So I’m reading Growing Up, Then Growing Home at the NYTimes. It’s diverse. All of them write well. But this one, this one jumps out at me.
“We were encouraged to dream of having our names in lights. Admittedly, that dream was a little grandiose. But, at least for now, in an economy that offers precious little opportunity, those aspirations seem like just another childhood relic — good for hanging on the wall, and not much more.”
like it’s his (her?) parent’s fault for encouraging her to dream big. Like he doesn’t have the capacity for independent thought or perspicacity. Why do you blame your parents for this? They worked hard, so that you’d be able to be where you are now. It is not their fault you are unempl0yed.
The situation is difficult, I know. But your post makes you seem 12, not twentysomething. Blame your parents at 12, but when you’re older, you should be able to move past this. And stop calling your life tragic. It is not tragic when you are fully supported by your parents, and nothing is asked of you in return.
OK rant over.
I guess I should be more forgiving. But honestly, people who don’t claim responsibility for their actions are annoying.
The other pieces are actually good. The second one is reflective and thought-provoking. The last one is quite funny.
Happy Sunday everyone!
Growing Up, Then Going Home
July 16, 2011, 6:09 pm
Since 2009, unemployment among recent college graduates has risen, while starting salaries have fallen. The median student debt load for those who graduated from 2006 to 2010 is $20,000. Not surprisingly, 40 percent of 20-somethings move back in with their parents at least once. Here are some dispatches from the home front.
- Dylan Suher: My Tragic Starring Role
- Ana Chireno: Elevated by the Train
- Eve Ahearn : Déjà Vu in My Parents’ Kitchen
- Raphael Pope-Sussman: Spoiled, and Sick of It
- Peter Weinberg: Life in the Pleasure Palace
My Tragic Starring Role
Park Slope, Brooklyn
The first thing I see when I wake up in the morning is my name in lights. Specifically, I see a giant sign that hangs over my bed. Smothered in glitter and festooned with stars and Christmas lights, it spells out my name in cardboard letters. It was commissioned for my bar mitzvah, and was later used to decorate my childhood bedroom — the bedroom in which I now sleep.
I would have moved it, but I was planning on staying here only temporarily. Then “temporarily” became “indefinitely,” “indefinitely” became “for the foreseeable future,” and finally, I began marking the time spent in my parents’ home retrospectively: three months, six months, a year. If I move that sign now, it means I’m committing to permanent residence, an idea that is far too depressing to seriously contemplate.
In any case, there’s nowhere to put it. My Little League trophies are still on my bookshelves. My drawers are filled with clothes I long ago outgrew, while the clothes I wear today are piled in stacks on the floor. The posters and paintings that decorated my college apartment — items that express the person I am at 23 instead of the child I was at 7 — remain in boxes hidden in the corners of my room.
I don’t spend a lot of time pitying myself. Moving back home was the rational choice to make, under the circumstances. I had little work experience and few marketable skills when I graduated, and I knew I would have to take a series of unpaid internships before I could find the publishing job I’ve always wanted.
But the fact that a choice is responsible doesn’t make it pleasant. My parents provide me with home-cooked meals and don’t charge me rent. But I’d kill to put five miles between myself and their unsolicited job and dating advice.
Worst of all is their inability to understand why I’m unhappy to be living at home. As far as they’re concerned, it’s paradise: I’ve got everything I need. I get a lot of that from people their age. Everyone keeps saying things like: “You’ll be fine, it’ll all work out” and “You just need to pound the pavement.”
I don’t think they know or remember what it’s like to send off résumé after résumé, to finally get a job and still not make it out of your parents’ house. I don’t think they’ve tried to imagine waking up every morning in stars and spaceship sheets (the only set that fits my child-size bed). The feeling of failure. The feeling that the natural order of life — that you become an adult and then you leave home — has been disrupted.
At least my peers understand. A lot of them are in the same situation, and the rest face bigger challenges: bouncing from sublet to sublet, working seven-day weeks just to pay the rent.
We were encouraged to dream of having our names in lights. Admittedly, that dream was a little grandiose. But, at least for now, in an economy that offers precious little opportunity, those aspirations seem like just another childhood relic — good for hanging on the wall, and not much more.
— DYLAN SUHER graduated from Washington University in St. Louis in 2010.
Elevated by the Train
Despite having roots grounded deep in Brooklyn and even deeper in the Dominican Republic, I have always felt disconnected from my home.
As a child, I was constantly being shuttled to some better place. My parents sent me to Catholic school in Bushwick, then high school in Manhattan, to keep me away from the local kids and their precocious knowledge of malas palabras — bad words. We went to distant neighborhoods to buy vegetables because the ones they sold in our bodegas were hardly edible. The adults commuted across the city for work. The message was clear: the good stuff was outside of our neck of the concrete jungle. The direction to go was outward, away from Brownsville.
In high school, each day began at 7:48 a.m. on the dark, empty, urine-stained, elevated platform for the No. 3 train. The only high rises on the horizon were public housing towers, all red brick and small windows. It took only 30 minutes to pull into the mosaic-tiled, less urine-stained station in lower Manhattan, below the banks and skyscrapers, with all the commuters in nice suits and majestically colorful socks.
In the evenings the trip was reversed. I rode the train past scrap metal yards, lonely lots and railroad tracks — the return seeming almost clandestine.
Those rides back into Brownsville weren’t supposed to last into my 20s. I went to college, and I wasn’t really supposed to come back. But here I am.
It was fine at first; most of my friends had moved home too. But, like each stop on a light-up subway map, they disappeared one by one, moving away from their ethnic enclaves to join the rank and file of people who had made it. I stayed behind, philosophizing about what to do with a philosophy degree. While unemployed. And still in Brownsville.
I don’t mean to suggest that my degree hasn’t served me well. It didn’t get me a job, but it changed the way I saw the world. From Plato’s rhetorical “myth of the metals,” in which gold-souled men become rulers and bronze-souled men laborers, to W.E.B. DuBois’s color line, philosophy inspired me to question my assumptions. Where I once saw only poverty, I learned to see systemic inequality and the possibility of change.
Now, instead of always looking out toward somewhere else, I’m beginning to look around here, wondering how I can make this neighborhood the better place my parents always sought for me. I’m still hoping, planning, to move out. But I know now I’ll stay close to the elevated train, somehow.
— ANA CHIRENO graduated from Stony Brook University in 2009.
Déjà Vu in My Parents’ Kitchen
Exactly a week after I graduated from college, I found myself sitting at my parents’ kitchen table practicing SAT math problems, in the same seat where I studied for the SATs the first time, five years ago.
I’m not trying a second run at school — though now that I mention it, it doesn’t seem like a bad idea. I’ve spent the last few weeks sleeping in what usually serves as a storage room in my parents’ home, before I leave for a job as an SAT tutor in Central America. Although I am living here, the term “my parents’ house” is one I carefully use, a verbal distinction that keeps me distanced. It’s mine no longer.
My mom turned my bedroom into a painting studio at the start of my sophomore year. I didn’t fight to keep it; I actually pushed for the change. Maybe I thought it would keep me from moving home, which I saw as a sign of total failure. Obviously it didn’t quite work.
My parents are former hippies who never bothered to enumerate house rules. I’ve always tried to stay out of trouble so they never have to. If I stay out late, I close the front door quietly on my return. I’ll drink the white wine my parents leave in the refrigerator, but never finish the bottle. I’ll never ask for money, but eagerly take any that’s offered. (Not that that’s actually happened yet, but I’m still hopeful.)
They haven’t told me anything I’m not allowed to do, and I am looking to keep it that way.
There’s much to enjoy about living at home. Here I have a refrigerator with food in it and a physical copy of the newspaper to read at breakfast. I get to spend unplanned time with my family and there’s none of the pressure of a short visit. My parents seem to like it as well: for my mom, my stay is an extended visit from technical support. Whenever I came home for breaks, she would lament that I never stayed long enough to figure out what was wrong with the remote controls.
While I’m not living with my parents indefinitely I no longer see moving home as a failure. I spent a semester studying in Mexico during my sophomore year, and it surprised me how confounded people were when I said I went to school in New Hampshire even though my family lived in New York. “Why would you ever go to school so far from home?” my friends would ask. “Aren’t there colleges in New York City?” These kids were absolutely modern, but still they assumed that they would live with their parents until marriage.
When family or finances make living at home after college the most appropriate choice, there is no need to mythologize moving out. In other words, I learned during college how to move home (even if I didn’t learn any more SAT algebra).
But I’ll still be happy to give up my seat at my parents’ kitchen table.
— EVE AHEARN graduated from Dartmouth in June. Since writing this, she has moved out and begun her job.
Spoiled, and Sick of It
Park Slope, Brooklyn
My day inevitably begins with a serious moral quandary involving Corn Flakes.
I eat Corn Flakes for breakfast each morning. When I am finished, I rinse off my spoon and bowl, place them in the sink and attempt to leave the kitchen. But each day, without fail, I freeze at the room’s threshold, paralyzed by guilt. What kind of jerk leaves a dirty dish in his mother’s sink?
At school, I always cleaned up after myself, but now that I’m home from college, I frequently find myself leaving a mess and then agonizing about it. Suddenly, I’m a kid again. I don’t shop for myself, I don’t make my bed, I don’t do the laundry.
The fridge is always stocked with cold cuts, lox and orange juice, available free of charge. But the food comes at a cost. My mother nags me — my flip flops will ravage the arches of my feet and I’ll regret that I ignored her pleas to buy sandals, but only if the radiation from my cellphone doesn’t kill me first — and I respond, in perfectly passive-aggressive fashion, by forgoing all responsibility. The more she does for me, the less I am willing — or able — to do for myself.
I’m being spoiled rotten.
This isn’t the first time I’ve been spoiled at home: I spent a semester here last spring, while undergoing treatment for testicular cancer. Those were miserable, enervating months — all of which I spent stuck inside my mother’s house. It was a warm and well-appointed place to be trapped. But I was still trapped.
Now I’m home again — still a few credits short of graduating — in a house that is a constant reminder of being sick. I sit on the same couch, watch the same TV, sleep in the same bed. This is the house with toilets I spent hours kneeling in front of and stairs I sometimes could barely climb.
The most unpleasant memory is of utter helplessness, of having my every need attended to because I was incapable of doing anything for myself. At 22, being taken care of is a crippling thing. You’ve spent four years at college learning how to live on your own, and suddenly that disappears.
Now, when I’m lounging around aimlessly on a Saturday afternoon, I feel a twinge of that same helplessness.
A lot of my friends are also back home now and I see them struggling to figure out what they’re doing with their lives. They have jobs or internships and aspirations, but they’re troubled by their loss of independence.
That is a substantial loss, one that turns something as simple as washing a dish into an existential event and makes motherly advice feel like character assassination.
It brings all the latent neuroses and insecurities to the surface. In the words of Groucho Marx, “Home is where you hang your head.”
I like to imagine that living at home is the only thing that stands in the way of my complete maturation. In the fall, I tell myself, I will start work and find an apartment and then I’ll be a genuine adult. I’ll wake up early, cook and pay all my own bills.
But I know that growing up involves more than moving out. In a few months, will I really be more mature than I am today? Do I have what it takes to live out in the world?
I’m sure I want to move out. I’m unsure about pretty much everything else.
— RAPHAEL POPE-SUSSMAN is a student at Columbia. He writes the blog The Audacity of Pope, about his experience with cancer.
Life in the Pleasure Palace
Upper West Side, Manhattan
I’ve always had a plan for life after college: driving away, the campus fading from sight, I would put on Abbey Road and skip to “You Never Give Me Your Money.” There’s a line in that Beatles song that would perfectly sync up with the moment: “Out of college, money spent, see no future, pay no rent, all the money’s gone, nowhere to go.”
When I finally got the chance to live out this fantasy a few months ago, it wasn’t what like I imagined. I didn’t know how to drive; I never had any money to begin with; and I did have somewhere to go: Manhattan. John Lennon and Paul McCartney were right about one thing though — I’m not paying any rent.
When I first realized I’d be moving back in with my parents, I did what anyone would do: I booked a ticket to Southeast Asia. But after a few wonderful weeks of eating an astonishing range of noodles and praying to local deities for a studio apartment in the Village, I knew it was time to face my fears.
I’ve been living here for a while now, and you know what? It’s not bad. This apartment has it all. Zabar’s chocolate croissants for breakfast and a seemingly unlimited supply of Pellegrino. The laundry is fresh, the bathtubs are pristine and there’s even a treadmill and a TV with HBO. My parents must have worked thousands of unpaid internships to pay for all this! How can I complain? It’s not like the dismal job market has forced me to move back to Wasilla, Alaska.
But I can’t stay in this pleasure palace forever. I want to be a writer — to grow a beard someday and move to Queens, to sleep on the floor and let the cockroaches crawl into my ears and lay eggs in my brain.
In order to realize this dream, I keep a rigid schedule. From 10 a.m. to noon I work on my sitcom pilot. At noon I realize it’s not that funny. Then I begin scouring the Internet for actual jobs. Honestly I’m enjoying this whole job search thing, except for the part where no one ever responds. There are eight million people in this city; someone must have something for me to do, right? By 4 p.m. I’m not so sure.
I move on to devising get-rich-quick schemes. What if I offer to clean the spacious apartments that my friends in finance have moved into? And then I’ll rob them while they’re at work! That could be lucrative!
At 6 p.m. I watch “Game of Thrones.” At 7 it’s time to welcome home my benefactors. By 8 I’m jetting downtown on the 2 or 3 train to meet my friends and explore the hip neighborhoods they’ve moved to. The employed ones always pick up the tabs (especially if you run to the bathroom when the check comes).
Of course, my life isn’t all croissants and Pellegrino. Sometimes I’m concerned my parents are trying to push me out the door. A few days ago my mom e-mailed me a series of articles about the “boomerang generation”: young adults who move home and never become financially independent. Was that some kind of hint? Then during dinner, she said, “I would never have dreamed of going home after college. It’s amazing that this is a palatable option for you.” I apologized profusely for not hating her and Dad more.
Despite its many pleasures, I can’t help but think that home is like a parachute — it doesn’t stop the fall; it just stops it from killing you. When I start feeling down, I play “You Never Give Me Your Money.” There’s a line there I never paid attention to before, but which I now understand is the point of the whole song: “But oh that magic feeling, nowhere to go.” That feeling can be kind of nauseating, especially if it lasts longer than a year. For now though, it feels O.K.
— PETER WEINBERG graduated from Middlebury College in June.