Bottles of Thai red curry sauce, cans of coconut milk, and bags of gluten-free bean pasta. These are some of the woefully unfamiliar foods that are currently crowding out the usual—and admittedly boring and bland—Greek yogurt, rice cakes, and mozzarella string cheese in our refrigerator and pantry.
My son is home. And as we moms are fond of saying about our college student-and-beyond kids after school breaks and vacations: “I love when they come home but I also love when they leave.” The difference here is that my 20-something offspring has been here for several months and he’s not leaving just yet. And so, as he’s fond of joking, we’re temporary and yes, reluctant, roomies.
Why is he here? He’s looking for a job far from our suburban New York home in an area of the country that allows him to pursue his passions of mountain climbing, hiking, and bouldering. And after having spent the past three-and-a-half years in the Peace Corps in Central America, most of those at the top of a mountain living with no running water, electricity, or indoor plumbing, his lack of financial resources makes the rent—zero—just right. And, of course, home is where the heart is—and also, our insanely adorable two yellow Labs. And when you go there they have to let you in.
[More on What Happens When Kids Move Home here.]
For the most part, we’re very happy he’s home—we missed him. The hubby and I adore our son—he’s a very special young man (see Peace Corps and no running water above) and is good about picking up groceries, feeding and exercising the dogs, and taking out the recyclables—although why does organic and artificial-free everything create so much garbage? He’s funny and interesting and good company, and works a part-time job to pick up his expenses. But, he’s also—how to put this—challenged in the clean up area.
Look, I know someone suffering from being clean up-challenged when I see one—I was a certifiable slob until I had my own home. And ironically enough, I’ve since swung so far the other way over the years that I’m now positively a neat freak. So the deal is his old childhood room is his to keep as he sees fit—picture an explosion of T-shirts, water bottles, paperwork, and old sports trophies. It’s not a big space and there’s no TV, so he’s taken to colonizing an adjacent guest/TV room, in which his discarded sneakers-on-steroids and late night bowls of ice cream have taken up residence. In the morning, I’ll gather whatever is there and relocate it to his bedroom lair. I literally have to count to five and talk myself down when I do so, quickly closing the door so I don’t start to hyperventilate.
And then there is the proliferation of all those new and unusual foodstuffs in my formerly pristine kitchen. Our son enjoys cooking up elaborate healthy fare—a habit that started when he was too hungry to wait for me to come home after work to make dinner when he was in middle school—and I love to see the results of his culinary furies. And while—no surprise here— this room resembles a disaster zone after he cooks up whatever he’s dining on, I’ve discovered that if I wait until after he eats plus one hour, I’ll come down to a spotless kitchen with no signs of his having even been there. And though this particular cleanup skill doesn’t transfer to any other part of the house, I’m proud that I’ve somehow managed to help impart it just the same. His as-yet-unknown future wife will thank me for this one day, I think.
Then too, these empty nesters have developed our own new traditions in his absence, chief among them binge watching The Americans and House of Cards while cuddling with the dogs, who sleep on our bed, accompanied by much exclaiming about how amazingly cute they are. But now that our roomie has moved in, our canine kids clearly prefer the human of the house who throws them a ball three times a day. So until we figured out a rotation—we alternate one dog per night, switching it up every day like some elaborate custody arrangement—there was that issue to be worked out.
Another thing we’re doing a lot of is biting our tongues—not asking how the job search is going on a daily basis, for instance. Instead, we try to sit down together for a once a week conversation over dinner—or when he asks for our opinion. From a practical point of view, all three of us have worked hard to make this temporary situation work. And we are happy he wants to spend time with us, even though money—or the lack thereof—was the primary draw for him to move back home. As my hubby says, when are we ever going to have this opportunity to spend so much time together?
[More on How to Nail a Job Interview here.]
But here and now, life as reluctant roomies continues. We squabble over who gets to watch what and when on the big surround sound TV, what time he has to relinquish “our” dog at night, and the overflowing refrigerator, dishwasher, and recyclable bin. But one day soon, he’ll move somewhere else for a job. And there’s a good chance it will be in another time zone, if not another country. So then I’ll count down the days to his visits—or make my own to him. In my fantasies, he’ll make room in his fridge for my yogurt and cook me up an inventive healthy feast—and I’ll marvel at how neat his home looks. But the dogs? They’ll both stay at home with us, our forever (if only!) anything-but-reluctant roomies-with-fur.
Journalist Laurie Yarnell was of the first “mommy bloggers”—she created the popular humorous blog, “Embedded in the ‘Burbs” (“A peek over one mom’s cyber picket fence”) for NBC’s iVillage.com back when few people knew what a blog even was. She was also a longterm Features Editor for Westchester Magazine. With occasional laundry visits from her daughter and son, Laurie lives in a mostly empty nest in Rye, NY with her husband, two Labs, and various fragile saltwater fish. She writes frequently about her family, friends, neighbors, and assorted acquaintances. Amazingly enough, some of them still speak to her.