Karen is from Connecticut. She has a degree in education. She loves game shows, animals, the beach, and her family.
Home is Forever
This past month a friend of ours, Lois, lost her mother. She passed away peacefully in her home. She had lived a full life. Mourners were sad, but it wasn’t a shock. She lived to be 96 years old; born the same year as Queen Elizabeth the Second, and deceased the same month of the same year. The services were a celebration of a life well-lived. Luis approached me as we were gathered. She put a hand on my shoulder and looked into my eyes. “Cherish this time with your parents. Make memories. They will be gone all too soon.” Tears formed in her eyes. I furrowed my brow. I understood, theoretically, but in practice, it was harder.
To shed some light on Lois's advice, I’ll describe my current circumstances. I recently moved back home with my parents, as an adult. An adult, living with other adults, or so it would seem.
It turns out I am not alone in my situation. Grown children boomeranging back home isn’t all that rare. Pew Research Center reports that the number of Boomerang children has grown sharply in the U.S. in recent years. A Pew Research survey found that 24% of adults ages 18 to 34 returned to their childhood homes to live with their parents after having lived on their own. Reasons vary, it may be because a parent becomes too ill to take care of themself, or an adult child becomes ill and needs support. It may occur after a nasty divorce, or for financial reasons. Households grow cramped, dynamics change, but there is also a considerably tight support network that evolves. Grandparents may end up co-parenting their grandchildren. A daughter may find herself changing her father’s diapers.
Many of those living at home with parents would blame the real estate market. College debt has put the American Dream of homeownership further out of reach for many millennials. The real estate market is tight; limited availability and soaring prices. Like it or not, some millennials may be renting forever.
I considered my personal reasons for my move home. Of course, I am lucky to have my parents’ support. I enjoy their company. I enjoyed the creature comforts of home, but at the same time I had been living on my own for nearly 2 decades. I was fiercely independent. I may not have always been thriving or financially stable, but the little I had was mine. If I chose to spend a day’s pay on a blow-out I would. If I wanted Tostito crumbs and orange juice for breakfast that’s what I had.
Taking in Luis’s comment, I took a moment to consider my parents. I thought hard. Mom loves family, food, gossip, shopping. She has a big personality. She keeps massive amounts of junk food in the house. Who does she think she is following with the Twizzlers in the console of the car and the Cheez It box on the nightstand? She’ll be the first one to tell me that I ought to run a brush through my hair, and the last one to say “I’m sorry” or “I was mistaken.” She wasn’t entirely pleased when I tried to show her how to properly fold towels, and she doesn’t like it when I toss her leftovers. And what smell is she hiding? There are multiple bottles of Febreze, candles, incense, and fragrance plug-ins on every floor.
And Dad has patience to beat the band. He is kind-hearted and sincere to a fault. He is relatively satisfied to go with the flow. He has been there through many fabricated crises, with confusing or out-dated advice and the best intentions. He can usually be found on his chair, drifting off with heavy lids, after having just engaged in some more witty banter involving, “What?, Huh?, I didn’t hear you.”
We vacillate between love and tolerance depending on the day. We cohabitate and cooperate. It’s probably the closest I’ll get to marriage. In a way though, it’s also me trespassing on their retirement. If that sounds like an overly harsh self-pitying assessment, it most certainly isn’t. My mom gave me the facts straight one day when she was mad at me for asking her to clean up after herself. Trespassing with a large supply of cleaning supplies and a senior rescue dog, a terrier mix. One big happy family.
At times, my parents don’t seem to be the same adults I grew up with. Of course, I’ve changed, but so have they. Their idiosyncrasies and foibles are definitely more apparent.
My apartments have always been spotless, having a floor to ceiling cleaning everyday. My refrigerator would most practically be described as sparse at best, a salad dressing here, a diet soda there. My manner with money has always been conservative, bordering on stingy. Bills paid early. No extras; evaluating each purchase closely.
My parents, on the other hand, live life to the fullest. Cupboards stocked. Meals more well-suited for an army barracks than a party of two. Credit will always be there. It’s as easy as that. Never without the latest gadget. Never a knick knack Mom didn’t fiercely need. Throw off the coats and shoes at the door. Leave the dishes till tomorrow. Dogs at home on the furniture and beds. You know, a regular bacchanalia.
I don’t always know what to make of the home my parents created in my absence. Can I fit in? I ask myself. Sometimes I smirk and shrug it off. Other times I call my father a douchebag and tell him not to speak to me for the rest of the day. Unfortunately, this is how I deal with frustration when I find myself prepping dinner and cleaning the kitchen while my mother watches reality television at blaring volumes in the other room, or when my father sneaks brownies and declines the healthy lunch I have prepared.
I tend to think that a lot of grown children experience a shift in roles while interacting with aging parents. It may be more pronounced for the Baby Boomer vs. Millennial sect. Those generations both went through some stuff. There were formidable experiences that created deep rifts. I can’t pinpoint when it happened first, but I find myself wondering, often several times a day, who’s the parent here?
“No Mom. You can’t buy an ice cream cone. You have desserts at home.”
“Dad, Please hang up your jacket.”
“Who left the milk out again?”
“Why the hell does it smell like pot in the house?”
I don’t even think it was that difficult to parent me.
I would say cleanliness and finances have most routinely been the area of deepest discordance between us. We could probably learn from one another, even out, but that’s not the reality. We are flawed humans, living under the same roof. Another strike against us would be the typically rocky relationship between mother and adult daughter. This relationship is unlike anything else witnessed in the animal kingdom. The levels of microaggressions, sarcasm, and passive aggressiveness can rise off the charts. For the most part we navigate these murky waters without grave outcomes, but tread cautiously. With this I would like to provide a series of recommended steps for making the best out of a move back home, because it can end up being beneficial for both parties.
- Leave things behind. Preferably just a duffle bag. Mom won’t have much room for your things. Home is a cramped quarters. There are ample appliances, home goods, kitchenware, and toiletries. There is no reason to bring more. It may present an affront to hosting parties, unnecessarily challenging the worthiness and completeness of their offering.
- Adjust sleeping schedule. I have fully embraced my 10 pm bedtime. I was never one to stay up into the wee hours of the night, and that made it easier. I’ve rather seamlessly grown accustomed to heavy footsteps by 7 am, and lights out by 9 pm.
- Compromise on music. Music is soothing. It provides a soundtrack for our lives. My parents and I don’t have matching taste in musical artist and genre, but we make due. Mom does not want to listen to Jay Z. I am not fond of Emerson, Lake, and Palmer, but we can mutually enjoy several artists like The Beatles and The Steve Miller Band.
- Identify shared streaming interests. With so many options available on Netflix, Hulu, HBO Max, etc, it shouldn’t be too difficult to find something you both enjoy. I have not jumped on the CNN or News Nation bandwagon, nor have the parents become gripped by the drama of Euphoria, but we can chuckle at Abbott’s Elementary or surprise each other while tuning into Jeopardy, without commercials, of course.
- Do not displace “favorite” items, and there are many. Mother has a favorite everything; nail clippers, knife, throw pillow, pan, dog nail clippers, etc. If these items are not within eyesight at the moment she wants them, everyone is a suspect. It is best not to alter their whereabouts. If the worst does occur, quickly purchase a replacement.
- Master the art of slowly “disappearing” items identified as trash; chipped mugs, stained towels, burnt oven mitts, expired or rotting food items. I’ve found success in finding a local dumpster or wrapping objects in more than one bag and placing them directly in the outdoor trash can.
- Try to thrive in the abundance. Light a candle, dust a tchotchke, use a coaster, shower with a different body wash each day of the week. And remember “if you can’t beat them, join them.”
- Stand firm on a clean fridge. It’s been seen before at the workplace or in a pesky roommate situation, unidentified/gross food items, not properly stored can lead to deep rifts. Keep and utilize matching, reliable Tuberware and make use of various sizes of Ziploc bags. This will be responsible for staving off many unfortunate altercations. Organized Tuberware is clearly what separates us from the animals. It is only a savage who just throws containers and then lids into the cupboard haphazardly.
- Share laundry duty. Isn’t it just nice to see that the towels in the dryer have been folded, or to find freshly laundered clothes at the foot of your bed? Step up on this chore and it will be appreciated. Additionally, never fail to give thanks when you are the recipient of this good deed.
- Lastly, when in doubt, focus on dog love. Snuggle, spoil, walk, belly rubs. Those lovely endorphins have seen me through many hard times.