Boomerang Kids: Hey, Mom, I'm Home

Her house was already full to bursting with kids—and then the older boys moved back in. How one mother made room for them in her house and heart

by Jacquelyn Mitchard
full house illustration
Photograph: Zohar Lazar

The phone rang at 6 am.

“Mom!” Dan said. “I’m about to cross the bridge.”

Having just filled out a fourth grader’s permission slip, cleared off the breakfast dishes and opened my laptop, I said, “Honey, hi...what time is it out there? Sunrise in the Rockies? Why do you have to go to work so early?” My 26-year-old son, Dan, was a chef in Vail, Colorado. Every day he crossed a bridge to get to his job at a trendy Italian restaurant in the village.

There was a silence.

“So, yeah,” Dan said. “I meant the Sagamore Bridge.”

Now, the Sagamore Bridge is not in Colorado. It’s in Massachusetts, connecting the mainland to Cape Cod, where we live. “I had just enough money left over from my plane ticket to grab the bus from Boston.” He paused. “It does look pretty, Mom. The road home always looks the prettiest.”

He had me at home.

A half hour later I was at the bus stop, my arms around a son a full foot taller than I and even skinnier than he had been eight months before. “Where’s your luggage?” I asked. When he moved west, Dan had mailed boxes.

Another silence.

He’d sold his parka and skis to buy the plane ticket. His roomie had accepted his TV and Xbox in exchange for back rent. Rents out there were high, and while Dan was good at making money, he was even more gifted at spending it.

So, I thought, this made two boomerangs in the basement—grown children who hadn’t actually failed to launch but had engine trouble necessitating a speedy re-entry.

I texted the other boomerang. Marty, 23, had lived here his first year out of school. Then, on the verge of amassing the bankroll he would need to move to New York, the next step for a young actor, he’d been T-boned on the way to a rehearsal in Boston, his car totaled, his hand broken in a way that would cost him two surgeries and six months of physical therapy. I’d never been more grateful for my health insurance or for the bunk bed next to the boiler in the little makeshift basement office.

Marty met us at the door. “First of all,” he told his brother, “you do your own laundry. No dirty tube socks under the mattress. No pizza boxes on the floor. And second, this room never smells of anything you drink or smoke. And third...good to see you, bro.” While Marty, who was neat to the point of neurosis, didn’t exactly relish welcoming a slovenly supersaurus into his 8-by-12 space, he and Dan had been best friends all their lives.

By the time the younger kids—six of them, ages six to 17—burst in the door from school, Dan was whipping up homemade tagliatelle with pesto, a peace offering that was both aromatic and incredibly messy.

“Munchkins!” Dan yelled, hugging 14-year-old Merit and literally lifting 13-year-old Mia off the floor.

The little ones were thrilled. My husband, Chris, who walked in a while later, was not.

“How are we going to work this?” he asked—a fair question.

We both glanced at Dan, who by then was sprawled, asleep, on the sofa. When he heard Chris’s voice, he woke.

“Pop!” he said, getting up to give Chris a hard hug. Dan may stuff tube socks under the mattress, but his heart is as big as his head. I saw Chris struggle between trepidation and joy that Dan was here and in one piece. Dan had always been the kind of person who seemed less likely to make decisions than to have them happen to him.

“Do you have a plan worked out?” Chris asked.

“Yep,” Dan said. “I got my old job back, and I know a guy who has a place at the beach.”

Dan always knew a guy.

That night, Marty and Dan climbed into steel bunk beds intended for children and into the calculus of a phenomenon born of prolonged childhoods and hard times. According to a 2012 report from the Pew Research Center, 36 percent of young adults ages 18 to 31 live with their parents for months or years—even after they’ve finished college and begun working. This percentage has risen steadily since 2007, as the recession deepened.

First published in the December 2013/January 2014 issue

Share Your Thoughts!


Sam Esh01.13.2014

Sometimes I feel that way with my kids.It is interesting how hard it is to take care of them. This boomerang would be fun for them. t

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