Cutting A Hole In Your Fence

I’m going to brag.

We pulled it off. That dream where your siblings or friends live in the same cul-de-sac and the kids just go back and forth to their cousins’ house. Built-in babysitting for impromptu date nights or even a night away.

My wife’s sister and her family moved into the house behind us 2 months ago. We cut a gap in the fence between the properties and my brother-in-law strung lights across the path (we get coyotes so the kids get extra-nervous traversing at night…we keep a box of small animal bones we find in the yard which reminds me I need to order one of these).

We are 2 families of 4 plus grandma who lives in an ADU at our house. The kids are 6, 9, 11, 13. The 3 younger ones walk to school together every day. The oldest is the only girl and despite her interests maturing quickly, the kids are thick as thieves. Any pair of them gets along great.

The arrangement comes with some costs. We all rent so there’s always the sword of displacement hanging over our heads. And renting in general doesn’t sit well with everyone (although I love it and it would take something really special to make me want to own again— I have zero interest in spending mindshare on my house). But the trade-off is worth it.

Just this week, we had 2 large family dinners next door plus a big Super Bowl party. The kids’ friends were around a lot, staying over for dinner, playing basketball in the driveways. There were 2 cousin sleepovers and on one night when Yinh had to catch up on work late into the evening, I just stayed up chatting with my in-laws until midnight (thanks for that you guys— we had some tragic news in our community this week, and it was helpful to have people to talk to IRL).

My brother-in-law has a home gym in a shipping container that’s on the property. I can pop over for a workout midday. He and our other friend/neighbor train together 3 mornings a week. And the meal plan situation should make you hate me. Grandma and my bro love to cook and will prepare dinner for everyone.

It has felt like a lucky plot twist. We sold our house over 2 years ago and explored moving to a lower-cost-of-living state. But like a couple that takes a break and realizes that the grass is not greener, we came back with a renewed commitment to where we live. Everywhere has warts. The only one that bothers us here is the cost of living. So we sat down and thought about our priorities hard. “Emotionally” moving (I mean we were serious — we bought a house in Texas and scratched the trade a year later after changing our minds) and coming back is an expensive but effective way to examine your priorities. But the price of information about ourselves has been an absolute bargain.

Leaning into our lives here and not wondering about “what could be” elsewhere, is incredibly liberating. It gave our in-laws the confidence to take the giant step of moving from the city to live near us. As adults neither my brother nor sister here has lived anywhere except SF — they still can’t believe it gets to the 30s at night out in the ‘burbs. It made investing time and money in our social club a no-brainer (I’ll eventually do an update about that — we are nearly 70 members now…the roster of events promoting togetherness and personal growth is taking shape and it’s a project I’m excited about and proud to be a part of. It also takes a village and I could see potentially writing a guide or blueprint for how to make this happen in other communities, but for now, we are still very much learning as it comes along).

Enough gloating.

I’m gonna do that thing where I take the concentrated dose of blue meth satisfaction and cut it so everyone can get a taste. I’ll generalize the lesson. Because that demonstrates the point: Community underpins all of this. It’s social bonds. It’s a reminder that the original social media was not just a performance for onlookers disguised as a conversation. It was touch. It was sharing. It was cooking for each other and helping each other’s kids out. But mostly, when you get to the heart of it – it’s being seriously invested in one another. If my in-laws are not well, I’m not well. Lives are meant to be interlocked. It’s a vulnerability for sure.

But is winning by yourself actually winning?

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