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Building Community

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Why I Like Cohousing

by Sharon Villines of Takoma Village Cohousing, Washington DC.

1. Because a single mother of a 3 and 6 year olds knows that if she has an emergency illness or an accident, there are 12 homes where her children would be welcome and taken care of for at least 24 hours — and that the children would not only be happy but would think it was a real treat.

2. Because when a single man got a call at 2:00 in the afternoon asking if he would consider one-year-old twins instead of one 3-year-old and to think about it over the weekend, he could send out a notice out that night that he had one hour to prepare for twins because they had been taken into custody earlier than planned and needed what ever babies needed. And even though no one had even known about the 2:00 call, three people saw the email and went to basements and closets and set up a nursery in 45 minutes with beds, blankets, clothes, diapers, toys, etc. Even a changing table, bottles, and milk.

3. Because when the caseworker arrived at 11:00, there were 5 people waiting at the curb. The boys turned out to be 18 months old and severely neglected. Everyone played with them while the case worker gave us their background. One twin was not walking and had been reported to social services for failure to thrive. Neither could talk and barely made sounds. And at midnight someone could show the father how to give them a bath and for several nights rocked one boy to sleep because he kept his twin awake and the father needed to do laundry and prepare for the next day. And then two young women with no children became substitute mothers and helped him for months.

4. Because six-week old babies could be dropped off for naps in a quiet house to rest their bottoms on my desk and sleep against my shoulder while I worked on a book.

5. Because six-year-olds consider my house theirs and burst in to play with my bookcase of toys. Some things their parents won’t allow because they end up all over the house — a box of miniature rubber and plastic animals, another of finger puppets, and and big box of alphabet letters. Flashlights they can play with under the bed and in the bathroom.

6. Because when people get cancer, meals are organized at the drop of a hat each evening with left overs for lunch. And everyone can be told what not to say to an 8 year old girl about her mother’s illness and everyone doesn’t.

7. Because from the ages of 8-12 a boy could arrange his own birthday party and invite everyone to come and tell a joke. And almost everyone from 3-75 does. And that one year he had a pun contest with winners in several categories. And some people wrote their own and they were very funny.

8. Because at every party, I can ask Naomi to sing the green stamp song and I had forgotten all about green stamps.

9. Because when the daughter of one of our residents, who had only lived here one summer while she studied for the bar, lost a baby a month before it was to be born brought it back to be buried, expecting only her immediate family to attend the service, 45 people showed up. And in the following month women shared with her their own experiences of losing babies so she could see that she could survive and have other children.

10. Because there is always a party going on somewhere that I can drop into for 15 minutes or an hour. And go back to my quiet house and my writing without feeling isolated.

11. Because when someone adopts two boys from Yugoslavia, he is given as many kids DVDs as he can carry so the boys to begin learning English while he waits there for weeks while the paperwork is done and the judge lets them go.

12. Because an 80-year-old woman who lives in a unit too small to have a dog can walk the dogs of people who cannot walk theirs. And when she slips and falls on the ice and dislocates her shoulder there is a person passing by who can take her to the doctor and another who knows where the dog lives and can take him home. And there are others to keep her entertained and see that she has lunch during the following weeks because her son doesn’t want to leave her alone while he is at work.

13. Because 35 people will sit in a room and listen to a 7-year-old play a violin when he has only been taking lessons for a two months and only knows one song and plays it three times and it sounds as terrible as violin can sound. And everyone applauds — three times.

14. Because there is always a puzzle set up in the corner of the commonhouse where people gather, and the kids can practice putting pieces in the wrong place. And no one complains.

15. And because we have a former resident who came back last week to stay in the guest rooms on his way across America to demonstrate his electric car and believes electric cars will be here momentarily, if not sooner.