Rarely is moving back home a matter of choice. Jobs get dicey; debt gets out of hand. When the tipping point comes, the truth of what Robert Frost said is tested: “Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in.”
For us, the issue was complicated. Our current house was tiny compared with the sprawling home we’d left in Wisconsin a year before. With Dan in the mix, there would be 10 of us, including two of my three older sons. I had Dan, Marty and the eldest, Rob, with my first husband, who died when I was in my late thirties. After I married Chris three years later, he adopted the older kids, and over the course of our marriage, six more came along. The only one missing now was Rob.
A few days after Dan’s arrival, Chris brought a sheaf of printouts to bed. “OK, I’ve got the gist of the advice on boomerangs. When an adult child comes back, you do a written plan. This can’t be open-ended. We have to decide how much grocery money is fair to contribute and how much rent...”
“For a bunk bed in a boiler room?” I asked.
“What he’s got is better than nothing,” Chris pointed out.
“OK,” I said. “You write up the plan for the two of them to sign.” I knew that Chris would never get it done, which would give me time to think before I drew up the document myself.
At first, during those balmy spring months, things went well. Dan slept most of the time before his job began in May, but when he was awake, he dressed up the dining. Both of the guys backstopped me, picking up the kids from activities or delivering them to doctor appointments. One afternoon I was stuck in traffic and already 15 minutes late retrieving nine-year-old Will from dodgeball. Everyone knows that helplessness. I pulled over to call my husband, but before I could dial, a text pinged in from Marty: “Got Will.” It was good having two more majors to monitor the minors. In the ensuing weeks, Marty, whose injured hand was on the mend, also got our yard in shape. Dan helped Chris chainsaw some deadwood and build a rock wall. Hearing the older sons downstairs, talking and laughing, made our house feel like home again. There was a yin and a yang to that, though. The floor of our bedroom was the ceiling of the room where they slept, which cost us some privacy.
More than once, Chris and I sought time alone. In a twist on a time--honored tradition, we went parking on the far side of our small circular driveway, under cover of some scrubby trees. The irony wasn’t lost on us: We weren’t kids sneaking away from our parents’ house but parents on the lam from our kids’ house.
“It’s just for a while,” I said hopefully. “It’ll work out.”
But that weekend a former girlfriend of Marty’s named Nora, who was also an actor, visited from New York. I fell asleep by 10 pm, as usual. The next morning, however, as Marty rummaged in the fridge for bagels (Nora had daintily decamped to the sofa, where we’d left pillows and blankets for her), Chris said, “Son, your mom tells me I don’t know what love is. But now I know what it sounds like.”
Marty flushed. He didn’t reply, but there were no return engagements.
Then, in late May, Rob, 28, came for a visit from the Midwest, where he still lived. He announced he was heading east—far east—to Japan, as part of that country’s program welcoming young Americans, especially those fluent in Japanese (as Rob is), to teach English. With summer in full swing, we had a ball that week, spending family nights on fierce song-lyric tournaments.
One night Rob said wistfully, “I’d love to save the money I’m shelling out on rent. And I miss you guys. But I could never live here. The house is way too small. And you’d drive me nuts!”
Irony was never so manifest.
Within a few days, however, he’d brainstormed with his brothers and located a possible computer-repair gig that would help him save money until he left for Japan—the following April.
Of all the older kids, Rob was always the prickliest, but also the most courteous. “It would really help me if I could live here, but if you mind..."
I waited for Chris, who waited for me.