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The Bond House: Abuelita

Claudia, Josefina & Sweet Baby Pineapple

It is a well-established fact that the House is unusual. Let’s not talk about the revolving door policy we have, which exposes us to dozens of people we would not have otherwise met, but instead celebrate the fact that there are so many years between our youngest (currently me) and oldest (currently Josefina) residents. It’s been a little over half a year since we became a multi-generational household, and let me tell ya, it feels like it’s been a lot longer than that.

When Josefina’s got something on her mind, she’s like a dog with a bone. Can’t find one specific spice in the cupboard? You’d better believe she’s pulling every single thing out, putting out a spice-related APB on the group chat, and then asking each of us in person if we’ve seen said spice as soon as we walk into the kitchen.

While this single-mindedness can sometimes be frustrating to watch (I like solving problems quickly and putting them to the side if an issue is not readily resolved), it’s mostly an admirable quality. Let us not forget the summer of a thousand dried fruits (or that we ate so many apple slices that Josefina had to start rationing them for us). Even when she couldn’t believe we had gone through five pounds of dried apples in two days, there was always a full jar the next morning.

Josefina joined us from Venezuela at the end of last summer. She left everything behind. When I say everything, I mean a life that’s full of the things/relationships/experiences accrued over the course of said life. So, yeah, everything. While living in the House has certainly been a transformative experience for me, I can’t even begin to imagine what it’s been like for her.

A 2012 study on the elderly and loneliness suggested that a lack of social connection leaves more than 40% of adults over the age of 65 in the US feeling lonely; and one could argue that those numbers have only risen in the last seven years. And what are the effects of loneliness on the elderly? Perhaps unsurprisingly, chronic pain, anxiety, and depression. What a depressing reality we find ourselves in. What can be done?

Introducing Josefina to the wonders of Goodwill

Well, inter-generational living. Obviously.

Think about it: It’s only been over the last few hundred years that people, mostly those from Western societies, have eschewed group living in favor of situations that typically only consist of a couple and their children (long live the American Dream). But haven’t we known for a long time at this point that no person is an island? We are social creatures that are meant to interact with one another in a deep, meaningful way. We suffer so acutely from loneliness because humans are not meant to be alone.

So let’s not do that anymore.

Bringing the old and the young to live under the same roof has shown to reduce social isolation for the elderly, as well as reduce ageism and develop empathy in the young. If this sort of communal, multi-generational living was what kept our ancestors safe and happy, we need to find a way to pull that piece of the past into our future.

Living with Josefina has given me patience. I don’t mean this in a condescending way, Josefina can’t do things as quickly as the rest of us can. Sometimes it takes her longer to figure things out–not because of her age, but because her brain is full-on translating things from Spanish to English. In an attempt to make her feel more comfortable, I talk slower, I repeat myself, I try to explain myself fully when she asks a question. Yes, I still get frustrated, but these moments are becoming fewer and fewer. I have also cultivated an appreciation for going a bit slower than I have in the past.

There are many wonderful things about Josefina. If you have a bad day, she notices. If you are sick, she will bring you toast and tea. If you like love pâté, she will make it for you by the pound. She pats you on the butt when she walks by. She laughs at you when you’re silly. She helps you see your potential and never lets you sell yourself short. Yes, she has real grandchildren, but she’s our abuelita.

Josefina’s Favorite Things About The House

  1. Living with her daughter Claudia

  2. Because why wouldn’t it be?

  3. Being around people who have energy for their projects

  4. She says that we both make her want to pursue her own projects and hopeful that future isn’t well and truly fucked (my words, her sentiment).

  5. A diverse, active environment limits the possibility of becoming “old”

  6. Living with young, active adults meant the smooth transition from Venezuela to the States, while also ensuring she always has something to do.

  7. Learning how to be flexible

  8. After a lifetime of living the way she wanted, Josefina came into a lifestyle that demands compromise. She can’t have everything her way, and that’s okay.

Josefina frying plantains while other plantains finish ripening for another day

Over dinner a few weeks ago, I asked Claudia whether or not she thought her mother was happy. She assured me that in the first month that Josefina was with us, she blossomed back into a person of endless passion and dreams.

Which is to say, we’ve been good for her. And she’s been better for us.


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