We outgrew our first home
More space proves to be the key for this multigenerational family.
It’s a common story: As a family gets bigger, they need more space. Ben Roewe and Annie Xoomsai had planned to move out of their Edgewater condo even before Xoomsai became pregnant with their second child last year. But another factor spurred the couple to look for their first house a bit sooner than they might have: Xoomsai’s father, Ed, was sharing their two-bedroom condo with them, having moved here from Thailand to help care for their oldest daughter, Penelope, now four years old.
“In Thai culture, we don’t really do nannies or sitters,” Xoomsai says. “I wanted somebody, family, to take care of my girls.” Ed Xoomsai and his late wife had raised Annie and her sister in the South Suburbs, but he’d moved back to his native land in 2004. Now a retired widower, he wanted to return to Chicago.
It wasn’t a hard sell with Roewe, Xoomsai recalls, seated in the living room of their split-level ranch in Morton Grove, which has five bedrooms and three bathrooms. “There are challenges, of course, but the pros outweigh the cons,” she says.
Besides space, schools and transportation were big concerns. They’d already experienced the anxiety of wait lists for preschool in Chicago, so the couple set their sights on the near North Suburbs with an eye on affordable, quality education. That region also promised an easy commute into the city: Roewe works as operations manager for an online advertising firm in the Loop; Xoomsai is a part-time nurse on the North Side.
After looking last spring at more than 50 houses in Evanston, Skokie and Lincolnwood, they were sold on Morton Grove by the house itself—a 1950s ranch that appears decades younger, thanks to work done by its previous owner, a developer. “A lot of the houses we looked at weren’t modern enough,” Xoomsai says. “The kitchens weren’t up-to-date, or the bathroom had avocado toilets,” but this was move-in ready, with a remodeled kitchen and spacious downstairs rec room complete with fireplace.
Having found the right house, Roewe quickly did additional research into school rankings. “I looked up elementary as well as middle and high schools,” he says. “They were all in the top 100, if not the top 50.” And the 17-mile commute downtown would be easy, with a Metra station just a mile from home. (It’s a 33-minute ride to Union Station.) Roewe often rides his bike to the train, and occasionally also uses the CTA’s Yellow Line, which ends in neighboring Skokie.
With the basics well covered, they started to learn about the proverbial cherries—especially all the green space. One-fifth of Morton Grove is Cook County Forest Preserves, open land for recreation, from bicycling to cross-country skiing to horseback riding. Roewe got excited: “Was that on our list of things we must have? No, but when I saw it, I was like, ‘Oh man, I really want to live there.’ ” They moved in August 2010, and still haven’t finished exploring all the area parks with the girls.
Both spouses agree that their new suburban life lacks little. “One thing I do miss is the Asian grocery stores,” Xoomsai says . “I would go to the Broadway and Argyle area about once a week to get my groceries.” But city services in Morton Grove are excellent—they say snow removal is as good, if not better, than Chicago’s. Sure, there’s more shoveling to do now that they have a driveway, “but the great thing is, we don’t have to put chairs out there to protect our spot,” says Xoomsai.
So everyone’s happy now, including Ed (the girls call him Tha, which is Thai for grandpa), who gets to putter in the yard when he’s not minding his grandkids. Meanwhile, Xoomsai and Roewe feel as if they have more privacy in the bigger house, since they have their own bath and both kids have their own bedrooms. Now all parties are satisfied examples of the slowly increasing nationwide trend of three generations living under one roof (a trend even reflected in the White House, where First Lady Michelle Obama’s mother also moved to be close to her granddaughters).
“It seems like when I tell friends or coworkers about it, they do get a kind of strange look on their face,” Roewe says of multigenerational living. “They’re like, ‘Well, how’s that going?’ From my perspective, it’s easier to live with someone else’s parents than to live with your own.”