I mentioned recently that I’m going through a lot of change these days. I moved cities, I’m newly single, I’m navigating a new remote working situation, and perhaps most notably – I, at age 28, just moved back in with my parents.
Yes, you read that correctly. And yes, I’m okay. But let’s take a moment to unpack this.
As you might expect, I have a lot of feelings about this situation. On the one hand, moving back in with your parents at age 28 isn’t exactly something to be proud of. I’m a statistic now, the prototypical millennial – and loading boxes into my parents’ garage wasn’t an especially proud moment for me.
I take small solace in the fact that this move wasn’t absolutely necessary… if I had a different sort of parents, for instance, who were somehow unaccommodating or otherwise undesirable roommates, I would’ve skipped this step and gone straight to a one-bedroom apartment. I have a good job, I can take care of myself, there’s no rule saying that I have to stay here to save up until I can afford a place of my own (which is the plan, by the way). So, maybe that still scores me some points against the millennial stereotype.
And FOR THE RECORD (if there is a record being kept somewhere, I would like it to be noted) I am paying rent. Sure, it’s a fraction of what any card-carrying adult pays for rent, but that’s neither here nor there. I am a contributing member of this household, darnit.
But still, the situation is a weird one.
For starters, I’m bunking up in what used to be my bedroom. (I laugh when I watch rom-coms about visiting home for the holidays, where the entire kid’s bedroom is left untouched except for a treadmill in the corner. Does this really happen? My parents were quick and enthusiastic about redecorating.)
My old room has since been converted to what my parents have affectionately dubbed “the Yosemite room.” Some might describe it as a den… I would describe it as a shrine. To the outdoors, maybe, but also to the tactical specifics of hunting, canoeing, camping, what have you. I’m sitting here now – there is a gun on the wall and a chandelier made of deer antlers hanging over me. Arrowheads and Native American art line the shelves. There are no fewer than five Yosemite paintings on the wall – and that’s only because I begged for two to be taken down, so I could have some semblance of a personal presence.
The whole room is now a massive juxtaposition of them and me. An antique shotgun hangs above my record player and record collection. I’ve stuffed shelves haphazardly with my favorite books, but they share shelf space with tribal vases and pieces of carved wood. My keyboard sits in front of a bookcase holding gemstones and handmade pocketknives. And in the center of it all, a pull-out sofa bed where I sleep. (Both the sofa and the comforter have deer on them – I’m telling you, when my parents pick a theme they commit.)
So, you can imagine that these living quarters don’t exactly feel like “home” in the traditional sense. This is one downside to moving back in with your parents.
Another downside is how very different we are as people. Different, in fact, in almost every conceivable way. You forget about this when you live 1,000 miles from your family. You forget what a black sheep you turned out to be – the only one on this side of a political argument, the only one of four siblings to ever leave town, etc. etc. And likewise, the version of them you create in your mind is more diluted, like a watercolor painting. You remember their basic structure, like “Mom is a little crazy,” but not the specifics: “Mom keeps the whole house awake at 2am on a weeknight because she has to hammer something in the kitchen.”
And oh, how we view the world! Allow me to demonstrate.
My parents’ worldview, a short story – # 1
A house on my parents’ street was recently purchased by a man who turned it into a halfway home for recovering drug addicts. This has caused a bit of a scandal in the neighborhood. One neighbor even went so far as to lodge a formal complaint with the HOA… because they were offering meth to neighborhood children? No. Because they were throwing junkie-infested ragers? No. Because they were leaving hypodermic needles strewn about the front lawn? No. The complaint was filed because – and I honestly couldn’t make this up if I tried – they drive five total cars, and since they don’t all fit in the driveway some of them have to be parked on the street.
When my mom told me this, I said, “So they’re saying that the aesthetics of having cars parked on the street is more important than these people having someplace to go?”
“Oh Susie,” she responded with a pitying smile, “You are such an idealist. Yes – that’s exactly what they’re saying.”
My parents’ worldview, a short story – # 2
On another occasion, my dad and I got into a discussion about the Masters. We recalled together that it was only recently that Augusta National, the famous Georgia golf club, allowed women to play – admitting Condoleezza Rice as their first female member in 2012.
I think my dad generally believes this to be a good thing. I have to think that, for my own sanity. But he expressed some discontent about the principle of the matter – that the government is infringing upon the rights of a private club to decide who they want to be members.
I pressed him on this. “What if it were black people they didn’t want to allow in?” (This was true of Augusta National, by the way, until 1990.)
He seemed to agree, somewhat, that this would be a bad thing… but stuck his ground. “Let me put it to you this way,” he responded. “You’re a member of a book club with all girls. What if the government told you that was unfair, and you had to let in an equal number of boys?”
This argument caught me off guard, as many with my dad do – and so, I answered naively. “That’s different,” I said. “Those are my friends.”
“But you’re a private club, and you’ve hand-selected your members. Augusta National is no different.”
“There are four of us. We don’t charge membership fees. Augusta may be privately owned, but we aren’t participants in one of the most widely broadcasted sports events of the year – which would make us a matter of public interest.”
“So if it wasn’t such a famous golf course, it wouldn’t matter?”
I stumbled again, but eventually found my footing. “MENSA requires a certain level of intelligence for membership and I don’t have any problem with that. Many golf clubs have a maximum handicap and I understand that too. But if there’s a reason that things like ethnicity, religious beliefs, gender, and age are protected classes – because making discretionary membership decisions on their basis is discrimination. Period.”
“I just still believe that the government shouldn’t stick their nose in the affairs of a private club,” my dad retorts.
And so on.
So, it would be easy to generalize this as a negative thing. It would be easy to feel ashamed and resentful, and see it as a situation I should be trying to get out of as soon as possible. In fact, I occasionally catch myself slipping into that rhetoric in conversations with strangers. “I live with my parents – ergh,” I say, comically rolling my eyes. And a part of me means it.
But the part I didn’t expect when I signed on this proverbial dotted line was how actually awesome it would be. If I can remove myself from the stigma of it, and the sense of obligation that comes with trying to save for a down payment right now, I actually couldn’t ask for a better living situation.
Nighttime hammering projects aside, my mom and I are navigating the terms of our new relationship in ways that are both constructive and fun. We fight (because we are both girls, and both crazy in our own ways, and have always fought), but I’m also confiding in her more. I’m learning how to relate to her as an adult. And the best part? She is the world’s best activity date. Just the other weekend she took me on a bike ride around Coronado Island. Soon we’re going kayaking in La Jolla, and later this summer are planning a day trip to see a show in LA.
At 10 years apart, my little sister Christianne and I have always been close in unique ways – I was her chief babysitter for the first 8 years of her life, but then went to college and began building a life away from our family home. Our age difference was enough to keep us at arm’s length when it came to deep conversations or bonding activities. But living under the same roof again, especially now that she’s off to college herself, has opened up new avenues of kinship. We can giggle over boys together, send each other memes constantly, and shriek watching Ru Paul’s Drag Race. I’m not sure any of this would be possible back when she was 10 and I was 20.
And my dad – my dad! – has taken this opportunity to spoil me rotten, particularly in the noble category of food. Every morning he cooks me eggs, every evening he offers some recipe he’s been eager to try, and during the day (when I’m working remotely out of their upstairs office) he’ll occasionally bring me a plate of fruit or cheese just as a special surprise treat. On one memorable occasion, I was on a video conference call with a client when he brought me beaters covered in cookie dough. I had to make it through the rest of that call drooling, trying to focus while they sat temptingly in my periphery.
In such a vulnerable time in my life, where I’ve lost all sense of self – including a boyfriend, a dog, a stable living environment, a workplace, a large chunk of friendships, etc. etc. etc. – what better way to get back on my feet than to surround myself with people, constantly, who love me and want me to be happy?
Living here has been a gift – a much-needed reprieve from what would otherwise be an immeasurably stressful time. The world will give you that once in a while, a brief timeout; the boxing bell rings and you go to your corner, where somebody dabs mercy on your beat-up life. And, frankly, I could not be more grateful.
So yes, I moved back in with my parents. And yes, I am 100% okay with it.