When I was young and candy-crazed, my mom would always hide the Halloween candy, fearful that my twin brother and I would wallop the whole bag in one sitting.
Years later, I still have a wicked sweet tooth. A few weeks ago, my mother and I bought Halloween candy for trick-or-treaters, per tradition. When I visited the pantry to snag a few pieces, the candy was nowhere to be found. I started to wonder, in disbelief: had my mother hidden the Halloween candy from me, a 22-year-old working adult?
I waited until my parents fell asleep that night to tip-toe downstairs and search the kitchen cabinets. While quietly ransacking the pantry, I felt embarrassed about how juvenile my actions seemed. On top of living in my parents’ house, operating under their household rules, and driving their cars, I had now resorted to secretly searching for candy and concealing my sugar cravings from my parents.
What had happened to the capable, self-sufficient young woman who managed her own finances (some years better than others) and worked multiple jobs throughout college?
It felt like I was back in high school. No, middle school. At least in high school, my secret activities—withholding occasionally unimpressive tests score and neglecting to share my about actual whereabouts—were more thrilling than covert candy searching.
For starters, let me clarify that I never anticipated moving back home after college. As a starry-eyed undergraduate, I glamorized the working world, envisioning myself either immersed in New York’s media scene or living amongst the plethora of University of Illinois graduates in the Chicago area. California, despite its appealing warm weather, was never in the picture, and my parents certainly weren’t either.
This “sexy” working world lifestyle became a reality when I received my first post-college job offer: a coveted media strategy position at a top advertising firm. I would be working in downtown Chicago and living in a young, trendy neighborhood with college friends. It seemed too good to be true!
In retrospect, it was, but not because Chicago wasn’t fabulous. Initially, living there was everything I hoped it would be: fun, exciting, invigorating. But adjusting to post-college life proved much more challenging than I anticipated. For the first time in my life, I had no classes to attend, no coursework to complete; my head was no longer crowded with paper deadlines and test dates. I missed school. Without academics to fret about, I felt purposeless, bored.
I managed to fill that academic void in my life with the wealth of indulgences a big city like Chicago offers, which especially contrasted with the cornfields-ridden college town in which I had just spent the previous four years.
Take my typical work day at the time. Inside the downtown skyscraper which housed my office, there was a “mini-mall” walkway that tested my vanity and self-control daily. A nail salon offered overpriced manicures, a Starbucks sold overrated “specialty” coffee, and I justified visits to both these venues with the rationale that since I was being overworked, I deserved indulgent compensation.
When I left my office each evening, I stepped into shoppers’ paradise. Endless department stores were scattered in every direction of downtown Chicago, and yes, sometimes, I exercised my right to “retail therapy” after work.
And then there were happy hours, day festivals, music festivals, bar specials, roof top parties, all of which were particularly popular pass-times during summer in Chicago because warm sunshine rarely graces the city. I willingly participated in these leisurely activities, partly because that’s just what everyone did and partly because I enjoyed them. Plus, distracting myself with frivolous fun allowed me to pass those first few months without coming to terms with the fact that I felt unfulfilled.
When the summertime buzz wore off, the sober reality kicked in. My job was not intellectually stimulating or aligned with my professional interests. I rarely had opportunities to engage in thought-provoking discourse with others. And above all else, the young professional lifestyle that I was living in Chicago was too fabulous for me. There were too many temptations: too much socialization, eating out, drinking, shopping. My life had become superfluous. I craved solitude and seriousness, and I eventually realized my world in Chicago wasn’t conducive to such subdue.
So I decided to leave the Midwest, which I had grown to love dearly, and move back home. At first, I thought the hardest part would be saying goodbye to my roommates, who had become family away from home. While that was difficult, no doubt, I was comforted by the fact that they were each just a text message or IM away. After all, generation Y, including myself, lives, breathes, and swears by online and mobile technology.
As it turns out, the hardest part was the actual physicality of moving back into my parents’ home. One minute, I was living the high life, the next minute the home life. I was unable to unpack the two enormous boxes filled with personal belongings I had accumulated in college. Hanging my two business suits right next to the prom dress that still resided in my closet would cement the fact that this was a permanent stay at home, unlike the previous short visits I had taken during college. The boxes sat untouched for one whole week, until my mother, realizing they would never be opened if it was up to me, unpacked them while I was at work one day.
That’s another thing I’m trying to get used to now that I’m back home: the loss of my personal space. When I walked into my room the day those boxes were unpacked, I panicked. My college life, in its entirety, had been jam-packed into those two boxes. And my mother had seen it all! I don’t have much to hide, but who knows what had been thrown into those boxes? What perturbed me more was that four years I had spent away from home—those personal, somewhat-private, four years—had just been exposed by my parents in a mere few hours of unpacking.
I could gripe about many things related to being at home now. I’m less independent because I depend on my parents to drop and pick me up from the Caltrain station daily. I get tangled up in petty, household spats that I wouldn’t have even heard about when I was living in a different time zone. I don’t go out much because it’s too much of a hassle to trek all the way to San Francisco just for a few social hours at a bar. I haven’t dated, because telling a young man that I live at home, with my parents, in Cupertino, is not a turn-on.
But let me stop myself before this becomes an “I live at home, my life is so miserable” rant. In fact, how do I even have the audacity to complain about how seemingly pathetic my life is these days?
Because I’ve grown up privileged. While I don’t proclaim to be the voice of authority for South Asian young adults, from what I’ve observed of my Indian friends who have also moved home after college, we’re much more privileged that we’ll often admit. Growing up, our only real responsibility was to do well in school, get into a reputable college, and secure a successful career. Now that we’ve met that expectation and proved our academic and professional vigor to our parents, we don’t feel indebted to them anymore. So now all the things we do for our families that we didn’t do while away in college—like attend a family friend’s party, or pick up relatives at the airport—seem like favors being extended to our parents, as if they should realize that we’re sacrificing our precious time to assistant them in ways we’re unobligated to.
We pity ourselves for being stuck living at home, and our parents, in an attempt to compensate for our unenthused sentiment, make our lives extremely easy and comfortable. None of my friends who live at home are expected to cook or clean regularly. We don’t really help with doing taxes or mowing the lawn. We’re not homebound; we usually come and go from our houses as we please. We’re like those paying, live-in guests, except we don’t pay anything.
When I’m stressed out and my room is a pigsty, my mother volunteers to fold my clothes while she watches TV. When I’m running late in the morning, my father offers to make me coffee to-go. When I want a new scarf for winter, my grandmother speedily knits one. And when I get off work late in San Francisco, my twin brother graciously offers the futon in his apartment. My household contributions are limited, and my responsibilities are scarcer.
The truth is, I have never even stopped to consider what life would be like if I had really struggled on my own after college. What if my parents didn’t offer me a place to stay after I quit my job and declared, melodramatically, that Chicago just wasn’t right for me? At the time, the financial meltdown hadn’t shaken up our lives like it has now, and I was unaware of how difficult it would be to find another job in this recession. And what if my parents hadn’t financed my college education, and I was faced with thousands of dollars of student loans in addition to unemployment? In all seriousness, I should be counting my lucky stars that I’m able to live at home right now.
So while my life currently is devoid of all the pizzazz I once craved, I’m going to try to enjoy this simple lifestyle. After all, I have to admit, living at home with my parents sure beats rent in San Francisco!
|Rupa Dev is a recent graduate of the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. She currently resides in the Bay Area.|