I was on my way to a wedding shower in Toronto, rehearsing The Conversation in my mind. The most basic of icebreaking questions – Where do you live? – was no longer an easy one for me.
“I’m visiting my family in Ottawa now.”
“I’m staying with my parents for a few months.”
“I just got home from working abroad. Sooo…”
Yep, I’m 27 years old and I’m back with my parents, eating their fancy cheese and crackers, enjoying satellite TV I couldn’t normally afford. I’m George Costanza. I’m Principal Skinner. I’m sleeping in my childhood bedroom.
Why I’m back at home
Fellow travelers may understand. This wasn’t the result of a personal setback. There was no divorce, no layoff, no medical crisis that forced me back with Mom and Dad. The cause, the culprit, is long term travel. Coming and going from under the parental roof has been a pattern of mine for years now.
I’ve been teaching English overseas, traveling merrily from country to country, contract to contract. In between jobs, I return to Canada to catch up with family and friends. Then, my childhood home becomes the home base for a month or two…. or (gulp) sometimes a bit more.
My parents always seem happy enough with this arrangement. My arrival on their doorstep marks the end of a whole year spent apart, skyping through a calendar of holidays, celebrations conducted in echoing phone calls.
The chance to reconnect
Being home right now is a chance to reconnect and spend time together, to enjoy the simple familial rituals of dinners or afternoon walks. To call it a visit isn’t quite right though. I sleep in. I job-hunt on ESL websites, the computer desk covered in my cold, forgotten mugs of tea. Oh yes, I’ve made myself at home.
The thing is, they don’t seem put off by their grown daughter spending her 9-5 hours in sweatpants. They don’t pester me into staking out more independence, getting married, or buying property. They’re low-pressure, the anti-Costanzas.
In spells of second-guessing, I wonder if I should take that personally. I worry, maybe they just don’t expect that much from me. Maybe they don’t think I’ll ever marry, buy property, pass those hallmarks of adulthood.
“You know, we want you to stay as long as you have to,” they tell me. “Don’t think you’re putting us out.”
A comfortable routine
And so, I go into servitude overdrive. I set up DVD players, I fix computer problems, I forcefully volunteer myself for errands. I cook and cook, dinners, cakes, multigrain muffins they can take for lunch the next day.
I bustle around trying to demonstrate that despite being temporarily homeless, I’m still a functioning adult with life skills. Most of all, I try to prove that I’m not getting too comfortable.
That’s another thing. It is comfortable. I have friends who can’t stand staying with their families for more than a weekend at a time. I’ve heard stories of adults, forced back home for various reasons, who regress into frustrated, door-slamming teenagers under their parents’ roof.
For me, that’s not a problem. My parents and I swap books, discuss work problems, and (yes, I admit) watch Murder, She Wrote together, all without the bickering power struggles of my teen years. It’s not that I can’t live with them. I just feel that at my age, I shouldn’t.
Between apartments… between jobs
I’ll visit friends for dinner at their apartments, knowing the best hostessing I could offer is a night of hanging out on my parents’ sofa. I bump into old neighbors or classmates and feel my face go red when I tell them I’m staying in the ol’ childhood home.
They ask if I still have a place overseas, and I say, “No, no, I’m between apartments now.” Between apartments sounds like between jobs: a polite term for a shortcoming.
I know I’ll be off my parents’ couch and into the world soon enough, working a new teaching job and unpacking my bags in a new apartment. That’s the beauty of traveling again, of meeting new people and swapping life stories. “I just came from Canada,” I’ll tell them. “I was staying with my family for a bit.”
Other travelers, I think, will understand.
What do you think about adults living at home with their parents? Are you – or have you been – in a similar situation to Anne? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
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Anne Merritt has lived in Canada, Europe, and Asia. She teaches ESL, writes, haggles, hikes, and wears sunscreen fanatically. Her work has appeared in The Globe and Mail, GoOverseas.com, and The Compass. Check out her blog.