Stately and commanding, the house I found on Sacramento Street, in Lower Pacific Heights, was an architectural jewel; tour buses drove down the street several times a day and the guides pointed out our Victorian “painted lady” not just for its curb appeal but also for its lucky survival of the earthquake. Meticulously renovated, the house had a layout that I was sure would work perfectly: a three-room suite on the lower level with a bathroom and laundry room for my mother, living space on the next level, and, on the top floor, bedrooms for Zoë and me. The master bedroom was large enough to double as my office. Moreover, it seemed symbolic that we should find a three-story nineteenth-century Victorian, whose original intention was to house multiple generations.
My mother couldn’t have been more pleased. She started calling our experiment “our year in Provence.” In the face of naysayers, I chose to embrace the reaction of a friend who was living in Beijing: “How Chinese of you!” she said upon hearing the news. When I told my mother, she was delighted. “What have the Chinese got on us?” she declared. And I agreed. The Chinese revere their elderly. If they could live happily with multiple generations under one roof, so could we.