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Life from My Parent's Window

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By Sean Breslin

After being on my own for nearly a decade, I'm now living in my parents' house just outside of Trenton. I moved in around Thanksgiving, thinking I'd stay for a few weeks while I looked for a job in Philly. It wouldn't take long, right? I had a college degree, had been the editor of my school paper, earned scholarships, worked in a punk band and did a good amount of freelance journalism. My references raved about me. I figured I'd have a job and a place of my own by Christmas.

Now it's February, and recently I found myself asking my folks about their  Valentine's Day plans so I wouldn't interrupt what might have been a romantic weekend were there not a scruffy, despondent twentysomething shuffling through the house.

The recession has made my situation not at all uncommon. According to an October article in the San Francisco Chronicle, 80 percent of recent college graduates are returning home while hunting for work. Eighty percent of my peers, all sitting at their parents' dinner table, on extended trips home to do laundry.

For my family, it's been a process of continual adjustment. Early on, they expected me home for dinner one night, but I'd already made plans to go to a friend's house for dinner. I am 28 and I haven't had to OK my plans with anyone for years, and this oversight came naturally to me. But to my parents, it was an inconsiderate slight, as they'd already bought extra food for me. We've since made adjustments in our behaviors and our expectations. I try to give them a heads-up about my plans, and they know extra food will be eaten sooner or later.

Because my parents no longer live where I grew up, everything in this house is distinctly theirs.  I'm in the guest bedroom, where dresser drawers are jammed with empty picture frames, old files and unfinished needle points. I've stored most of my clothes in plastic, stackable baskets on the floor, and I spent an hour shuffling my parents' outdated suits and dresses around the closet to make room for the modest amount of shirts I hadn't put in storage.

When my parents come home from work, I stretch to make my day sound full and industrious. I tick off the number of resumes I've sent out, list the names of businesses I've called asking about employment opportunities. I tell them how many miles I ran on the treadmill. I empty the dishwasher. I bring the trashcans in from the curb.

But mostly, I've just been sitting in front of the computer, scanning through job listings for which I'm either overqualified or under-experienced.

All this could be a recipe for a spiral into depression. At a time when I should be on my own, beginning a career, maybe buying a home, I feel like I'm reverting back to 16. I've put my parents in a position where they're now doing exactly what they swore they'd never do: letting their adult children mooch off them.

My parents could ask a lot of me, having opened their home, their fridge, their basement storage area. They could prod me nightly about how much longer I planned to stay, why I'd gone to a state school out west instead of trying to get into a more prestigious school in Philadelphia. They could order me to take a job at a big box store, to pay rent, to start getting the garden ready for spring.

But they don't. They let me come and go as I please, even loaned me one of their cars when mine was in the shop. They don't hassle me about finding a job, and they filter suggestions they hear from other people, weeding out the ones they know I've heard thousands of times before. I'm not asked to labor throughout the house, to bring in firewood or vacuum the floor (though they liked that someone was home when the exterminator came by). I'm not their new houseboy.

I'm their son. It's their good hearts, their sympathy, that keep me from wallowing. They offer more motivation than they allow for self pity. For their generosity, for their love, all they ask for in return is my own success. By that measure, I plan to repay them in full.

 

Sean Breslin is temporarily out of work in Pennington, N.J.

 

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