Realizing this was Throwback Wednesday, when I randomly dig through 14 years of newspaper columns to save myself writing something interesting, for some reason I went to 2011. That was an eventful season, toward the end of summer, but this was waiting for me. Completely uneventful (for me), and in a way one final swing at the silly for a while. Things would get darker the next week.
Growing Up, Out, and (Sometimes) In
There are times, speaking from a parental perspective, when we’re better off not knowing. This obviously covers a lot of ground, but I’m not talking about unchaperoned parties or the dark corners of teenage life where things can get lively.
I’m talking about The Moment. Years of progressive loosening of ties, little freedoms assigned and allowed, stages passed through from infancy to drivers’ licenses to graduations, all of them momentous but in a minor way, orderly and expected, and then wham. One day they leave and never come back.
Unless, of course, they do.
“Boomerang kids” was a primary example in Robin Marantz Henig’s New York Times piece on 20-somethings, published last month, of the new nature of “emerging adulthood,” a developmental stage that seems to be defined not by biology but by culture. Family dynamics have changed for these Millennials, the article suggests, and for their families. Large numbers of young adults are returning to or still living with their parents, although there’s no evidence I can find that any of them are mowing the lawn. Which would be important to know, I think.
Ah, well. Statistics help us move past the anecdotal, I guess, but then the anecdotal is where most of us live. We know our own stories and our own little circles, and articles about whole generational swaths are interesting but might only intersect occasionally, if that.
I’d also note that this article felt suspiciously like something that could have been written 30 years ago, when I was 22 and, for at least half the year, living with my parents. By then I’d graduated high school, gone to college, moved out of state, moved back, held a number of full-time jobs and had absolutely no idea what I was going to do next. I didn’t know I was in a stage of life; I just liked not paying rent for a while.
At any rate, we had The Moment seven years ago, when my 18-year-old daughter left for college in Texas. I had an inkling, actually, got morose and wandered into her empty bedroom on more than one occasion, sitting on the bed and remembering reading stories to a little girl, and also wondering about moving her TV into my room.
And she never came back, not really. She was a visitor only, holidays and quick trips, part of one summer in 2004 and a visit last spring when she attempted to organize her parents’ messy house (she failed. EVERYONE fails).
So I take broad generalizations of this cohort with a grain of salt. I know a fair amount of 20-somethings, her friends and the kids of my friends, and they all appear fully (and remarkably) adult. They’ve graduated from college, they’ve had a variety of responsible jobs, they’ve moved and traveled and posted a million pictures on Facebook.
And if any of them are back home, living with parents, I might note that it’s a nightmare of a job market out there right now.
My role has changed, then, inevitably and against my will. My daughter went to college, graduated, got a job, moved to the East Coast, got married, and moved again, returning to Texas, this time in Austin, where they have a large community of artists and, apparently, raccoons.
This is what she thought, anyway, and why she called her dad the other night. Her dad was only too happy to take the call.
A large raccoon – or something that sounded a lot like a large raccoon – had somehow gotten into the cabinet under her kitchen sink and was making the kind of noise you’d expect. She opened the cabinet door far enough to confirm that something alive was in there, something with fur.
Being home alone, with no friends or neighbors handy, and not quite sure of what to do, she carefully closed all the doors to the kitchen and retreated with a bottle of wine to the living room, from where she called me.
This could be considered dependency, I guess, some sort of sign that she still needs her parents, but I think mostly she just wanted to talk to someone and I was available. She wasn’t looking for advice; she’d already been instructed by several people to open the cabinet door slowly and bang on pots and pans, apparently working from the theory that raccoons will be spooked if you threaten to cook for them.
It turned out to be a feral cat and a previously unknown hole in the wall, but as I said our lives can be mostly anecdotal. Children have their own stories, and mature at their own individual rates, and as it turns out so do their parents.
I was glad to be needed again, in other words, because at my particular stage of development it suddenly feels important. I was a 20-something myself once, callow and uncertain, but given the gift of a small human being who needed me. And somehow it never occurred to me that one day, I would have to give her back.