20yr 20 years of cohousing
From: Jessie Kome (jehakomac.com)
Date: Sun, 27 Jan 2013 15:38:31 -0800 (PST)
Hello cohousers-

Cohousing came into my father's life before it came into mine. Dad belonged to 
a community group (along Scott Peck lines) that sometimes met at his house. If 
I was home from college, doing laundry or rummaging the fridge, the group 
members would sometimes be there, sharing thoughts, feelings, ideas, 
experiences. And one night in the early 90's, when I came home for a visit from 
my first job after graduate school, they talked about cohousing. I sat off to 
one side, eating a bowl of cereal and listening. That was the first time I ever 
heard about cohousing. They talked about a neighborhood designed to support 
community bonding. The levels of human bonds; family, friends, citizens - that 
somehow the meaning of "neighbor" had gotten diluted or lost. They talked about 
how to be a good neighbor and what it would mean to children, elders, parents, 
singles. I guess the quiet discussion inspired more people than just me. At 
least three other people from that night moved into cohousing or similar 
intentional communities over the next few years, Arcadia, Blue Heron, Solterra, 
Eno Commons. 

My family and I joined Eno Commons Cohousing during development in 1996. It was 
not all puppies and balloons. What cohousing project in development ever is? 
I'm not sure what we would have done without advice from the veterans on 
cohousing-L who had all been there before. They encouraged us on the listserv, 
in private emails, making recommendations for trainers, and one or two even 
showing up in person during the development and early move-in years. When we 
moved into Eno Commons in 1998 (first household to move in), one neighbor took 
care of our three-year-old all day, and a herd of eager neighbors moved 
everything out of the truck in record time. We began to experience for 
ourselves the cohousing truism than developing cohousing is hard and living in 
cohousing is easy.

In 2002, I found out again that cohousing extends beyond individual 
neighborhood boundaries when I got a chance to go to Washington, DC, to help 
manage the federal 9/11 recovery grants. My husband and I decided, despite the 
strenuous objections of our two children who could not remember living anywhere 
except in cohousing, to leave Eno Commons so I could take what we hoped (and 
still do) was a once in a lifetime job. When I posted a farewell note on 
cohousing-L, I got back a note from Ann Zabaldo telling me not to purchase 
anything in DC until I talked to her. Turned out, she was trying to form the 
kernel of members for what would become Eastern Village Cohousing, where we 
live now. (And yes, that does make us serial cohousers.) In December 2002, we 
were the second member household to pay our membership fee (by 43 seconds). And 
so we went through development again, this time with a seasoned affordable 
housing developer and builder.  Nope - development was still not fun. We got 
advice from cohousing-L again. Ann Zabaldo is a walking encyclopedia of 
how-to-do-cohousing well. Her burning soul carried us through a lot of the 
usual development turbulence. Our sister community, Takoma Village, gave us 
room to meet and showed our prospective members how cool cohousing can be. They 
even let us take over their common kitchen for an enormous two-community 
holiday meal, lending me a stick blender and providing clear instructions on 
using the dishwasher.

During Eastern Village development, when we got homesick, Eno Commons opened 
its arms wide when we returned for visits. The kids would often stay with 
friends in separate houses, while I stayed in a third house.  I would see them 
around the community and catch up with them at community meals, but I never 
worried about them there. Over the years since 2002, one or both kids has 
returned to Eno Commons every summer for a week or two or three. Eno Commons 
neighbors sometimes come visit us here. Eno Commons kids friended me on 
Facebook when my own kids weren't ready to yet. Some of them post on my wall to 
this day. The connections have become less intense as kids have grown and 
people moved in and out of the neighborhood, but, for my part, if Eno Commons 
calls, I will always answer. Somehow, some way.

Eastern Village Cohousing, where we have lived since 2004, is so comfortable to 
live in, we sometimes are amazed when we remember how long we have been here. 
Time passes more easily somehow when you know you will have support if you need 
it. We have the usual issues (pets, progeny and all the "p" words) and rough 
spots and long discussions about how awful we are and what we need to do to get 
better. I think we are good enough, and here's how I know: Our older child, 
Georgia, a college student, served as a moderator at a panel at the cohousing 
conference in DC a couple years back. I was on the panel and astonished at her 
poise and skill, how she confidently helped weave the discussion and included 
the panel and the audience members in back and forth discussion. When I praised 
her, she just said she was raised in cohousing, what did I expect? (She's 
preparing her undergraduate honors thesis on what people of different 
backgrounds bring to cohousing.)

I have learned that cohousing is good when times are terrible. About four years 
after we moved into Eastern Village, as I was immersed in the beginning of the 
long-term recovery from Hurricane Katrina and my husband was working a tough 
retail management job, our son Harrison developed an agonizing condition that 
stumped doctors for two years, then required two brain surgeries and an 
abdominal surgery, medications, tutors. He has idiopathic intracranial 
hypertension and chronic migraines and he had terrible sound sensitivity, 
headaches, light sensitivity. His ability to deal with visitors was 
unpredictable, and he would have been completely isolated from visitors 
anywhere but cohousing. Neighbors checked with us almost every day. One 
neighbor came to talk quietly with Harry from time to time. On good days, the 
other kids dragged him off to play Rock Band. When he had a good week, 
neighbors from Eno Commons (five hours away) would come get him for a visit. 
Other neighbors reached out to me, my husband, our daughter. Blessedly, not 
just to go on and on about Harry, but also to do normal neighborhood things. To 
talk over a pending issue, to help fix a broken whatever, to watch a baby or a 
boiling pot for a minute. Harry played a lot of online strategy games (the 
endorphins help with pain management), prompting one of our neighbors to hire 
Harry as a tester for an app he was developing for the Apple App store. A 
renter turned out to be in remission from the same condition (she found out 
through the neighborhood listserv) and she came to talk to Harry, give him some 
hope. As bad as the physical and mental health issues the whole family had to 
deal with were, we always knew the community was there if and when we needed it.

I could go on and on. (But I won't.) Through everything, I keep remembering 
that first conversation, the hope for the quiet grace of living together 
meaning to do well by each other. For me, despite all the human messes we make, 
cohousing fulfills its promise. 

Jessie Handforth Kome
Eastern Village Cohousing
Silver Spring, Maryland USA
"Where I am planning spring cooking classes for the neighborhood kids."

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