Tuesday, March 11, 2008

"And Some Kind of Help..."

“And Some Kind of Help, Is the Kind of Help, that Helping’s All About”

I loved, loved, loved Free to Be You and Me as a kid (yes, doesn’t that just explain so much?). One of the more prominent themes in it is that we should get past our stereotypes and rampant individualism enough to help each other out. But do we?

Over the last few months, many of the people in my immediate circles (myself included) have needed help – help with jobs, help with houses, help with mental health, help with transportation, etc. Watching this, I’ve been struck by how hard it has been for folks (again, myself included) to actually ask for help. We seem to assume that we shouldn’t ask, that we should do for ourselves, and, maybe, that our friends won’t want to pitch in.

But what I have witnessed is that people will do for each other. What keeps us from asking is our own fear that we are “imposing” or asking “too much.” It isn’t that big a deal for me to watch other people’s kids, yet I seem to think it is a huge deal for them to watch mine. I’ll toddle over to help a friend move some furniture, but I won’t call for help when I need some moral support after my garbage disposal has exploded.

With my most recent household project, however, I did put out a minor call for help and I got plenty. The job of stripping wallpaper seemed overwhelming to me – I was responsible for how long the kitchen was off-line, I had to choose the paint color, etc. – but, really, it was not that big a deal for those who helped – a few hours of their time but hours that included socializing, food, and beer.

All of this only reinforces my desire for a “compound” – a group of folks all living in close proximity who function more like family (in other words, people to whom you feel mutual responsibility) than merely “friends” or “neighbors” who are either physically not around when you need them or are around but only by accident rather than by design. I want people to whom I can go for help without a second thought. I do want my own space, mind you, but I would also be delighted to come home and find S or S or A or A or several other people drinking coffee in my (our?) kitchen. I would love for my kids to have 4 or 5 houses whose back doors were always open to them. I would love to go to the store for milk and buy for 15 people instead of 4. I would love to know that as I’m wrangling with all the sucky decisions that come with being a grown-up there is not just one person invested in my thought processes, but many. We seem to too often make things more complicated than they need to be. Why does every house on my block have a lawn mower? Why can’t I go out while my children are sleeping even though there are adults at home 10’ away from their bedroom window (but in a different house)? Why do I have to figure things out all on my own?

Admittedly, I’m a bit stuck on how to move out of my nuclear family, 1950s brick ranch house existence to this other model, but my want is real, it is on-going, it is large…


Murph. said...

Sounds like you need some Cohousing!

I lived in A2's student co-ops for about 5 years, then a group of 10 or so branched out and rented a house for a year for a smaller co-op of our own. Even when we bought a house and moved to Ypsi, my sister-in-law came with us. It's only in the last month or so, since she moved to Grand Rapids, that we live "nuclear". It's weird.

I really lust after some good, urban co-housing - 'cuz, post-student co-ops, you really need your own space that you have ultimate control over, but it's still nice to have, say, a shared kitchen and family-plus room for being together. (It's too bad all the local co-housing is out in Scio Twp, where I don't want to live.)

The problem, though, is the idea of *moving* to get it. I like my house and my street. We'd love to live immediately next door to some of our block-away neighbors, but we didn't know that until after we bought our house. It would be easiest if you could recruit people to live next door to you.

When the house next door went into foreclosure, 6 months after we moved in, we plotted to buy it and rent it to friends, with the eventual goal of building a connector between the two to hold the "shared" functions. Tragically, ours was the second offer (by hours) and the bank just wanted the first offer they got.

Murph. said...

(p.s. that was me, Murph, posting from my google account...)

Zoe the Wonder Dog said...

Hey Murph,

Yes, I looked into co-housing when we first moved up here but the whole place is too isolated for my taste, the wrong direction from where I work, and not really intentional enough. What I mean by that, is I'm not sure an interest in co-housing is enough to create the kind of community that I'm looking for. Sure the interest in the principles of co-housing is a good start, but it still seems like a crap shoot as to whether or not people will like each other and have anything more than geography to connect on.

I suspect the idea off trying to clump with handpicked folk in an existing neighborhood is a better way to go. I'm willing to do the moving to make it happen (not that attached to my house), but the economy is not cooperating at the moment and I'm a bit stuck in the house I have (for the time being anyway).

Anonymous said...

Like you, I looked into co-housing too. I made Jeff go to several meetings and then when took a trip out to the site (I know, I know...should have done that first). No offense to those folks, but you had to drive past light industrial buildings, car dealerships and the like before you got to the cohousing! That just seemed weird!

When they raise teachers' salaries to match NFL players' salaries, I am going to use the extra money to buy a nice plot of land near downtown Ann Arbor (I'm dreaming here--GO WITH ME!) and have a cohousing complex. But, it will have to have people that I know...I don't know if you can force the chemistry required for cohousing. You're invited!!! (Murph, too)

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Shannon said...

"When they raise teachers' salaries to match NFL players' salaries..."

this sentence from Patty is both funny and sad...

but to get back to the subject at hand, i love communal living and agree whole-heartedly with you Geo. keep me in mind when you're ready to make the big move!

actually, my own lust for owning a house blends with my communal mind a lot. i already look at houses for sale (even tho i really can't afford to buy) in your neighborhood or in Staceys.