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From The Empty Nest—A Traditional Conservative Male Tells All

an article by our site

MC Configuration

Number of families: 8
Total number of children: 0
Number of adults: 17
Total number of individuals: 17
Family combos:
a. 70m, 65f
b. 68m, 66f
c. 64m, 65f
d. 63m, 61f
e. 57m, 60f
f. 58m, 58f
g. 56m, 53f
h. 78f, 55m, 54f

Economic factors: upper class

The Story


     My name is William James Rutherford III. I am a businessman in my middle 50s. I have three grown children who have families of their own now, and I live with my wife, Alexis, in our home of 16 years. Our house is, perhaps, too big for just the two of us, but we're quite fond of it. And at holiday time when the children come to visit with their families, we are able to squeeze everyone in. Also, Alexis loves gardening and has devoted a great deal of time to beautifying the outside landscaping over the years, so we would not be interested in leaving here without a great deal of deliberation.
     There are also neighbors on the block that we've known for many the years. We don't spend much time with them, but there's a great deal of comfort in their presence. My brother and his wife and our mother live right here in town; and we see them often. Alexis' sister lives right around the corner with her husband, and Alexis and her sister are nearly inseparable.
     I am in the office supplies business. Each of my sons has opened a branch office in the cities where they live. This has enabled us to expand the business considerably in the last ten years. They are both very good at what they do, although I wish that they had stayed in town instead of moving away. There have always been positions for them in the main office. But they prefer to live in other cities, and I think they wanted a little distance and independence from me, even though I assured them they would have complete autonomy even if they worked in the same office here.
     Alexis does a lot of volunteer work, especially during the winter months. During the spring and summer, we find time to travel some. I usually take a month off in the late summer, and we go to see one or two of the kids. Traveling to see all three is more running around than we want to do, especially if we're driving, which we often do. So we see all of them in their homes at least every other summer. And when we travel we like to be off on our own part of the time, too. They all come to visit us during the winter holidays. Once or twice a year I travel for business reasons to my sons' locations. And I enjoy that.
     Alexis and I go to the movies, and we play golf whenever the weather permits, and we often go to dinner at the club—sometimes alone, other times with friends we know from there. We often watch TV in the evenings. Alexis does a lot of gardening, as I mentioned, and we always have projects going on around the house. I do some painting on weekends, and sometimes I'll take on a bigger remodeling job. We did the kitchen about four years ago. And we're thinking about extending the deck further into the back yard and adding a couple of different levels, maybe with a spa.
     That pretty much describes our lifestyle before this MC thing hit the world four years ago. We went to the movie, when it came out. It was a fine movie, but we were certain that MCs weren't for us. Our kids were grown and we had plenty of friends and relatives that we would often get together with. So we didn't feel any need to enhance our lifestyle in the MC way. We didn't see how MC enhancement would really make any difference for us. Some of the younger people at the club who had children had created MCs. Everyone was moving.
     Our children, too, had all moved to MCs during the first year after the movie. I worried about them having strangers take care of their kids. But they assured me that they had spent many months getting to know the other members of their MCs, and they felt that the real strangers were now the ones at the traditional day-care centers. I also worried that they would be taken advantage of by their neighbors. I wasn't happy about my daughter working, taking care of her kids, AND having to take care of other people's children, too. I even offered to pay for a live-in nanny. But she was convinced that the kids had to have lots of choices of people to be with, and a live-in was only one person, and the same person all the time. She also pointed out that she actually put in less hours of caregiving than she used to do, and that the quality of care she was able to give, both to her own kids and to others, was about 1000 percent better than what she'd been doing before the MC. I was still concerned about other people "raising her kids." I couldn't see how she could trust others that way.
     She also was convinced that her life was generally easier. She was able to do her job and be a mother, and be very relaxed and happy most of the time. Her kids were almost always "home;" she never had to rush home from work to get them. There were caregivers available in her MC every day from 7 AM until 10 PM, so if she and her husband wanted to go to the movies, or go shopping without kids on the spur of the moment, they were free to do so because they lived in an MC. She talked a great deal about P.E.T. communication. She said she'd learned to really listen to her kids, and to respect them and treat them as fully human, which she had been unable to do previously, even though she'd always wanted to. And she told me about how she felt respected by them. That was something I couldn't understand at all, having raised kids myself (she was one of them), and having the experience that kids rarely act respectful towards their parents, much to our chagrin.
     My daughter also talked about having time for herself. She talked about how, since she'd had her kids, she hadn't had a minute to care for herself, or be alone, or even been able to talk to a friend without interruption. I don't know. I thought that women were supposed to take care of the kids. That was their job. Alexis took care of all of our three kids, and she never complained about it. Although it's true, she didn't have a job at the same time.
     Well, we sure heard a great deal about MC life from all of our children during that first year. They all seemed very happy and often told us about their friends and their friends' children in the MC. They told us about their MC projects, and how the child care worked. I liked the way they talked to me and to their mother. They seemed clearer in their communications. I didn't know why. And they never pressured us about our lifestyle or anything. I never felt like they were trying to get us to join the millions that were already in MCs. They seemed to respect our choices.
     When it came time to plan our summer vacation, they all told us we were more than welcome to visit that first year. So my wife and I visited our daughter, who had been in her MC the longest of all our kids. She seemed the most settled. We figured that might be the least upsetting to us.
     We drove to her new home and found it in a nice neighborhood similar to where she and her family had lived before. From the street nothing looked different about their block. In fact, back home we often tried to identify where the MCs were, but you really couldn't tell unless there was some construction going on, or you might see a hint of a covered walkway here and there. MCs don't change the look of a neighborhood at all from the street.
     Caroline and Tom were home to greet us. We arrived on a Saturday afternoon. The house seemed a little empty and we wondered where the kids were. Caroline must have known what I was thinking, and suggested that we tour the MC and stop in to see the kids at the caregiving center in the process. We walked out the back door and had the choice of either walking outside into the huge back yard, which was everyone's back yard, or to follow the covered walkways that wove between the houses to the central structure they called the "sun." They called the walkways the "rays," and explained how the kids had come up with the "rays" name.
     Alexis was enthralled with the vast back-yard area. You could see her thinking that it was like one big playground for gardening. So we walked around the yard rather than inside the "rays," looking at the flower gardens and vegetable gardens and young fruit trees. They described how it had been before they fixed it up—divided by fences or shrubbery and how each back yard had been fairly small with lots of overgrown weeds and blackberries separating each lot. They'd kept most of the plants and trees, removing only those necessary to create the continuity they wanted throughout the area, and to make room for the sun and walkways they had built. They put slides and swings outside the sun and added other structures to make a wonderful playground. It was a little bit cool and rainy that afternoon, so we didn't see any kids outside.
     The whole back yard area was tastefully separated from the street with fencing connecting each house. No one could enter from the street except through locked gates. And the little ones certainly couldn't get out. They rarely used the gates, as most everyone entered the yard by way of their own house.
     As we walked around, we saw several people working in the gardens. Everyone was very friendly and stopped to say hello and meet us. They seemed to already know who we were. I asked why everyone would know their family's personal plans and Tom explained to me that since we were coming, they had asked to rearrange the caregiving schedule for the week so Tom and Caroline would have more free time to be with us. Tom explained that he usually did caregiving on Saturday afternoons, but had made some changes so he could spend time with us. That was a pleasant surprise, as we often found Tom to be not very interested in being with us on previous visits. He seemed much more friendly and relaxed than I remembered him. In fact, both he and Caroline looked very fit and healthy. I figured they must be doing a new fitness program; they were always trying something new.
     Well, we were getting anxious to see our grandchildren. So we went over to see the sun. I think they were saving the best for last anyway. We entered a dome-like structure and felt like we were in a wonderland for young people. Everything had the feeling of being small and safe. There were a couple of good-sized rooms that would accommodate probably ten kids each with plenty of space for each child. Caroline explained that the MC had 12 kids ranging from six months old to 14 years old. It was a really nice place, which they apparently also used for MC meetings when they all needed to get together—there was a separate room set aside for adult MC projects and meetings. The child-care area was pretty noisy for me. There were only about eight kids in there at the time, but they all had something to say. I asked why they didn't keep them quiet and one of the caregivers explained that although a lot of guidance was provided, kids were not restricted in their expression or activities by what was comfortable to the adults, but only by what was safe. She explained that if any adult needed quiet, they certainly had their own home and their own alone space for reflection. It made sense to me, but it was a new idea.
     I spotted my grandchildren and they looked wonderful. They came over and gave us some big hugs and then showed us what they were doing. They even did what I later learned was active listening, so I wasn't able to pretend that I was interested in their activities without paying attention. Little Josie caught me a couple of times with my mind wandering, and after a while she told me that that was probably enough "show and tell" for now, but if I wanted to see more or come by and "get more involved," I was welcome at any time. This from a five-year-old!
     Well, we already thought we had precocious grandchildren, but this was way beyond what I'd imagined. I was very proud. I assumed that the kids would want to leave the sun and be with their parents, and I certainly thought Caroline and Tom would be telling them to come home now. But I was wrong. Caroline asked them what their plans were until dinner, and explained what time dinner would be. Each one then told her when he or she would be home. And Josie agreed to get tiny Andrew, who was just 18 months old, home safely. I was appalled. How can a five-year-old be responsible for an 18-month-old? Caroline told me that Josie had just recently offered to help Andrew get around if it didn't interfere with other things Josie wanted to do. Josie didn't take care of Andrew the way some kids ended up being mothers to their siblings. At day care they each were in their own groups and each group had two available adult caregivers all the time. Josie was never forced to care for her younger brother. However the signs were that Josie liked him and cared about him, and also realized she WANTED to help out, so she did.
     I also figured that Caroline or Tom would have to round up each child at the time they said they'd come home. Caroline laughed and told us about "natural and logical consequences." Both five-year-old Josie and Darryl, their older son, had tested out that theory. Each one had, only one time, come home quite a bit after dinner had been served. And both had gone to bed a bit hungry with only a snack that they could prepare for themselves. She continued: If you make an agreement and don't keep it, there are always natural—and sometimes logical—consequences. Missing dinner is a good example. And getting up too late in the morning to catch the school bus means a long walk or bike ride to school and getting there late. It doesn't mean Mom or Dad gets to be late for work so you can get a ride to school! She told me how her kids were becoming mature and responsible because of learning that their actions have natural consequences, NOT because of punishment or arbitrary rules and discipline by adults. No one gets angry at the kids if they miss dinner, although one might feel hurt or disappointed and express that. In other words, the kids aren't BAD for oversleeping or missing dinner. It's a choice they make, and the choice is okay, AND it has its consequences. At this point I started getting overwhelmed with what she was telling me. We continued our tour.
     We saw a few young ones walking around alone in the rays. I was shocked. These kids will get hurt, or lost, and no one will know where they are. More explanations: No child ran off without one or two adults monitoring their actions in some way. If a child was exploring, there were monitoring devices in the rays to detect his or her location. If a child was going from home to the sun, the caregiver knew he or she was coming (a phone call or text or PSB message alerted him or her), and if the young one didn't arrive in a reasonable amount of time, the monitoring device could be used to find him, or the caregiver or mom would walk down the ray to help him on his way or take him to the sun. So even if it looks like kids are wandering around alone with no supervision, it wasn't true. One or often two adults were always aware of their activities. Yet the child had the experience of discovery and exploration and adventure.
     This was very strange to me. I was pretty overwhelmed by most of the ideas I'd heard. But all in all, it seemed like a happy, successful lifestyle with enhancements that manifested results in distinct signs such as the fact that the kids were quite mature, were well behaved, and were cared for more and much better than they would be in an ordinary home; and the adults were friendly and relaxed; and everyone seemed very healthy and happy.
     I must confess that it was wonderful being able to spend time with our daughter and son-in-law knowing that the kids were happy and cared for rather than banished to the TV or their own rooms while the adults took over the house. We had a very interesting week visiting there. Alexis spent a lot of time helping in others' gardens and we both even spent a few hours doing some caregiving. It was enjoyable to be with our grandchildren on their own turf.
     We visited our other two children in their MCs during the next two summers. Each MC had a lot of similarities with the others, and yet maintained its own style. For example, our oldest son's MC didn't have any very young children (under five), so they didn't have any monitoring in the walkways. And the walkways were covered but not enclosed. Their organized caregiving had slightly different hours according to the working schedules of the adults. They had fewer children overall than our daughter's MC, and since there weren't any really little kids, there was less demand on the adults for caregiving. On the other hand, our other son's MC had several grandparents living within, some of whom did a lot of caregiving, and since P.E.T. rules were universal in MCs, there were none of those parent-grandparent quarrels about parenting—wonder of wonders! And there was one older adult who needed a certain amount of care herself, and that was also provided.
     This lifestyle enhancement seems to be great for our children and grandchildren. They all seem very happy. Their children seem very bright. And though we enjoyed ourselves very much while visiting them, we still did not feel any need for an MC-enhanced lifestyle ourselves. Until . . .
     Until Alexis decided one day that she wanted to set up a PSB between our house, her sister's, my brother's, and my mother's! It didn't make any sense to me at all. Her sister lived right around the corner and they could call on the telephone or drop in easily, and we talked to my brother and his family every day, as well as my mother. What would be the advantage? I figured Alexis probably was looking for an excuse to set up a PSB because everyone else had done it, and she was feeling left out.
     Well, it turns out she'd been talking to some people at the club, and they hadn't gotten into MCs or anything, but they had started using PSBs on their tablets, computers and smart phones for communicating with people they already knew as well as their families that lived locally. Alexis gave some of the reasons she had heard.
     To "look in on" mother without disturbing her would be a great advantage to us. Mother was getting along in years, but was still quite independent and active. She'd often work in her garden for hours, go for walks, or go off visiting with friends. Even though she had a computer, voice mail, smart phone, texting, and we could leave messages, we would often feel concerned when we didn’t get a response for several hours. Sometimes she was immersed in her activities and didn’t pay attention to all of her messaging devices. And she didn't want to have to report in to us all the time. If she was hurt or in trouble, how would we know without running over there? We had made arrangements with her neighbors in case of emergency, but more than once we had disturbed them because we were worried—and mother had simply gone off shopping with a friend for the afternoon. So we did worry, because we couldn't put demands on her. And besides, she would have paid them no heed anyway!
     A PSB would allow mother to tell us where she was at without having to do anything besides entering a simple code. With codes on the PSB for "outside gardening," "out with friends," "sleeping," and others, we could rest assured that she was okay, and just getting into her usual activities. (There was also, of course, a "need help" code.) At the same time, she could be informed about what we were up to, and would know when we would be happy to hear from her. (She hated not being able to reach us when she wanted to, the same way we worried when we couldn’t reach her.)
     As Alexis described this scenario, I realized a PSB would help solve communications problems with my mother that had been a concern to us. I had to admit that PSB technology would be a plus in our household, but there was still no need to consider being in an MC. I wasn't going to move anywhere.
     Alexis listed the PSB advantages she'd have with her sister. Although they talked on the phone often, they both wasted a lot of time trying to reach each other. For example, one would wait around because she figured the other would want to go shopping with her, only to find out that the other would have already gone. Naomi didn't want to keep running over to our house when she couldn’t reached us because there was some chance Alexis was home, but outside gardening. Naomi could look at our PSB much more easily. I did agree that both women seemed to waste a lot of time trying to coordinate with and find each other.
     Well, with a few good reasons to set up a PSB, I conceded that a PSB might be helpful. So we each set one up and got added the codes we wanted. But we weren't an MC, of course. We enjoyed the PSBs. With my mother, it gave us a lot of peace of mind, and also new opportunities to get together with her. She was using all the codes, and did, more often that we would have guessed, express interest in having someone to talk to. So we would get together with her much more often than we used to. Sometimes she'd stay with us for a few days, and she'd enter her codes from our computer. That's the nice thing about PSBs. You can enter your code from any computer, tablet or smart phone. Sometimes, if Alexis was visiting her sister, and they decided to go out and do something, she'd update her from there, and leave.
     Everyone started using all the PSB codes and kept their statuses up to date. And then what happened was a couple of the neighbors got interested in what we were doing, and wanted to know what kind of advantages we enjoyed by doing this. These were people that we'd known for years, but hadn't really socialized with them—until now. So we started getting to know them over a few months, and eventually invited them into our network once we realized that we were becoming good friends. We now had a five-household, long-distance (long distance because my brother and mother were outside the neighborhood) PSB group. Having our two sets of neighbors involved really changed the dynamics of the communications. People started getting together that never had before. We found out that we had a lot in common with these people who had been our neighbors for so many years, and that we liked them very much, too. And my mother started spending more and more time at our home because she wanted to be nearer her "new friends."
     And then a funny thing happened. We had all gotten together for a barbecue one Sunday afternoon, and my brother and his wife started joking about how "you guys have started an MC." I suppose they weren't including themselves even though they were in our network, because they lived across town. And someone else pointed out to them that they sure did spend an extraordinary amount of time in a neighborhood they weren't living in; and that there was a house for sale on the block and they ought to move into it. My mother had practically moved in with us, and we were already considering putting her house up for sale.
     Then we all looked at each other and said "Nah, we don't need an MC, this is already great for all of us." My brother and his wife went for a short walk and were seen talking quietly and seriously together for a good part of the afternoon. We didn't think much of it. I think we had all learned some mutual respect and respect for privacy, and figured that if they had something to share with us, they would do so when they were ready. Well, we were eating dessert and they announced that they had looked at the house that was for sale during their walk, and were seriously thinking of selling theirs and moving to the neighborhood. The reaction from everyone was surprise. And no one said anything. Now, we hadn't learned much about serious P.E.T. communication or active listening in our group. But there was so much TV with P.E.T. stuff in it, that we'd jokingly (at least we'd thought it was jokingly; looking back on it I now realize it wasn't jokingly—we did it because it enhanced our communication!) do active listening all the time. After a very long silence Fred said, "So you've been feeling left out of our little group, and want to participate more?" At first I thought Fred was making a joke (I think a few others did too), but everyone was unsure. We looked over at him to find out what was next (Fred WAS one of our big jokers) and we saw that he was dead serious. I think that was the moment that our MC was born. We realized that it had been gestating for many, many months, but we hadn't realized we were pregnant until that afternoon when it was born.
     As they say, the rest is history. My mother sold her house and moved in with us. My brother and his wife moved to the house they looked at that day. The rest of us were already well situated for a one-block MC. So we registered our group and answered the Questionnaire at The Big Answer and found four other couples that we got along with splendidly, and eventually they moved onto the block. We now have an eight-household MC.
     Looking back, it's kind of funny because we feel that we invented MCs our way, but we didn't know we were doing it at the time. And we were resisting doing an MC because we thought of it as nontraditional and nonconservative. We also didn't feel that we needed it. Without children, the form of our MC is different. But we've connected our back yards and built a central structure that's our play area. When anybody's kids and grandchildren come to visit, we turn one half of this rayless sun into day care for them, and everyone in our MC, along with the visiting parents, takes turns caregiving (I remember when I used to call it "baby-sitting") during visits.
     Alexis is having a field day with new landscaping projects. Most of us spend a lot of time working in the outside area that we all share. In fact, one of the National MC Magazines heard about how beautiful we'd made our common space (we were proud of it, too) and had asked us if they could photograph it to inspire others to landscape their back yards. We're still thinking about whether we want to "go public" with our private spaces. But if it can help others on their MC-creation journeys, we'll probably let them photograph it and remain anonymous in the process.
     Several in our MC help locally, coordinating introductory MC events for empty-nesters, and for elders, and even do outreach to people we have affectionately dubbed: "who are like we used to be" to assure them that MCs are not cultish, or communist, or anything weird, but just good people who enjoy life more because they now share it with a few more people—and a few LESS TVs.
     I feel I'm starting to see the big picture here. MCs are simply our culture taking a maturity step. One long overdue. The recent statistics on crime, drugs, abuse, divorce, violence, suicide, illegitimacy, alcoholism, obesity, and adultery have depicted an amazing reversal of the 70s and 80s cultural deterioration, as documented in MC news stories. It would seem that "those damned liberals" weren't the only causal factor in the decline of the realization of the American Dream. Apparently the problem was more about isolation, alienation, ineffective parenting and communication, and the barrier of the mechanistic paradigm, than it was about liberals turning our country into a welfare state full of weak-willed, good-for-nothings bleeding the system dry and spoiling their kids with overpermissiveness. What else can I conclude? The liberals haven't changed their ways, nor have the conservatives (except for parenting, which both factions have been revamping in their MCs). But the culture is healing wonderfully. And the only factor that's involved—the only thing that's really made a big impact since just before the healing began—is the MC movement. I like to think of it as "evolution in action."
     After the Gulf War, domestic problems had become more and more desperate. Education, the economy, the banks, meltdowns, the bail-out, drugs, AIDS, child abuse and all the rest weighed heavily on the hearts of all patriotic Americans. We all—especially us conservatives—longed for the times (pioneer or Colonial days? the post-World War II boom?) when close-knit communities full of patriotic citizens enjoyed respectful, responsible kids, and created success and happiness with the skill of their hands and the sweat of their brows. A time when neighbors were known and could be counted on, and when relatives were respected and loved and a continuing part of one's life as he or she grew up and got older. A time when good moral values were passed on and on, from generation to generation. A time when immorality was seen as what it was; it wasn't simply "doing your own thing." It was a problem needing a cure.
     Patriotism and military might can't fix a seriously degenerating domestic scene. The lives people were leading were simply NOT representative of what was great about America. The statistics clearly showed that most people were alienated, lonely, unhappy, isolated, unconnected and unrelated, and the myriad of contemporary symptoms were their way of expressing their dysfunction and their lack of solidarity or happiness.
     Without a clear sense of morality, respect, responsibility, connectedness, community solidarity and relatedness, Americans are a bunch of lost sheep, crying in the wilderness. Without purpose or direction, America cannot be great. The MCs are helping us regain the American greatness of character. They are providing purpose and direction, in the form of close encounters of the second and third kinds. We no longer have to impress the world with smart bombs. Now we impress them with smart people. Toffler predicted, correctly, that it is knowledge and not coercion that would be the most important form of power. How right he was. Now America is about positive power.
     Nothing in the world was more important to me than really "getting America back"—the America we conservatives hold dear in our hearts. The strong, moral one with respectful, responsible people—young and old. Well, it's happened. Thank you, MC movement. God bless you and God bless the United States of America. America IS back!