My parents are often told that they are blessed to have ambitious daughters who pursue higher education. Their household consists of two doctoral candidates, one daughter who is finishing her master’s project after an extended period conducting fieldwork in Peru, and myself, the only non-science daughter who will soon study journalism in New York.
In other words, this collection of academic achievement mostly indicates that my parents have raised a brood of perpetual squatters.
Fighting The Urge To Roll My Eyes
The ultimate litmus test for unconditional love between a child and a parent occurs when the child moves back home. Following my graduation last summer, I found myself in this situation – the boomerang child reluctantly preparing to move back in with my parents, who were also reluctant to welcome me a year after I smugly declared that I – a downtown snob –could never move back into their suburban home again.
I mean, for goodness sake, their house sits across an empty field often frequented by deer and rabbits, the only noise you hear on a summer night is of children playing outside on the street, and there was a time when everyone drove the same Honda minivan – could you ask for a worse suburban nightmare?
Since the situation was bound to be an unpleasant experience for both parties, I tried to prepare for it by reading Iain Reid’s book, One Bird’s Choice: A Year in the Life of an Overeducated, Underemployed Twenty Something Who Moves Back Home.
I wanted to find solace in Reid’s work, especially with stories of how his parents earnestly instructed him how to use the toilet, giving him specific details of how to work the flush handle because times had apparently changed since he last lived at home. I am all too familiar with that type of parent.
I commiserated with him when he wrote about the first Christmas dinner after moving back home, where after listening to his successful siblings talk about the ongoing changes in their lives, all he had to offer during the awkward show-and-tell moment were his mediocre whistling skills. Yes, really, he tried to whistle with a mouthful of food. It was a spectacularly embarrassing moment that made me recall my own inferiority complex of taking an extra year to complete my BA while my other two triplet sisters moved on to grad school.
Yet, even though his sabbatical year as a squatter was sometimes painful, I felt that Reid wrote a Disney version of a child’s move back into his happy-go-lucky parents’ home. If Reid thought the flush handle story exemplified the exasperation a grown-up child may feel when he is once again obligated to follow his parents’ rules, then he has not met someone like my father.
I could write a whole book listing each of my father’s annoying idiosyncrasies (and I am sure my family could do the same about me). The only way I could describe my father is to say that every ridiculous, apocalyptic guideline about surviving Y2K was written specifically with him in mind.
Over the years, my father’s rules included:
- Immediately installing four new locks for our house following a rare fatal home invasion in our city. He remained just as vigilant even after the city found out that the fatal home invasion was not random but planned by a family member.
- Carefully placing stickers that read “Stop! Electricity rates have changed, turn off this appliance when not in use” on light switches, televisions, computers, and – to my surprise – on my laptop (until I ripped it off).
- Meticulously creating an emergency list of numbers and advice for us while he and our mom were on vacation. Personal highlights of said list were the insertion of our next-door neighbour’s full name and number even though he is a good family friend and advice for my sister to “calm down and not cry” if she got into a car accident.
- Strictly adhering to the provincial electricity rates cycle so that on a week night during the winter season, we can only do our laundry after 9pm and not a minute before.
Reader, I love my father dearly but his rules are so bizarre that I do not need to exaggerate them.
In spite of this, I moved home because given the choice between a hopeless job market and the eventual opportunity that seemed available by furthering my education, I decided I was better off becoming a squatter in my parents’ home.
Decisions, Decisions, Decisions
I have learned over my own sabbatical year of squatting to accept the trade-off of my independence in order to establish my career. There are so many articles right now that instruct parents on how to deal with boomerang children, but I think that parents need to realize that their children are struggling to survive in a dreadful economic situation that most of us were unprepared for when we fell in love with our useless liberal arts degrees.
Almost everyone I know who did not have the foresight to choose a degree in a thriving industry or the luck to find a decent full-time job is having a difficult time with trying to figure out his or her next step.
There appears to be three basic options for new grads: working up the corporate ladder by starting at an entry-level job, landing an unpaid internship, or going to grad school. None of these options guarantee success.
Yet, there is nothing more reassuring when contemplating over your future than working at the only job that your liberal arts degree could secure – a job that requires you to share the same repetitive administrative responsibilities with your sixty-year-old colleague who types about twenty words per minute with her two index fingers, one keystroke at a time. By the second week of work, I realized that if I did not pursue a higher degree when I had the autonomy to do so despite the financial risk, I would remain trapped in a post-modern purgatory also known as the typical bureaucratic office.
I did not even consider an unpaid internship because grad school made the most economic sense: why bother investing in an experience when I could invest in me.
So I chose grad school, which had always been my first choice but the expense was previously difficult to justify. However, over the past year any hesitation I had vanished with every inane bureaucratic meeting I sat through where a lot is discussed but nothing is decided upon and during every moment my coworker chatted loudly on the phone or clipped her nails at her desk.
My Debt = A Down Payment on an Upper East Side Apartment
Ironically, I generally dislike grad students.
Grad students are this generation’s hippies: self-pitying, freeloading young adults who use their academic status to defer such questions like “What kind of job do you expect to have once you graduate? When are you settling down with so-and-so? What do you actually do?” and “When will you get a real job?”
You could say that the grad student is a clever manipulator who – in exchange for free rent, groceries, internet, television, and utilities – offers parents noble promises of future financial success based on the belief that higher education is still a smart investment. And that the grad student lives in a self-involved academic bubble, remaining out of touch with common adult responsibilities such the standard 9-to-5 work schedule or socially acceptable behavior by acting like one of Big Bang Theory’s nerd herd. And that the grad student has a Gingrich-like audacity to accumulate significantly large debts with little explanation of how these debts will eventually be paid off.
So what? I am less inclined to listen to your opinions about whether or not to attend grad school unless you have graduated from university in the past five years.
While it is obvious that many students believe it is easier to stay within the cocoon of school and earn a graduate degree instead of trying to find a job, it is further obvious that an undergraduate degree is declining in economic value, guaranteeing little more than a decent chance at correctly answering Jeopardy questions and a debt worth thousands of dollars instead of a professional job.
Therefore, I stand by my decision to enroll in a ten month program, whether I have made the best decision for my career or whether I have put myself deep into a debt large enough for a down payment of an Upper East Side apartment.
I recently accused my older sister of living on hopes and dreams, that is, until I had to borrow some from her as I frantically sought funding for my tuition at Columbia.
Reader, if you are born missing a very large silver spoon, I must warn you that all attempts to finance an Ivy League education begin with the complete discard of one’s pride. Any hint of a sanctimonious attitude as a freshly minted Ivy Leaguer was slapped right out of my head when I sat in a bank meeting where I actually asked the bank representative if the person he was speaking to on the phone laughed after finding out that my student loan inquiry was for a journalism degree. The laugh was that loud.
Even better, to make sure that I was up-to-date on the economic pecking order in which my journalism degree comes dead last, another financial advisor from a national bank declared with a matter-of-fact tone that no, he had not heard of my “Ivy League” school, and stated with a strong trace of annoyance that his (green) Canadian bank did not make financial exceptions for a school that could be some sort of small private college in some small American state that no one has ever heard of even if POTUS graduated from the same school.
Eventually, I managed to convince my sweet, generous parents (after convincing myself) to support my decision. Luckily, they will not read the Daily Beast or, even worse, this.
I know that I will need to practice the art of pride-swallowing over the next several years as I remain a loyal client at the Bank of Parents, a satisfied customer at the Mom & Dad grocery store, a repeat tourist at the D’souza Bed and Breakfast (with lunch and dinner included).
But rest assured mom, dad, and parents of other grad students, that your children are perpetual squatters with purpose. And with sincere gratitude. Please excuse the occasional eye roll or so, sometimes bad habits are just too difficult to change.
Almost a year after moving back to my parents’ home, I will once again leave. I have no idea what I will be doing or where I will be after another year passes. I just hope that I can love my parents from a distance – it is the best gift I could give them. Their words, not mine.