In the summer of 2005, a few weeks before the birth of their second kid, my older sister, her husband, and their three-year-old daughter packed up their home in Boston and moved in with my parents in Washington, D.C.
My sister’s husband, Chris Comrack, then 34, was starting a job with a biotech company in Maryland. He and my sister, Alexis Comrack, then 33, had already bought a house in Washington, but it needed a lot of work and would be a wreck during the renovation, which he’d be undertaking himself on the weekends.
They couldn’t afford to carry the house and pay for a rental at the same time, so the solution was to shack up with my parents, who were in their 60s and lived with their three dogs in the rambling Cleveland Park home where they’d raised us. They were delighted to repopulate the house and happy to help out with their grandkids.
“They were great,” says Lex, who quit her job with a website in Boston just before the move. “Dad wasn’t totally confident with the baby, but I would say, ‘Dad, I need to go somewhere,’ and he would sit down on the couch and I would hand Charlotte to him. And then two hours later I’d come back and he hadn’t moved; he was still holding Charlotte.”
Once, Lex left her older daughter, Emmy, with our dad, who still worked full-time as a corporate lawyer but was around on the weekends. “I left him with a diaper, and I had to write on the diaper which end was the front,” she says.
Our mom, who had worked on and off as a lawyer when we were little but had since retired, played with and babysat for the girls often. What’s more, neither of our parents complained about the mess that the four Comracks, their two cats, and all their stuff created.
“It was chaos, and then you had the entire dining room taken over by Charlotte’s toys,” says Lex.
Our parents’ longtime housekeeper, Jinky, came in to clean twice a week.
“We needed Jinky to keep everyone from driving each other really crazy because there were so many people and babies and things and stuff,” says Lex.
She was at once grateful for our mom and dad’s help and restless to be on her own again.
“I did not feel like a grownup,” she says. “When you’re a grownup you have a house and you meet people as an adult and you have a routine. I didn’t have a lot of motivation to meet people because I lived with my parents, and I wasn’t working, and I had just moved back. So the only people I knew were my high school friends and then the few people I started to get to know.”
“I felt a little bit like I was in high school on spring break.”
Also, she felt indebted to our parents. “There was no one telling me that I owed anyone anything, but I felt that I needed to appreciate this generosity.”
After a few months, she decided to take a part-time job. She and Chris would have hired a babysitter to watch the girls during her work hours, but our mom and dad felt strongly that as long as the Comracks were living under their roof, they shouldn’t be responsible for any household expenses.
So our parents offered Jinky a full-time job with them that included childcare, and they insisted on continuing to cover all her wages themselves—an arrangement that Chris “maybe resisted a little bit at first,” says Lex. Later, he relented. When he wasn’t at the office, he was busy with the construction project, so he didn’t have much time to help around the house himself. And he and my sister were already stretching themselves financially.
The construction dragged on for 16 months. My sister and our parents got along, but not every moment of every day.
“I remember sitting in the library … We had a big fight and I don’t remember why,” says Lex. “When you live with someone, you get annoyed, and something Mom was doing was annoying me or something I was doing was annoying her—I forget what it was.”
Still, overall, “it went pretty smoothly,” she says. “I think as parents go, they are not set in their ways like many parents are. They allowed us to take over their house and life.”