I shared a version of this story last night at The Moth StorySLAM, Sept. 21st at Housing Works Cafe in SoHo, NYC. The theme was “OUTGROWN”-
There is nothing more soul-sucking and date-killing than telling someone, “I live at home with my parents.”
After living in Chicago for five years, I moved back home to New York last summer. My parents were so elated that they gave me their master bedroom, moving into a smaller room in our apartment in Chinatown! After being away so long, I figured it was time to move back- my dad was getting older and needed more medical help, and my mom was going to retire soon.
Because I’d moved home, I now needed to find a new teaching job (check!), find and rebuild my friend groups again, maybe start dating in New York again, and, of course, build a new relationship with my new roommates- my parents.
At first, it was okay. Then, of course with parents, the questions and the comments and the guilting and the shaming came. “Your room is a pigsty! This is not how a woman’s room should look like!” “You need to come home at 10pm!” my dad said in Cantonese, as he doesn’t speak English. (Spoiler alert- he doesn’t exactly like that I’m here right now!) “Don’t drink alcohol!” Yeah, like this 27-year-old single woman is not going out in New York City and drinking. Yeah. It came to a head after the work Christmas party, when I got home, after being on the train for two hours, phone dead, no calls home, parents furious.
January, February, March came, and I complained to anyone who would listen. Overwhelmed at work? It’s my parents’ fault because I have no room to think at home! No friend life? It’s my parents’ fault for nagging at me!
Finally April came and I had decided, as everyone in my life was telling me- my therapist, my friends, my potential dates in life- I needed to move out. Petrified, I told my parents over dinner- “Mom, Dad, I am planning to move out. I want to move closer to work, and I need my space.”
My dad stared me square in the face, and I was anxious because my dad isn’t always the most rational person. But he told me, “Annie, we want you to stay. We want you to help with rent. We want you to help with translating mail and other documents at home” (as they don’t speak English). And, we want you to pay rent here so you can save money with us. We can help you save, and when you’re ready to buy a home you’ll be able to.”
I stared back for a few seconds. I hadn’t even considered what my parents wanted- I was thinking of me the whole time. I had no conception that my parents would want me home. I felt like I was the typical Millenial moocher, that they wanted me to move out.
And in those few seconds, I started thinking- I loved my mom’s cooking, and I loved having my lunch packed for me every day for work. I loved my dad’s bad dad jokes and how he commented on the world around him. I didn’t mind translating mail or phone calls or documents at all- in fact, I felt really good about being able to help my parents. “What would we do without you?” they’ve commented many times in the year I’ve been home.
Moreover than that, I really like telling my parents about my days. How teaching is with my students, and what I did with them that day. About the teachers I work with and the parents of my students. About my friends and what they’re up to in life. About the activism I do and all my volunteer work outside my teaching.
It’s like my parents, for the first time, saw me as someone that wasn’t just their kid anymore, but some human being trying to find their way in the world. And I was beginning to see them in that same way. I’ll always be their kid, but something had shifted in the time I’d been home.
In those few seconds, all my reasons for moving out fell away. My commute was an easy three stops away via train, so it wasn’t really ever about the commute. I realized I just needed space, boundaries at home. I asked to use a room to do my work and to relax, and I asked for space, and they agreed immediately.
I realize now I moved back to New York not just to be closer physically to my parents, but because I was going to get a chance to know them fully as an adult. There’s something about building a relationship with your parents as adults, and it’s a beautiful thing. Two months after that conversation, in June I started taking Cantonese classes, so I could maybe one day have really full conversations and get deep with my parents.
I am seeing this time right now as an investment in my future- if or when I get married and have kids, I know my relationship with my parents will be fuller because I put this time in for all of us to build, together.
I thought by now, at 28 years old, that I’d outgrow this stage in my life. I don’t cringe as much now when I tell someone how I live. Because, at this moment, I’m very happy I live at home with my parents. I am very happy doing so.