How a Family Builds an In-Law Suite and Ends Up With a Nursery...
In 2009 we added a six hundred square foot addition on our home. Rich's mother had just passed away and while neither of us had strong opinions on having our parents live with us, neither of us wanted his father grieving alone. We offered space and assisted living type support in our home. Grandpa accepted.
Working on Grandpa's new room was all our family did that summer. A son moved back from Florida to participate in the construction. A future son-in-law proved his loyalty with long days of concrete work. Our then ten-, fourteen-, fifteen-, and sixteen-year-old sons grew up quickly. We swung sledgehammers, lifted walls, reached for roof trusses, set windows, ran electrical lines and hung drywall. It was a labor of love and changed us. As a family and individuals. The construction project set pieces of Grandpa's heart right again as he was drawn out of his grief and into meaningful work and something bigger than than himself - the power of a family working together.
The morning we opened the addition to the house, one of my dining room windows became the doorway, I cried quietly in my room. Our home has three foot wide, floor to ceiling windows that come together at ninety degrees to form the corners. There was a set in the dining room. For years, I spent time at my kitchen table watching the sunrise and the birds, drinking my morning coffee, and reading my bible. I do not remember now if I cried that morning because I was giving up my dining room corner windows or giving up our family's privacy. Somehow I think I intrinsically knew that we were opening up much more than six hundred new feet of living space.
Later in the project, I spent many evenings in the room on my hands and knees racking out a hardwood floor as Rich installed it. Working side by side has always been our preference for spending time together. I remember we talked a lot during that time. We talked about the room, about Grandpa living with us, and about what the room might be used for when Grandpa no longer needed it. The foster and adoption application we had recently requested was tucked away in the linen closet already. We knew we wanted to adopt someday. We knew we had a strong interest in caring for a child with special needs. Would the child be unable to walk and have a wheelchair? Would this room, with all its space and handicap conveniences, be useful for that child someday? At the moment we were focused on finishing the room and learning to love Grandpa. The foster license application packet stayed in the our linen closet another four years. Grandpa stayed in the room five years.
I did not know what to do with the space when he left. I closed the door and did not go in the room for a month. Then I used it as a banquet hall. First for a graduation party. Once for a bridal shower. Perhaps like a missionary called to leave their field of service before the work was complete, the empty room was a reminder of a ministry no longer mine. Reclaiming the room as part of our home has been difficult this last year, evident in our slow evolution from calling the space "Grandpa's room" and "Grandpa's bathroom" to "the big room" and "the extra bathroom." We used it for a time for homeschooling. We used it as a play and therapy space for Nathaniel. Neither seemed right.
A new option occurred to us at dinner recently. We were discussing our recent choice to reduce night nursing and how to provide care for Nathaniel. "Why don't we move Nathaniel into the big room and put a bed in there for parents to sleep near-by?"
Nathaniel has been in the big room for two weeks now. Rich and I sleep there four nights a week. Sleep. That is a deceiving word choice. Nathaniel's oximetry alarm sounds for various things. When he bangs his foot against the side of the crib. When the tape loosens on his foot. When the probe is worn and needs replaced. When he experiences a moment of his central sleep apnea. When he is in respiratory distress and needs emergency intervention. Because all alarms might be the last reason, we respond. His feeding pump alarms for various things. A kink in the hose. No food. A battery going dead because we forgot to plug it into the wall at bedtime. We respond. The heated humidity machine beeps for various things. Too hot. Too cold. No water. We respond. Nathaniel is the loudest, most-inconvenient-to-a-good-night's-sleep roommate I have ever had. College dorm life included.
The other three nights a week, the nights we have night nursing, Rich and I sleep in our old bedroom. It has been renamed the guest room. We no longer have a bedroom with our names exclusively on the door. The nurses are in and out of Nathaniel's big room all day. They have to be; it is where his things are kept and where we administer his medical treatments. The guest room does not seems like ours anymore; we do not sleep there more than we do. Carving out scared space and time for us as a couple is not a new challenge for Rich and me. It is a skill a couple learns over twenty-seven years raising eight children and sharing living space with in-laws for twelve years. We will relearn it in this new circumstance and arrangement.
My old dining room window corner, given up six years ago when we decided to live wide open to ministering to old and young here in our home, now seems the best place to keep Nathaniel's toys, his airway bag, his therapy tools, the nurses paperwork. The morning sun still sneaks in. Coffee is still strong and hot. My bible now an app on my phone. Our son Josiah and his friends created a mural for Nathaniel's old bedroom. It fits perfect in this new corner. God, not corner windows, is our refuge.