The Boomerang Roomie
An essay on living at home, with the ’rents, when that wasn’t part of the plan.
Thursday, September 6, 2012
Every morning I wake up at 6am to a coffee grinder. It’s triggered by my roommate. And my roommate is my mother.
I am five years out of high school and one year out of college, and yet when I open my eyes at that grinding moment I stare at the same ceiling my infant self stared at two decades ago. I may have grown wiser and more worldly since my parents brought me home from the hospital 23 years ago, but geographically, I’m in exactly the same place I started.
In August 2011, a couple of months after I graduated from U.C. Santa Cruz with a degree in politics, I quit my job and moved home to Carmel Valley. I’d been working part-time at Santa Cruz Community Credit Union as the project coordinator of a savings program for low-income earners, but making $920 a month, at best – slightly more than my rent – made me pretty low-income myself.
Rather than try to make ends meet with a second job, I followed the principle at the core of the program I directed: Saving is security. And so, with the sinking sensation that my career had peaked at age 22, I moved home to live with my mom and dad.
It was a strange feeling: My personal space was evaporating, my future seemed fuzzier than ever and without my college friends living with me and near me, I felt lonely.
And then I found I wasn’t alone. Despite diplomas from prestigious local high schools followed by pricey four-year degrees, a dozen or so high school friends had done the same as me.
Sociologists even have a name for us: the “boomerang generation.” The Pew Research Foundation found that in 2010, 21 percent of 25-34 year olds lived with their parents – up from 11 percent in 1980, and 53 percent of 18-24-year-old Americans have lived at home in the past five years.
I wish I was at a new stage in my life. Instead I’m living an updated version of my high-school days. Don’t get me wrong. Most of the time, home life is tolerable – even enjoyable – but when my mom tells me, “Comb your hair and iron your shirt” as I am running out the door, I have to bite my lip to keep from screaming. I’m no longer 12.
There are other outcomes to this boomerang existence. Some are predictable – parents handing out career advice and household chores – and others less so, like kids launching a promising startup from their parents’ basement.
• • •
Carmel’s Christian Pepe, a recent graduate of Loyola Marymount University, remembers a 10-day stretch of college where he didn’t sleep in his own bed once.
“I biked with all my stuff on my back and slept on my friends’ couches,” he says.
He would often go more than a week without talking with his parents. Now he touches base with his them every couple of hours, and works with them managing the family’s newest restaurant, Vesuvio.
“Lord knows what I could’ve been doing in college,” he says. “Now that I am home they want to know exactly what I am doing and where I am all the time.”
Aspiring entrepreneurs Ryan Hambley and Ben Holber have a tech startup success on their live-at-home hands – Yo Derm, their acne prescription website, won the Monterey Regional Business Plan Competition and launched its pilot program last month – but those hands are often occupied with chores assigned by their roommate parents. Hambley says he might be practicing a pitch for Silicon Valley investors and his dad tells him to take out the trash. Holber knows the feeling too.
“My parents usually come home in the evening and ask something like ‘Can you change the lightbulb? And then walk the dog,’” he says. “I am like, ‘Really? I’m in the zone, mom.’”
Holber didn’t plan on living with his folks. But he also didn’t plan on his vision for a start-up website being represented at the Stanford Medicine X Conference – or his dad losing a leg.
Three years ago, Holber’s dad had a blood clot that eventually led to an amputation. And for Holber, it led to more responsibility.
“We take walks on the beach together,” Holber says. “He is more comfortable when I am there. He puts his toes in the water. He doesn’t do that on his own because if a wave comes up unexpected it could knock him down.”
When he first moved home, Holber couldn’t help but imagine what he could be doing instead.
“I felt like I was missing out, that this was not the best use of my time. I should be in a city trying to [launch a business] because I am 22.”
Now I can’t help but imagine the pressure he is feeling – not just to be successful in his business venture but to find time and energy to lend a hand to his parents. His situation provides a prism on my own: As I picture the real possibility of him having to dedicate more and more time to his family-home life – which means sacrificing time and energy that could be invested in his own development, his love life and being with his peer group, I can envision having to be there more for my folks. I’m already anxious that by living at home I’ve lost some of the life learning that comes with having to manage my own rent, finances and household responsibilities.
Then there’s the small-but-significant anxiety that whispers, “What if I never move out?” It’s not impossible, but it is terrifying. Then there’s the other ugly question: What if I can’t find a job? And my parents, as much as they allegedly like having me around, would be completely reasonable to question why they invested so much in my education.
• • •
Cal Poly grad Ashley Anderson of Salinas definitely didn’t plan on living with her parents after college.
“I left for L.A., saying, ‘Screw that, I am never moving home,’” she says. “I didn’t want to live in Salinas, where I knew everyone and I definitely didn’t want to work in ag. It was kinda gross.”
Only she tired of life in the entertainment industry as an administrative assistant in L.A. and moved home the week of her Santa Catalina High School reunion.
“I was tempted to not go, because I didn’t really want to explain the fact that I had moved home and I didn’t have a job,” she says. “It wasn’t exactly something I was proud of.”
Only now that she’s settled into a job as lab analyst for the Institute for Environment Health, a food safety lab in Salinas, she’s liking the life she once feared.
Fellow recent college grad Francisco Jara of Carmel Valley, meanwhile, is loving the chance to finally live his dream, at least part time. While he trims and rakes leaves around Hilltop Ranch Vineyard in Carmel Valley, he envisions pieces for a fashion show. He even has a plot of grass picked out where he would build the runway, and can imagine the invitations: “Great Wines and Great Designs.”
Jara didn’t plan on working in a vineyard, or on living with his parents after graduating from the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising in San Francisco. But because he’s done both he’s been able to manage his expenses, help his parents and still keep his design dream alive.
For two years he worked on the vineyard property, at first helping his family with their caretaking duties and then later being hired by the property owner to grow and tend the grapes. Now he’s also scored a part-time gig for Yessica Grandelli’s design and dressmaking business in Salinas. Grandelli does the seamstress work and he takes on the consulting responsibilities.
“I meet with the clients to discuss dress styles, fabrics, costs,” he says. Jara is paid 20 percent commission, earning anywhere from $40 to a couple hundred bucks per client.
“It comes naturally to me so it doesn’t feel like work,” he says. “When a client comes to me I tell them, ‘The important thing is the end result of the clothing item.’”
That’s what I tell myself, too, in a way: It’s about the end result. Living with my parents wasn’t part of the plan, but life is what happens when we’re making other plans. I doubt living back home has interfered with my development as much as I fear – if anything it’s probably amplified it in ways I may not completely appreciate. And no matter how absurd I might occasionally feel living with my parents, it’s only fair to point out I’m not totally sure what I – or many of my friends – would be doing without them.