How the Cookie Crumbles

An irreverant view of life after SIXTY-FIVE

Upstairs . . . Downstairs



You live with your daughter and her family. They live upstairs on the main floor and you live downstairs on the basement level. You babysit your two grandchildren when their parents work and if the children are not in school.

~ * ~

A fourth anniversary will soon be upon you yet you’re still thrown off balance every so often.  You’ve tried to discern why. Why do you feel so discombobulated at times? Shouldn’t you be over the sense of confusion by now?  Why haven’t you adapted? You’re not such a slow learner surely, at least you don’t believe so, but you could be wrong—you’ve been wrong before—not often, of course (or so you tell yourself).

At first you think your experience is the result of not sitting with the grandchildren or being upstairs for a couple of days. The new week begins and the cycle continues. Upon closer examination, you see recurrences even if you are upstairs every day.

When your ‘shift’ is over and daddy comes home (mommy comes later), you kiss the grandkids, pack up your paraphernalia and go home—downstairs.

When you walk through the doorway, your ‘apartment’ feels odd, unfamiliar as if you haven’t lived there for long. You’re caught in a time warp of some kind. Mind you, the feeling is momentary and soon dissipates but still, the initial blow to your psyche is like a kick in the gut. It feels like you’ve lost your way, like you’ve time travelled and landed somewhere in between. This is strange and curious, not upsetting but odd. It’s a feeling of not knowing where you belong exactly. Where is your place? Is it upstairs or downstairs?

You have never disliked where you live. On the contrary, you love it because it feels like it was made just for you; it suits you so well.

You believe the problem lies in living at such close proximity to each other, but you are not in each another’s space. Dinner together once a week, sure, and your babysitting duties, otherwise you don’t see each other. You could be strangers, living your separate lives. Why does this mental distortion continue? It’s a conundrum.

Maybe you can’t teach an-old-dog-new-tricks after all, or perhaps it just takes you longer to learn, or perchance you’re slowing down more than you thought.  Or could you have dreamed the whole thing up?

As anyone who knows you can see, there’s never a dull moment in your world. How’s everyone else’s you wonder?

~ * ~

I simply wanted to try writing in second person because I never have.

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Author: Let's CUT the Crap!

I'm getting a little LONG in the tooth and have things to say about---ouch---AGEing. I believe it's certainly a state of mind but sometimes it's nice to hear that you're NORMAL. I enjoy reading by the truckload. I'm a grandma but I don't feel OLD although I'm not so young anymore. My plan is to stick it out as long as I can on this lovely planet and only will leave it kicking and screaming!

48 thoughts on “Upstairs . . . Downstairs

  1. Well, now you have :)

    • Yadda-yadda-bing-bang–but did it work? I recently read a short story in second person and was so drawn into it, I wanted to try it, even if only once. It was indeed unfamiliar but I forced myself–wait for it—dumb-as-I-think-it-was-to try-it-out-in-the-blogger-world…TALK ABOUT going OUT of your comfort zone-I had no idea commenters would think I was sad. Hmm. Does second person, not only bring you in closer to the action, make it all more fragile than it is? Hm. Food for thought. Angie, this sounds like we could discuss. I know what 2nd person is supposed to do, when do you NOT use it? hm. Food for thought, at least for me. Tess

  2. Good job writing in second person, its not easy.
    As for your living arrangements, you seem a little sad. How long have you been living there, maybe you just need more time to adjust.
    I love your little cartoon figure going up the steps… Cute!

    • Hey Jerseygirl, nice of you to make time to come by. It’s been several commenters now that felt I seem sad. I wonder if second person isn’t doingmore than was meant. Second person is unfamiliar. Although I have read it brings the reader in CLOSER, it appears to have more implications than I had bargained for, wanted or expected. INTERESTING! We’ve been living in this arrangement four year this September. The first year had a ‘few’ ups and downs but we’re all good now. On Sundays, I’m invited UP for supper and on Thursdays (the only night my daughter doesn’t work), we have dinner DOWNstairs. The grandkids are involved in the menu on my Thursday nights. Sometimes, when I miss planning with them, they ask (ages 8 and 4) what we’re having…wait for it…DELICIOUS for supper when they come down. It’s all GOOD. I’m pleased I made the suggestion we do this. The first year was not brilliant but I’m an adult after all… Hope you’re not SHOCKED I’m so EASY but really I AM the major shareholder and I have only one daughter so other siblings can’t quibble about being left out.

  3. Writing in the second person is also very appropriate for the subject you were writing about, I don’t know if that’s why you did it. It felt slightly displaced from you, but still with you, not like a complete outsider looking in. I found myself wondering whether you were putting a fictitious spin on your real upstairs/downstairs situation, or if you really do feel like that.

    • Thanks, Vanessa. I recently read a short story in second person. I don’t recall ever reading one before. It was recent and fresh in my mind so I went for it. I’m so surprised how many commenters felt this was not my voice (true and thank YOU) and some wondered if I was sad. I had no idea that second person would come across so . . . ? No, I wasn’t TRYING to put a fictitious spin on the story nor remove myself. I feel 2nd person puts the reader in a lot closer to what is happening. What do you think? Yes to your question whether I really feel like that. I believe I finally came up with what the ‘feeling’ is which I’ve been trying to capture. I come from the corporate world (a hundred years ago) and I explained this to another commenter (hopefully not wasting anyone’s time). It’s that moment when you’re busting your gams to meet the clock, rushing ahead to meet the schedule, performing on a string. The brain finally screams STOP! ENOUGH and pauses for a REBOOT. Your eyes blink in double time, so you can gather up your forces and compute again. This is the moment I was trying to capture. This moment of ‘where are you'” with a twist. Make any sense? If I can get this ‘moment’ right, my work is done for the next YEAR!! Further feedback, if you have the time, is g-o-o-d-…. Thanks, Tess

      • Yes, I think it does bring the reader in a lot closer to what is happening – it’s interesting because by saying “you” it makes the reader consider how they might feel in that situation. And as I said, it slightly displaces you as the writer, so it kind of brings the writer and the reader together in a half way meeting point! Interesting.

      • Yes, isn’t it interesting? I’m glad I tried this. Thanks for your input, Vanessa.

  4. It is hard when you are so close, and connected on so many levels, sometimes boundaries get fuzzy. I wonder what would happen if you stepped outside the existing ones to stretch a bit in unexpected ways–have them to your place for dinner, or think about initiating an outing all together. I wish you joy and peace, Tess.

    • Thanks, Naomi. We really ARE fine. I have Sunday dinners upstairs and they come downstairs Thursdays (the one night in the week my daughter is home for dinner). We have all kinds of family celebrations. My family members are few but my son-in-law’s are not. I have the space to entertain EVERYone and my ddaughter’s husband and I co-ordinate cooking. It’s great fun too. I believe the 2nd person puts a different spin on things which I’ve never been aware of. We’ve been together almost four years. The first was like a marriage once the honeymoon is over and you discover someone has bad breath (or something like that). Nice to have you drop by.

  5. I live on the same property as my daughter sil and kids. Baby sitting and the odd meat there or here with no specific days or times works for us so far

    • Interesting. I haven’t talked to anyonenor know anyone who is in a similar situation. Might I ask you about some similarities or whatever? Who chose this situation and how have you been at it for a start? Please and thanks.Tess

  6. The melancholy in your voice made me sad. Are you sad?

    • Nice to hear from you Robin. The truth is no, I am not melancholy. Thanks for asking. Perhaps a I’m a little confused I still get this little brain thing going on after almost four years of going upstairs / downstairs. Only trying to understand it.

      Maybe the feeling I am trying to capture is similar to multi-tasking till your brain turn to mush and you wonder where you are–when you’re overworked–the feeling when you end up standing blinking your eyes rapidly trying to compute. I come from the corporate world and my brain had to catch up lots of times. The feeling is of doing, too much, too fast in too short a time and your brain hasn’t had a chance to catch up. I’m not say I’m doing too much here or now.

      I LIKE this. I think I’ll keep it. Is that a clearer description? Tess

  7. How is that “second” person really doing? Is she okay?

  8. I agree. The second person works so well for this subject – feeling detached, outside perhaps? That’s what I ‘heard’ in your words, your voice.

    I don’t know if I’d do as well as you in the same situation. At least you are exploring your feelings out loud. That, in itself, is a great step forward. Thank you for sharing.

  9. Tess–your story makes me think about my future, as well…I’m still in my own place but imagine down the road (wayyyyyyyyy down the road, maybe), that will change. My son already talks about buying a place with a separate but connected apt for me in it. I hope you figure out what is not quite right with your current arrangement and find a way to either fix it or become more comfortable with it.

    • Hi Sylvia: Glad to hear your son is looking out for you. My situation was my idea (same house) and I knew it would be LIKE a new marriage, except a three-way (tee hee) requiring some work to get to a win-win etc. I had planned for W-A-Y–y-y down the road too but since I have only one daughter, and she got the real estate bug, it happened earlier. Good thing her hubby wasn’t hard to convince to go along. This feeling I’ve been having is a head-space thing. I feel sorry for upstairs-downstairs maids (as in the TV series, which I haven’t seen but am imagining) might have felt similarly. Know what I mean? Maybe I wasn’t succinct enough last night writing while I was bleary-eyed and begging for bed. Wonderful to hear from you.Hugs to youTess

  10. Hi Tess, I had to actually read other comments to see if I was misreading what you wrote in second person. So did not quite sound like yourself. Ha-ha.

    Are you okay? I have to ask. It would not be cool if I did not.

    I found that what I was seeing in your words is what others saw too. But I see it as a viewpoint that you, a really versatile thinking lady, tried on for size. I do hear a sound of meloncholy for not quite sure where the complete adjustment period is going to leave you. But its also about your daughter, her hubby and definitely about those grand kids. Everyone still tip-toeing in a sense? Maybe?

    Its good that it is your own daughter and not a daughter in law. I am so grateful for girls I could do cartwheels in my heart. Almost every story I hear about a woman moving a son and his wife into her own home; or the other side of that coin – the mom moving into the son’s home is rarely good.

    I am really glad you shared this with us, you are so creative and your thought provoking posts aleays leave with ideas for new posts.
    Thank you!

    • You are sweet BB, thanks for asking also. It seems to me the second person has made this piece melancholy than it would in first person and you’re right, I was trying it on for size. Why not? Still, the gist of the piece is still my wonder why after almost four years this in between feeling still comes upon me. We are all great. We have dinner together–Sundays upstairs and Thursdays downstairs. The first year lots needed to be ironed out. We’re good now. I convinced the kids to sell their house and I mine to move to one residence. I still believe it was a good move even though I am the major ‘shareholder’. I could NEVER move in where my son-in-law owned the house. You are so kind. Thought provoking posts? Thank you but I have been absent a lot lately because of deadlines and overwork. I’m also trying to catch up / keep up with my Inbox. Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh…. Good night. Have a good one.xx

  11. I’m new to your blog but I think I understand why you feel discombobulated. During the day you have a purpose, i.e. baby sitting, when that’s done you go home, but for most people home is where the family is and where they share the day’s experiences and that is precisely when you leave them. It’s like living life in reverse. Not that it’s a bad thing, it’s just not the norm. Do you have any activities, hobbies that occupy your free time?

    • I’m pleased you have taken the time to comment. My life floweth over. I’m busy as a body can be. Sometimes, my daughter has to plan around ME. It used to be the other way around, at least in the beginning of our arrangement. In the past year, I’ve taken on more than I can chew but am loving it. Sometimes I mention how I think I’m losing my mind and my daughter looks at me like I’m a child and says, “Quit something then.” Not going to happen. About my free time. I haven’t had any since the fall. My biggest lament is that I haven’t had time to perch my butt on the sofa and stick my nose in a book! Also, I’ve been scare in the blogosphere and behind on reading and commenting there. I’m still seeking feedback on WHY my brain plays with me (only on SOME days) when I come down those stairs.

  12. Your writing skill always gets me in. I don’t think I could write in the second person. I really felt this passage. And…what a great living arrangement you have!

    • Hi CurtainRaiser (that’s so cute): What are you talking about? What about yours? Don’t be selling yourself short. I feel like a kids with a new box of crayons everytime I try something new. My living arrangement is INTERESting. Hmm. I didn’t plan the last word of previous sentence to give so much away. Freud must love me. I believe my blogging friends bring out the best in me. Thank YOU.

  13. This is beautiful. I’m very moved by it. 2nd person is so difficult and yet you’ve embedded this with emotion.

  14. Hi There.
    I read this post the day you posted it and needed to go away and think about it.
    I felt an immediate connection.
    I have only been here just over a month so I haven’t settled properly.
    However, I don’t think I WILL.
    Not completely.
    I think it is because I feel I have lost control.
    I don’t THINK I am a control freak but I need to be IN control.
    Not in control of other people but of myself.
    Does any of this make any sense?

    • YES you’re making perfect sense! So, I take it moving wasn’t at the top of your list. Finding a place that fit all your criteria wasn’t perfect. If I am remembering correctly, your situation wasn’t of your making therefore accepting the result / making peace with the change is not a Godsend. On the other hand I instigated the move but STILL I’m having these weird moments of disconnection and it’s been almost FOUR years. Go figure. Still don’t understand. On the other hand, 47, if I can’t make sense of it, how can you possibly be expected to? I hope I am not wrong in my recollection. Anyway, one month is long enough. It doesn’t even allow you enough time to unpack.

  15. I agree with granny1947. Having a control over one’s own life is important. Great post, Tess. You do 2nd person quite well!

    • Thanks you, Susan. Nice to hear from you. It is an unusual take, that’s for sure and not something I’d try in a long piece. My brain and second person–ouch. I do have control and I DO have a LIFE but still I wonder why I get that weird ‘something’ every so often.

  16. It is a fascinating post, a fascinating perspective. I think the living upstairs/downstairs is symbolic of the relationship a grandparent has to the grandkids, actually. Not quite a parent but not quite a friend.

  17. It’s so interesting how the second person changes the perspective. Taking it out of the first person stops it being wining, self-pitying navel gazing (a little exaggeration required to save words here!), while at the same time adding veracity to the words. Effective. You said you read something recently – a whole novel, or a shorter piece?

  18. Very well done. You made me wonder how I would cope in a similat situation.

  19. I’ve nominated you for The One Lovely Blog Award. If you’re interested in accepting please check out my blog at Congratulations!

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