Marisa Osorio, husband Neil Sofge, and their kids, Maia and Carlos, at home, the house where Marisa grew up (and her mother still lives).
Moving Back to a Multigenerational Home with Marisa Osorio
Multigenerational living is nothing new to Marisa Osorio. She and her family — husband and two teens — recently moved back to the 100-year-old two-family house she grew up in, in Queens, NYC, to renovate the space to work for everyone, and her mom, too. When Marisa grew up in this house, she shared her bedroom with her grandmother. Marisa shares the ups and downs of making this multigen arrangement work for everyone.
MEET OUR GUEST:
MARISA OSORIO is a writer, communications executive and working mom of two New York City teens. She's shown in photo above with her family in front of her childhood home in Queens — where the whole family lives now, after she and clan moved back to be with Osorio's mother and renovate the aging home.
Hello! I'm editorial director of FirstlySM, but I’m also the mother of two, spouse of one, and the daughter and step-daughter to my children's grandparents. I know firsthand how complex life can be, and how it can change in an instant. I also know how hard it can be to prepare for the future, especially one that impacts our kids, our parents, let alone ourselves. And today's guest knows this, too. Marisa, thank you so much for sharing your sandwich story with us today.
Happy to be here. Thanks so much for having me.
You and I have known each other for decades, and you've known my husband for even longer than that. Today we both have high school kids looking at colleges, but you've gone the extra step and added your mom to the mix. I would love for you to start us off by describing your Sandwich life — and who's on your to-do list right now.
I should begin at the beginning, in that the Sandwich life is not unusual for me. A million years ago, when my parents got married, they went to visit my paternal grandmother and my mom noticed that there wasn't a lot of food in her refrigerator. She told my dad, "Why don't we have her live with us?"
As an adult looking back, you know, I think, How brave. You're newly married, and you're now proposing that your mother-in-law live with you?
It was really great for my brother and me because you have not only someone who can take care of you when you come home from school, but it's your grandmother to boot. I shared a room with my grandmother in the same house that I'm living in now, except I now live on the second floor.
Looking back at it — what an amazing experience. As she got older, my grandmother needed more help and the commode would eventually move into our room and I would help her the middle of the night. I feel really happy and blessed that I got that experience because it makes you more aware of aging and teaches you to think outside of yourself.
So that wasn't unusual for me to live in sort of a multi-generational setting. My brother in his infinite wisdom saw my mom aging and suggested we put my mother's house in our name for financial reasons, to get ready. We had moved around a lot — I was a newspaper reporter — and I was ready to come back to New York.
Thinking back at it, if I had to do it all over again, it would have been really nice to live close to family, when my children were little, that would have been really helpful and smart. But now we're back.
It's a two-family house that is 100 years old — and someone older cannot take care of it as well as they should. It just became a very natural decision. Because it's what you do. As someone who's very close to their mom and who's family is from Puerto Rico, I just didn't think twice about it. Luckily my lovely husband, who is not a huge fan of New York City, realized that it was probably in everyone's best interest. And my kids were at a transition point, starting high school and middle school. Then our house started falling apart. But that's a separate story.
It's like it waited for you to show up! Is that why you renovated?
This space hadn't really been touched in a long time. So out of necessity, we needed to renovate. That wasn't cheap, but we didn't have a mortgage, either. It has been a pretty good transition and we have separate floors.
What's nice is that if I make extra food, I give some to my mom or she makes something and she'll give it to me, and it's all very fluid, the space is very fluid. It's nice to have sort of run of the house and also to be able to maintain it. We had a huge sewer failure in 2019 and I'm really glad we were here because I can't even begin to wrap my head around what my mom would have done with all of that.
As someone who is distant from their parents, you never get the full story, even if they try to tell it to you.
Oh, yes, and your parents don't always tell you things. There have been times where my mom's like, "Oh, you know, I got dizzy." And I think, So, this isn't good. And you know, I see it on the other side as well. I remember telling a friend of mine a long time ago as his dad was aging, I said, "Don't you tell your dad 'Oh, you should eat better?' " He just looked at me and said, "Do I want my kid to tell me when I'm 78 years old what to do? How to eat? No." He raised an excellent point.
I often think of my step-grandmother, who lived into her 90s still smoking and eating beef. And I think, yeah, God bless. If she's happy doing what she's doing, who am I to judge?
This gets us to life in the middle. You and your husband are in the middle of this wonderful orbit. It's orbiting around you — and one day, it'll orbit around your kids. But right now, it orbits around you. Do you feel like you're making decisions for your mother?
Initially that was hard, because you want to make sure people feel that their voice is being heard and respected. Everybody wants to feel that they have some control of their life. So that's a balance. I tell my mom what's going on, and I try to be as respectful as possible.
But now, you know, since we're all here, and we fixed up her house, it's gotten easier. I'm very blessed to have this husband of mine who can fix anything. I mean, anyone looking to get married, choose somebody with an engineering degree, because you will always have your stuff fixed. He is amazing.
He really is.
All kidding aside, he did not want to have the burden of homeownership. But he's very good about taking care of things. So, he is the one person I try to take care of as much as possible because he is the main breadwinner in this house. Certainly, the pandemic has had challenges for all of us. I mean, my, my father-in-law, who was living in an assisted living situation wound up getting the virus and died last year.
I lost my dad in the same way. It’s that moment, when you're getting these calls but you can't visit them — that's part of the stress that comes out of nowhere. You need to make decisions as things are happening but you can't be there.
Now when you look back, are there things you would have done differently in having made this leap to jump back into New York to move in with mom? What do you wish you would have known outside of the sewer in your house?
I think if I had to do it all over again, maybe I would have moved less. It probably would have been nice for finances.
We move around, us reporter types, market to market, like itinerant snake oil salespeople or something. I don't know why, but I'm with you. All those silly moves? At least we have stories to tell.
What are you thinking about with the future, now that you've settled in?
I'm not moving again. I should knock on wood as I say this, because hopefully the house does not present any more challenges to us, as old as old houses tend to do, but I do feel very lucky. We all know people in the Sandwich Generation who have not been as fortunate. My brother is really an amazing person to work with, an amazing partner in this.
I had a friend from high school, who lives in the neighborhood, and she had her mom also, same situation: has a son in high school, daughter in college, in the house that she grew up in. But the house was in a trust that all of her siblings had. She had been taking care of her mom and getting paid to take care of her mom and they lived in a two-family house situation like mine. Her mom very sadly died of a massive heart attack about a year ago. Her siblings swept in, said, "Okay, we're going to sell the house and you need to move." Who does this? I just was appalled.
And the thing with the Sandwich Generation is that it's ever-changing. It's not based on age, it's based on circumstance, so there's always going to be new people coming into the club. My grandmother used to talk about the fights over dealing with their her parents’ farm with her siblings.
I'm so glad to have a sibling on the same page. He's so special in that he's so sensitive to things like this. I've heard so many of those stories that make me so sad. You only get your parents for a short amount of time. It's really everything they have invested. It's their work, it's their labor. I'm just happy to be here. You don't have to give me anything. I'm just happy to help you and when you need me the most, as you did for me when I needed it.
I think the one thing to remember is that since women tend to be the primary caretakers in the Sandwich Generation — and Hispanic women, in particular, bear that burden — I think a tip I could share is to make sure your cup is full. Because if your cup is empty, you cannot refill other people's cups, right? It's not going to happen. You have to carve out at least a little time for yourself, in whatever way that makes you happy.
For me, it's just like, I want to go on a walk. Between the sun and the endorphins from the exercise, it's helpful. And then I'm just like, I'm breathing. Now, what does everyone need?
Family can help you to share that load too. You don't have to do it all yourself.
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