A Hop, Skip, and a Jump
To grandparents’ house we go
Over the river and through the woods, to grandmother’s house we go. Or, for little Vivienne Smith, out the back door, down a shady, hosta-lined path, and through a connecting gate that leads to her grandparents’ abode. Because, Gigi and Big, as she affectionately calls them, live right next door.
“It’s a pretty cool setup,” says Bunker Hill resident Kristen Taylor Smith, who goes by the nickname KT. She and husband, Nate, are parents of the perennially smiling Vivienne, 7, and baby sister Charlotte, 1, who they call Coco. Add goldendoodle Remy to the mix and it’s a full house next door to Big and Gigi, otherwise known as KT’s dad and stepmom, Craig and Penny Glidden. And the really cool twist to this setup? KT’s parents still live in the house where they raised her with siblings Emily and brother Sam.
So, it’s déjà vu on steroids for this young mom when she pops next door to borrow the proverbial cup of sugar. Well, to some extent. “My parents have done a lot of remodeling over the years,” KT explains. “My bedroom, well pretty much most of the rooms, don’t look like when I lived here. They redid a bathroom and I keep going to where the toilet used to be, which is now a closet. Whoops!”
In an age where multigenerational living is gaining traction again, KT and her parents figure they have the best of both worlds, living side by side.
“For the longest time, I never wanted to move back to Houston. I grew up here and I wanted something completely different,” says KT. She and Nate met in Houston before marrying and moving to Denver where they lived for eight years, working remote jobs, from home. She’s in international marketing, helping companies market their products on all points of the globe. He’s the sales director for a medical device company.
They were happily dwelling in a 1600-square foot house in Denver, and a nice older couple were like surrogate grandparents to Vivienne, doting on her, babysitting her. “They got the experience that Vivienne’s actual grandparents weren’t getting,” KT says.
But then came baby number 2, and the couple’s need for more space collided with skyrocketing prices in the Denver housing market. Hmm… ideas started percolating.
“I remember walking one day in Denver’s Washington Park and we saw a bunch of people there with their kids and families. And I remember thinking ‘What would it look like if we located closer to family?’” recalls Nate, whose parents also live in Texas, in Longview and Dallas. “That got the ball rolling.”
Thoughts turned toward Bunker Hill, and a charming Tudor house next to KT’s childhood home. Yes, another cool twist to this tale: Her folks already owned that house next door.
Craig and Penny purchased it years ago from an elderly neighbor whose wife had died. “My mom and Craig’s mom were getting to that age where we thought it would be nice to have them living next door,” explains Penny. Craig’s mom died shortly thereafter, and never lived in the house. But Penny’s mother lived there for several years, before moving to East Texas with family. KT’s sister lived there a while, too.
“It was a wonderful house to have for family that needed it,” says Penny. “And I’m so glad we bought it. We were worried that someone would buy it, tear it down and sell the land to someone who would build a McMansion next door, overlooking our property, affecting our privacy. We didn’t want that.”
The tasteful Tudor has been teeming with new life since May, when KT and family moved in. It’s had a facelift, too, with new paint and floors, roof, windows, and other improvements.
“I didn’t even know that was something they were thinking about, moving back here!” exclaims Craig. “We had no idea that they would be interested in coming back. They’d been adamant about being in Denver. But I think it was the power of attraction, this neighborhood, that got them back here. It’s a wonderful place to live. We sold the house to them at the same price we bought it for eight years ago. It has worked out great.”
Indeed, Craig and Penny were tickled pink and every other color at the thought of having their grandkids right next door. Whether it’s reading the same book six times in a row, singing about the stars or itsy-bitsy spiders, or playing some game, they’re up for it. It won’t be long before Coco is a toddler hurtling toward them with a lurchy gait, joining Vivienne in fun antics.
Tender moments. Building memories.
Coming back has given me such a new perspective on why my parents chose to live here,” says KT, who remembers the charm of the neighborhood, even before her parents settled there. “I was riding bikes in the neighborhood with my dad when I was a kid, and that’s when he first laid eyes on his house. It was this amazing modern house, and he was immediately smitten with it.”
“I saw the house and fell in love with it,” Craig chimes in. “I wanted that house since that bike ride. And here we are. When it became available in 2000, we jumped on it.” Indeed, Craig and Penny’s modern gem, resplendent in curved walls and balconies, is a showstopper on the street.
Vivienne enjoys hanging out there. “We play Squishmallow trivia,” she says, giggling at some of the activities she enjoys with her grandparents. For those who aren’t “in the know,” Squishmallows – large, bulbous, brightly colored plush toys – are all the rage, sort of like yesteryear’s Beanie Babies craze. Vivienne is quite the Squishmallow expert and has thoroughly versed Craig and Penny on their names.
“Oh, yeah, the blue one there is Jerome, then there’s Nick, Stevie, and Jingles,” says Craig, an excellent student. As general counsel for General Motors Company, he’s summoned to Detroit periodically, where he and Penny also have a home. He’s on GM’s leadership team, helping to drive their vision for an all-electric car future. Sometimes, there’s a purple and white powered-up pony with a unicorn horn on his doorstep in Bunker Hill, Vivienne’s favorite emissions-free ride to see Gigi and Big.
“She’ll trot over to our place,” says Craig.
“Vivienne loves going over to their place. Sometimes we have to say to her, ‘Come home!’” her mom says, laughing.
It's these small daily interactions, life’s connective tissue, that makes this setup so special, says the family.
“A lot of times when we see each other, it’s not a planned event. It’s just those little things, like bumping into each other at the mailbox, while out walking the dogs, things like that. It’s really nice,” Nate explains.
“Multi-generational living is really smart for everybody,” says Craig. “Also noteworthy, we have appropriate boundaries. It’s not like we are over here imposing on them, or they are over there imposing on us. It’s not like that. Everybody’s got their life. We’re doing our thing. But we come together in a respectable way that’s healthy.”
“Honestly, I don’t think we’ve even had to discuss boundaries. Nothing has ever been an issue,” says Nate.
KT and Penny cherish their mornings together, seeing first-grader Vivienne off to Bunker Hill Elementary. “My mom comes over and stands at the bus stop with us every morning. Then we take a walk together in the neighborhood before starting our day,” KT says. The two households come together for Sunday dinners.
KT’s younger sister, Emily, also a Houston resident, visits often, playing with Vivienne and Coco. “She comes for dinners and it’s just such a special time, her playing with the kids,” KT says.
“It’s hard to believe that for the longest time I didn’t want to come back here. But it took coming back to get the perspective on why my parents chose to live here and how great the area is. Memorial is such a strong community. I’m seeing it with new eyes. I’m so grateful to be back.”
On this day, a soft galloping sound is coming from the driveway. It’s Vivienne on her pony, returning from Gigi and Big’s. “Here she comes. You’ve got to love it, that little galloping sound the pony makes,” says Penny, just a step behind, making sure pony doesn’t go full throttle.
KT, Coco on her hip, points to her kitchen window, reflecting on a future when Vivienne will back down the driveway in a car, not a toy pony or scooter. “The minute we were unpacking boxes here, I was standing at the kitchen sink window and picturing her one day in high school,” she says. “We’re going to be seeing lots of milestones from that window. Lots of milestones to share.”
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