I was confident that I would never live in my parents’ basement. But a year and a half into living and working in New York City, where I moved the day after graduating from college, I was met with some unlucky circumstances (read: diagnosis of a chronic digestive disease and, yes, without health insurance). Although I was flexible and open-minded when it came to a “career” or “life path,” (read: non-committal, impulsive, and sometimes apathetic), I hadn’t planned to say goodbye to my large intestine in a year-long process of three surgeries.
So I found myself moving back in with my parents. It was pretty much your typical “I’m broke in New York City during a recession” story but with an additional dramatic twist we’ll call “I’m dying.” The transition from being independent Alicia to dependent Alicia began with Mom and Dad taking charge of the packing up and moving out. I was recently sprung from the hospital armed with a prognosis of “you aren’t going to get better”, and therefore living in my pajamas and sleeping approximately 16 hours a day, like a newborn. We headed west to Pittsburgh in a packed-to-the-gills U-Haul truck, and like a good New Yorker, I cried during the Jersey stretch. Did I mention it was my dad’s birthday? Happy birthday, Dad!
I’m fortunate to have the kind of parents you want to hang out with, the kind that all your friends are so jealous that you have. If they wake up and feel like going kayaking in Ohio, they hastily fill a cooler with turkey sandwiches and Diet Dr. Pepper and hit the road. They taught me a variety of skills, some more useful than others: how to sew, lay concrete, build lamps, stargaze, burn ants with a magnifying glass, bake anything from scratch, and remove and chop up a metal street cleaning sign and pole at 2 a.m. because it was encroaching on the daisies and marigolds in our city sidewalk garden.
In other words, my parents are awesome. But they are still parents, as well as a couple that has been together since their sophomore year of high school. Mom waits up until I come rolling in at 3 a.m., house ablaze with lights, Dad sleeping nearby but in solidarity with mom. “Where have you been all this time?” “I don’t understand what you can do at a bar for that many hours — you’re just talking?”
I realized that putting all of my liquor bottles and cocktail shakers in a big plastic container on the top shelf of the hall closet was no organization accident: I am just short enough that I half-drop the container every time I go looking for some gin, making noise that Mom can hear anywhere in the house. All living under the same roof takes some getting used to, and we definitely have our “moments”, but as an adult, you finally appreciate all those responsible adult duties that made life easier growing up and make life harder post-high school: doing laundry, cleaning up dishes, paying for the car insurance, vacuuming on a regular basis, having more than take-out in the fridge.
While my parents doing chores was a nice throwback to childhood, my bedroom, which I was moving back into, needed a remodeling of sorts to achieve the transition to adulthood. Upon entering, I was transported back in time to a magical era when mustard yellow carpet and wood paneling reigned supreme. Particle board bookcases proudly displayed a range of collections: Pez dispensers, miniature glitter sandcastles, corked glass bottles, and the one I’m most proud of, ceramic cats sitting on ceramic chairs, a collection commenced at age 11 because I thought I needed a really original collecting idea that no one had ever conceived.
Mom and I sat on the floor and making three piles: keep in box and store somewhere in the abyss of our basement, donate to Goodwill (1989 softball trophy, anyone?), and throw away. I tried adding the most to this latter pile, my mom not-so-quietly mourning the loss of busted Trapper Keepers, hideous stuffed animals, and modular origami projects abandoned halfway through, stained with tears no doubt.
In my bedroom, I replaced the knick-knacky collections with smart books, arranged in an OCD fashion a la High Fidelity. I poignantly hung up an art print of a bird trapped in a cage and nailed up some Mardi Gras beads that reminded me that once upon a time I was a college kid getting shit-faced on Bourbon Street slushies at 11 a.m. I pretended to work on the room’s feng shui when really I just want to read my and my sister’s old diaries.
I am happy with my current digs, but one of my “housemates” is not; from the first day I moved back, my mom has been relentlessly trying to get me to pick out a new bedding set. The current bedding is from late high school, but even after a holiday or two spent sleeping in them every year since, they aren’t exactly “used” or old. Why do I need new ones? It’s a thoughtful gesture, but the minute she made the suggestion, I wondered how long they thought I’d be staying. New sheets? For my twin bed?
Mom makes the same suggestion every few months, especially after a long hospital stay when it feels like such an accomplishment to get back to my own bedroom. One day, I came home and there was a bedding catalog delicately propped up against my pillow with a little note written directly on the front, “Alicia: Lots to pick from!!” There was a smile underneath the double exclamation point. I quickly shoved the catalog underneath my stack of New York magazines and college quarterlies, but I kept it for its sheer cuteness.
There is such a stigma attached to living with parents in the post-college years and occasionally I felt the need to justify my living situation. If I didn’t feel like playing the “I’m dying” card, I’d bring up the “live with your parents” statistics of European countries, because it’s something like 50% of Italian dudes live with mamma and papa till age 34!
Regardless of which explanation I employ, coming to terms with my temporary living situation is all about appreciating the time with my parents, especially while they are still in their let’s-go-kayaking-in-Ohio mode, and facing the challenges the way I would, even the chronic disease kind—it’s all a learning experience, a test of inner strength, and hopefully a source of future laughs.