Remember dropping your first kid off at college? It was like a knife wound, right? Never thought you’d recover, never thought you’d ever be the same tribe rambling around in the family wagon on weekends again – which was true. Once you let them out of the cage like that, you never really get them back in that same cozy way.
But just when you come to terms with the change and adjust to a less kid-centric life, they are back.
Suddenly, the nest is no longer empty.
My life was once a convention of crying babies. Now, 25 years later, my life is a convention of adult children living back home – of hangovers and job woes, of sleeping too late on Saturday mornings (them, not me).
There is almost a poetry to the parental plight. There is the joy of birth, the insane sacrifices of raising them, the poignancy of their eventual departure.
Now, just as we come to terms with that departure, our adult children are flooding back home, an estimated 22 million of them. Parenthood, as they say, doesn’t come with an expiration date; it’s a raucous life term.
The issues forcing adult kids to move home with Mom and Dad are unlike anything Americans have ever seen – a co-dependency brought on by economic shifts, lifestyle changes, technology and a bent (and unsettling) pop culture.
Think of this phenomenon as a sort of domestic recidivism.
Look no further than the almond milk in our fridge and coconut water in the pantry – all the weird serums of returning college grads. The almond milk I understand (the secretions of the mother almond). Coconut water is more of a mystery. Suddenly c-water is everywhere. What’s next, coconut Pinot Noir?
Still, I am thrilled to have the college girl home. She is a delightful presence – summer in her smile and autumn in her hair. A freckled Kennedy ingenue.
It’s a joy to see her adapt to the working world. In a marvelous development, she was employed soon after returning home, requiring the full-time use of my car. So I gained a daughter and lost an aging Prussian sedan. I see it as a sort of pre-dowry.
“When I get married, can I have a Monique Lhuillier wedding dress?” she asked the other day.
“Of course you can,” I said. “Here, take my teeth too.”
When we moved to California 20 years ago, I’d never even heard of Los Angeles. But soon I was smitten, and with a few small additions – a mass transit system, some decent Greek food – I can one day see L.A. developing into a first-rate metropolis rivaling St. Louis or Sacramento.
So this is where we’ve stayed, raising four, maybe five, children. In particular, I’ve always loved the mayhem of a loud, hectic kitchen – the rattle of someone reaching for a pan, the thuddle-wump of a wood spoon in a steamy vat of soup.
With three kids now back home, it’s again like one of those Steve Martin movies where the dog bounds across the breakfast table chasing the cat that’s chasing the hamster. If I can get the kids to close the door when they go to the bathroom, my life will be complete.
“Wonder if there’s a fire?” the 10-year-old explains about the open door.
Flush then flee, I explain.
Gets better. Now that the college girl is back home, I get to watch “The Bachelor” with her. I like her well enough, as I said, but her taste in television is trailer-trash atrocious, the kind of shows watched by old housewives who can no longer hear.
“All stories are Cinderella stories,” my daughter says while we watch “The Bachelor.”
But I don’t think this re-nesting is such an awful development really, probably positive in some ways, for family is the cornerstone of life. I’ve also noticed that adult children don’t back out of hugs after two seconds, the way they usually did as teens.
What I don’t like is when your children go off somewhere far, which they can and should when absolutely necessary, as in times of world war or rampant apocalypse.
Except for then, I want them home, filling the kitchen with their belly laughs, like the war whoops of doomed Scottish kings.
Back home, where they really sort of belong.
Chris Erskine is a columnist for the Los Angeles Times. Reach him at [email protected]