SPECIAL FROM BetterAfter50
"I have the best roommates in the world," I overheard my 22-year-old son tell an acquaintance a few months ago. "They keep the refrigerator full, they have a cleaning service once a week and the laundry is free. Sometimes they even fold my clothes -- if I leave them in the dryer long enough."
I think that was when I began to starve my son out of the house.
I heard a joke once that went something like this: A priest, a minister and a rabbi were arguing about when life begins. The priest started: "Life begins at conception!" he said. The minister replied, "No, that's not right. Life begins when the fetus is viable!" Then the rabbi chimed in: "You've both got it wrong. Life begins when your kids move out and the dog dies!"
Well, the dog is dead, two out of three kids are out of the house, and it's been a year since our son, the boomerang child, landed a good job. I am beginning to get a taste of this new life, and as predicted, it is good. Despite the fact that my son keeps me laughing, whips up a great stir fry and tunes up my bike on 24 hours' notice, I am beginning to think it may be time that he moves along. And if food is the key to a young man's heart, I suspect my son will have a key to his own apartment very soon ... and then Mike and I can really start living.
I am "anti-nesting." I am throwing away the expired, the stale, the freezer-burned, and I'm not replacing. I make only one trip from car to kitchen after food shopping, and I'm certainly never going to win a million dollars with the few measly game cards I've collected. I can now see that the back of the food storage cupboard is white. The pull-out cabinet feels happy as it slides lightly on its hardware. The Lazy Susan does not drag and moan. The freezer has breathing room. Heavens, I just may give up my Gold Star Costco membership.
These days I can count the items in the fridge, including what's in the door. Containers of yogurt and berries, eggs and spinach, hummus and carrots, wine and cheese, half & half for the coffee, old bottles of salad dressing and a variety of spicy sauces make up the bulk of it. One night last week Mike and I had a bottle of white wine for dinner as we sat on the porch. Then we had JP Licks for dessert. "Now that's a good dinner," Mike said, our joke for when I have put zero thought into dinner.
The kid is starting to notice something's up. "Mom, how come there's nothing in the refrigerator?" he asked me the other day.
"I haven't been shopping." I replied. "If there is something you need, you may want to stop at the market on the way home from work."
But he didn't have to. His grandmother took him out to dinner. I'm telling you, the kid's a survivor.
By necessity, my son has become a genius at creating a meal from nothing. We often find him hovered over his favorite pan at 10 p.m., when he gets hungry after he works out. He'll be frying up some onions with something that he has found somewhere, with a bottle of Sriracha hot sauce at the ready. He does not appear all that concerned that his parents are trying to starve him out of the house. He must figure that eventually I will be inviting someone over for dinner, and I will have to replenish. He just needs to get by another day.
And so it goes. This past Saturday night we had friends over for dinner, so this weekend, there was food in the house and abundant leftovers.
"Did your guests not like the roasted corn guacamole?" he asked, while scooping it on some chips for breakfast. "I think you put in too much corn, but I still love it. You have to eat it quickly, though -- it doesn't last long." Like magic, the leftover fish, the vegetables, the chips, the tomatoes, the delicious plum cobbler -- they have all disappeared. I think he must be storing up for a long week ahead.
By Tuesday, Mike will be back to having scrambled eggs with Stacy's chips for dinner, and I will be having cottage cheese, berries, and pistachios. We will be on the right track again.
"You know, Mom," my son said to me this morning, as he was eyeing a refrigerator full of food. "All I really need is spinach, eggs, a little bit of meat, and I'm fine. I know we'll never starve."
Damn. Maybe the washing machine will break.
Check out more from Better After 50 this week:
"Discuss the expectation of parents and kids in terms of how you behave at home and what responsibilities they have," said Katherine Newman, dean of the school of arts and sciences at Johns Hopkins University and author of <em>The Accordian Family: Boomerang Kids, Anxious Parents and the Private Toll of Global Competition</em>. "It's better to talk these things over rather than be silent and grinding your teeth behind closed doors." Groceries, cooking, laundry and tidiness can all be areas of conflict, so lay down some ground rules. <em>Photo courtesy of <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/syobosyobo/" target="_hplink">jim212jim</a></em>
"Instead of saying, 'I don't see you applying for jobs and this can't go on forever,' talk about what you expect," Newman said. Discuss goals for hours per day that will be spent networking and searching for jobs or choosing and applying to graduate schools.
While you're talking about autonomy, also lay down some ground rules for privacy. The most obvious: Knock before entering. <em>Photo courtesy of <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/rickymontalvo/" target="_hplink">ricky.montalvo</a></em>
Boomerang kids are young adults who have typically become accustomed to keeping their own schedules without answering to anyone. That can rattle parents who want more accountability, or just a little courtesy. It's fair to ask an adult child to text you if they are going out rather than coming home for dinner. While it may be fine for them to keep their own hours, it's not fair to come home late and disturb the sleeping occupants of the house who have to work in the morning. <em>Photo courtesy of <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/simonwaters/" target="_hplink">srwsrwuk</a></em>
If young adults are doing everything they can to move toward autonomy, parents should be patient and recognize there are larger economic forces at work. Rather than having them pay rent, focus on steps toward independence -- such as eliminating any revolving debt and paying student loans on time.