My daughter has ADD and we need more space!

I like where we live, but our house is so cramped. Should we move?

Published October 17, 2007 11:04AM (EDT)

Dear Cary,

My husband and I have two daughters, ages 10 and 6. We have lived in a small house with no garage and no basement since before we were married, and are now thinking of moving to a bigger house in the same town. We have a little money socked away, and financially it would be quite doable; I've checked, and I'm pretty sure we would even be able to keep our kids in their present schools. The main rationale for moving is our kids. One of them has ADD and has experienced frequent meltdowns since she was a toddler. We love her dearly and she has many wonderful qualities, but let's face it: Parenting her is exhausting. Our house experiences a lot of screaming, broken mirrors, cracked drywall, etc., and when that happens there's no place to get away. It would be so nice to have a house where my husband and I could send the kids down to the basement after dinner so we could actually have a quiet conversation, where my husband would have a hideaway where he could go to escape the noise and the hazards of living with three high-maintenance females (we all qualify). I would like that, too. And it would be so nice to actually be able to park my car in a garage for the first time in my entire life. (Somehow, I've never been able to manage that.)

But the house we are in is fine, really. It's on a good street. We like most of our neighbors, some of them quite a bit. It has big towering oaks in the backyard that I truly love (I am a big tree person -- they are almost like sentient beings to me). The house we would be moving to would most likely be on a smaller lot, and I sure would miss those oaks. And part of me is feeling guilty about even wanting a bigger house. I mean, the house we're in was considered more than ample for a family of four in the 1950s. Why not now? Maybe we could use that money to take the kids to Europe, or private schools, or just sock it away for a rainy day. On the other hand, I never imagined that I'd leave this house for the nursing home, and I don't want to get my life into a big huge rut. And who knows? Maybe we'll put all this money into investments just in time for a worldwide recession, and then we'll have neither money nor house.

You can see how I go back and forth. As life changes go, this one would be about as easy as they come. I think. Help me decide!

Ambivalent About Moving

Dear Ambivalent,

I love that you have those oak trees, and that you almost feel they are sentient beings. Oak trees are important. People are important, too. It is not easy to find good people and good trees. If you have good people and good trees, do not move away from them! Make them part of your solution. Build on the good stuff. In this case, literally: Build on the good stuff: Build a treehouse and a carport.


Look in the yellow pages and on the Web and talk to friends in order to find an architect. Talk to the architect. Tell the architect you want a treehouse and a carport. If the architect doesn't get it, find another one. Or, if the architect says there are other solutions, listen carefully. Maybe there are. Architects are smart, some of them. Find one who understands the problem you are trying to solve -- which is a spiritual problem in some sense. It is about the spirit of the place. Right now the spirit of the place is chaotic and frightening and out of control and enclosed. So you find yourself imagining putting the girls in a basement. There is something about this, I suspect, that is about control and protection and perhaps also retribution, a final solution: Put them out of sight and out of mind. Believe me, I understand. You need a solution. It is impossible to live as you are. It is driving you nuts. But this is not the solution. They would not be out of sight and out of mind in the basement. You would hear them and fear for whatever is going on. If there is anything to break, anything to run into, anything that could get smashed, it will still get smashed even if it is in the basement and you will still have no peace.

I say build a treehouse instead. Build a structure that captures their energy and sends it up into the sky.

What am I thinking about? I am thinking about how in moments of stress we want to sell the house and move. I am thinking about how, emotionally speaking, it can seem as though the solution to a problem is bold, radical change. It feels sort of good to imagine bold, radical change as the solution. I feel this, too. But here is what seems to happen. When we make a bold, radical change to solve a problem the new problems we are presented with take over our attention to the point that we can no longer even focus on the old problem, the one our change was supposed to solve. But this is OK for a while, because new problems are often more interesting than old problems. It can actually be sort of enjoyable to deal with new problems. But of course the old ones remain.

And this was the way it was in my house when I was a kid and things got rocky with the parents. When things got rocky with the parents you started hearing about a move to England or France. Why England or France? We did not know about incremental changes; it was always Move to England or Move to France -- which we never did. We moved a lot but never to England or France. I was attached to trees and people and streets, and to birds, too, and to the river and the sky and certain people and their cars and the way they walked, and the little creek nearby. I felt the loss of it all when we moved. So for the kids I say don't move. Instead: Build them a treehouse. And for you, build a shelter for your car. These things can be done with relatively little expense. A shelter for your car can be little more than a tent, or awning, or it can be with a hard roof and framing. It can connect to the house so you are sheltered as you move in and out of your car. It can be for two cars or one; it can be for bicycles too, and a lawn mower, on a concrete pad. It can be another outdoor space where the girls can run around when it is raining.

This is about shelter. It is also about being trapped. You need more shelter and also to be less trapped. There may be things in the house that are trapping you. I don't know what this would be, but it may be that by arranging some of the living elements in the house you can achieve some liberation. You may need also to clear the house of clutter. I don't know, I'm just guessing.

But the treehouse really appeals to me strongly! I wanted a treehouse when I was a kid! Maybe I'm projecting. But what the heck, I get to project, right? The treehouse can be like a dream. Take a look at these amazing and beautiful treehouses, and see if you can get inspired. Who knows, it might actually help with the ADD for the kid to get out there in the trees, as this 2005 Salon article on the book "Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder," suggests. Maybe that sounds far-fetched. But you know that you love the oaks. Love of nature is powerful. It can be a powerful influence on children. Why not put your daughters in the oaks, instead of in a basement? Put them up high in the trees! Then let them go crazy!

In other words:

Now is a good time to build a treehouse.

Now is a bad time to sell your house and buy another.

Now is a good time to build a carport.

You might be surprised how a simple carport, a shelter from the rain connected to the house by an awning, can improve your life. It might be little more than a tent, actually, or it could be a frame structure, but it would shelter you and your car. And it would be something to drive into. We sometimes do not realize what we are looking for symbolically. If you read the book "A Pattern Language," or even browse through it, or consider the ideas of its adherents, you may realize that many of our desires for architectural elements can be met quite simply, because they are not always desires for specific structures, but rather for a way of symbolically interacting with the space around us in a way that acknowledges our natural instincts. For instance, a bench in the right place can transform an entryway into living space.

Now is a good time to seek some joyful interaction with the oak trees.

Now is also a good time to ask an architect, How much do you think it would cost to build a small study off the back of the house, with a view of the trees and a deck?

Go out there under those oaks and start imagining. Walk around and imagine what it would be like to have a wing of the house that came back under the oaks, or near the oaks. Stand and look. Where would you want a window? Where would your husband want a study? How far away would you want to get the kids? Perhaps a noise-canceling hallway could be built; perhaps the addition could have certain sound-deadening properties, such as being built with special offset framing, sound-dampening fasteners, and heavier partition material. Talk to an architect about this. That's what I would do: Spend the money finding out exactly what your options are.

Whatever else you do, at least do this: Build a treehouse!

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