Jeannie Herrick at her Aptos home
Jeannie Herrick (center) with her daughter and her daughter’s partner at the Aptos home they now share.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)
Opinion from Community Voices

Living with your 40-something children isn’t for everyone, but it’s trending in Santa Cruz

“I tease them that they have taken over my whole house, which is not far from the truth, but the trade-off for me is that they are wonderful, healthy cooks who make dinner for me nearly every night,” Jeannie Herrick writes of her adult daughter and her daughter’s partner, who moved into Herrick’s Aptos home after leaving Los Angeles amid the pandemic. “I am definitely getting spoiled.”

Have something to say? Lookout welcomes letters to the editor, within our policies, from readers. Guidelines here.

This is a story about gardening, the pandemic and cohabitating with your adult children post-pandemic. It sounds like a whirlwind, but it’s all connected.

You have only to watch the national news and see Al Roker displaying a map of the United States, which is nearly all hot pink and orange or showing devastating flooding, to breathe a sigh of relief and to offer up a prayer of gratitude that we live here on California’s Central Coast.

Unfortunately, our housing prices and rental prices reflect that. Paradise is darn expensive.

We paid $225,000 for a three-bedroom house in the Aptos hills in 1987. Now — like nearly all houses in the area — it would sell for well over $1 million.

Aptos proved a good place to grow plants and to enjoy caring for them. Santa Cruz County has such a diversity of microclimates — everything from redwood forest to open meadows, riparian environments and coastal beachy settings — and the variety of plants that can be grown here amazes me. The rich soil and good growing conditions here are evident in the strawberries, blackberries, apples, flowers and vegetables commercially grown here.

When I was a kid, I remember being mystified why my mother would want to spend hours sticking her hands into the dirt, weeding and planting, planting and weeding. It’s not that I was a “neatnik” — far from it. I did not mind getting my hands dirty, but gardening was just so BORING.

Fast forward to 1974 when my husband, Jeff, and I, who were both teachers at the time, bought our first house under redwood trees in Aptos. I still did not get into gardening in a big way. There was little direct sunlight and, as far as I could tell, not many plants would grow well under the redwoods. Push ahead again 13 years and we had three kids and moved to sunny Day Valley in the Aptos hills, where the conditions could not be more different.

At that time, Aptos Village had no stoplights and had more of a rural feeling. There were few mini mansions, and all of Santa Cruz County was an affordable place to live. These days, so many of us parents despair that our grown kids will never be able to own homes or to live nearby.

Jeannie Herrick at her Aptos home
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

Jeff was Watsonville’s information systems manager at a time when the city had not yet transitioned from those room-sized mainframe computers, which used punch cards. I was a teacher for students with special needs and had transferred from Santa Cruz to the Pajaro Valley school district. The area behind our new residence had fairly recently been a Christmas tree farm.

I had only one side garden that was shaded, and the rest was in full sun. We planted a variety of trees: oaks, birches and liquid ambers, a locust, apple and an apricot. Like many enthusiastic new homeowners, we did not fully understand how large and close together these trees would grow to be. We chose two varieties of oak: a valley oak and a coast live oak, looking ahead to the days when our grandchildren would climb them, which is now the case.

Unfortunately, my husband did not live to know those grandchildren, as he died unexpectedly from a rare disease in 2004.

But the trees live on, along with three citrus trees that came with the house — a lemon, an orange and a grapefruit – plus a gnarled old pear tree which has its best crop ever this summer, probably due to getting more water this past winter.

The flashy stars of my garden in summer are my Matilija poppies, also known as fried egg plants. They really do look like fried eggs and have a subtle, delicate perfume. I cut these beauties down to ground level every year and they regrow to nearly 12 feet tall, covered with huge white flowers with round yellow centers. They cover a lot of ground and can be difficult to get started. But once they take off, stand back. They are extremely invasive.

The pandemic was good for my property and bad if you were a weed.

Instead of traveling, which I love to do and have developed quite a reputation for, I stayed home and pulled weeds, micromanaging practically every square foot of my blessedly level half acre.

Also as a result of the pandemic and the increasing option of working from home, my daughter Amy and her partner, Andy, musicians as well as web designers and co-founders of a health startup, became increasingly dissatisfied with apartment life in Los Angeles.

One day while we were talking on the phone about Southern California real estate prices, I mused: “Why don’t you move here and turn the barn into a music studio?” She told me she had landed on that same idea the night before. We often have synchronicities like this, so we took it as a sign.

They moved in late October and immediately started taking over both the back half of the house and the vegetable garden, which at that time consisted of just two raised beds and a couple of other underused plots. Andy became a true convert to country living and Amy revived her 4H club dream of having chickens.

I understand that cohabitating with your 40-something adult children wouldn’t be for everyone, but it is happening quite a lot around here, I notice.

Jeannie Herrick at her Aptos home
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

I was carpooling with three friends last year on a trip to San Francisco and realized that each of the four of us had an adult child living on their property. And then there are my friends Becky and Teresa, who each have had multiple family members — kids and grandchildren who are saving to afford a home, and elderly mothers — all living under one roof for years. I consider them present-day saints.

And while both the “kids” and I were a bit apprehensive about our arrangement at first, I have to say it is working out better than any of us anticipated. I am fortunate my house is large, with bedrooms on either end. And the fact that they are “childless by choice” helps.

I tease them that they have taken over my whole house, which is not far from the truth, but the trade-off for me is that they are wonderful, healthy cooks who make dinner for me nearly every night. They also clean up after themselves, make the coffee in the morning, do minor home repairs and haul the trash cans up and down my long driveway every week. I am definitely getting spoiled.

Andy grew up in Orange County and has lived in cities all his life when he wasn’t on the road as a touring musician. I found it hard to believe that he had never planted a seed or perhaps even a seedling in his life. But, being the totally curious and friendly person that he is, he quickly learned about fertilizers, how to support seedlings, drip irrigation and more.

Unfortunately, he also learned about gophers when one by one his broccoli plants were cut off at the roots and succumbed.

Andy made friends with a local organic farmer at the farmers market and spent some time volunteering with Farmer Ken and soaking up his quiet wisdom. It feels as though he is making my property into a mini organic farm, which is not a bad idea in this era of high food prices.

But perhaps the best part of our arrangement is the opportunities to form a new type of day-to-day relationship with my daughter as an adult in a partnership. My daughter and I have more time to trade ideas and ask each other’s advice, and has told me she appreciates getting to know me as a person and not just her mother.

I think we will look back on this era of intergenerational living, more common in other cultures, with real fondness. What began as an experiment might go on for an indefinite period of time. I’m not complaining.

And the barn remodel project? It has yet to get off the ground, nine months later.

Jeannie Herrick has lived in Santa Cruz County since 1973. She taught both in Santa Cruz and in Watsonville, working with students with special needs from birth to 21. Jeannie has been retired since 2010, has traveled and camped extensively and belongs to two local book clubs. She enjoys walking and hiking, travel, writing and spending time with family, including her four grandchildren.