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Living in Small Spaces

One day not long ago, the word came down from our employer: My wife and I had earned a one-year reassignment to a great city, Barcelona,  where there were good schools, a famous zoo, fantastic mass transportation, a beautiful coastline, a diverse population, countless museums, more than 2,000 restaurants, and a mosaic of intriguing and intimate neighborhoods. We were thrilled for both ourselves and our three kids.

That is, until we checked out the rental rates. In our current little town of 7,000 people, we could afford a 2,400-square-foot, four-bedroom red-brick house with two and a half bathrooms, a fenced backyard, and a basement where I occasionally hid out from chores or noise, all for less than $1,300 per month in mortgage. But in our desirable new metropolis, even with using our savings, the best we could do was an 800-square-foot inner-city apartment with one bathroom and no yard or basement whatsoever.

"You tell the kids," I said.

"No, you tell the kids," my wife said.

One night, over dessert, we told our far-flung kids, separated not by space but by years of age, by showing them the online photos of our soon-to-be home.

"That's my room?" Jacob, our 12-year-old, asked incredulously, pointing to an eight-by-eight-foot living space, with twin bed and a dresser and an iota of floor left over. "Where is my Wii going to go? What about my kitty?"

"I can't believe you guys are doing this to me," our 16-year-old daughter, Cade, said. "You are ruining my life." Her bedroom was 5 by 11 feet, long and thin, whereas Jacob's was a perfect square.

"Where am I going to sleep?" Benjamin, our 4-year-old, wondered.

"You and Jacob are going to share a room. Isn't that exciting?" Kathryn said.

"WHAT?" Jacob said.

"It'll be okay," I said.

Fred Leebron is the author of three novels. He and most of his family are now back at home in Gettysburg, PA. His daughter Cade has returned to Barcelona for her senior year of high school.