marriage, we downsized from a 3,000-square-foot home in Knoxville, Tennessee, into half of a 2,200-square-foot house in the Philadelphia suburbs. With our 31-year-old daughter (who’s shy about using her family’s names in an article), my son-in-law and our granddaughter, we’re living a grand experiment in our 60s — something others our age either seem to dream about or dread.
As it happens, we are trending. According to the Pew Research Center, nearly 60 million Americans reside in households of two or more generations of adults. This is a record 18 percent of the U.S. population (thanks in no small part to young people moving home during the pandemic). It’s particularly true for Hispanics, Asian Americans and others for whom living in multigenerational groups is traditional.
My wife and I reared our three daughters in East Tennessee, where we had moved for work in the ’80s. The cost of living is low, and the state is gorgeous; we frequently visited the nearby Great Smoky Mountains National Park. With a houseful of accumulated stuff, the inertia was intense. But we missed our kids, who’d gone to college, married and eventually decamped to Chicago, Connecticut and Philly. When our youngest daughter and her husband offered to cohabit, we uprooted our lives and moved 600 miles north.
To downsize, we held a giveaway, announced on Facebook. We put some possessions in the driveway and posted. Within minutes, people arrived with trailers and hauled off whatever they could. We’ve never missed the stuff we gave away, threw into a rented dumpster, sold or recycled. Most of what we had in our home turned out to be unnecessary to our lives: We’re far happier with fewer things.