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In the spirit of renewal that regularly grips me at this time of year, I have decided to replace my front door. My neighbours are upgrading; so should I.
But while they are choosing those fancy doors with bevelled glass inserts, I will be installing a revolving door. It’s the practical option since my three adult children have been, are, or will be living with me.
I am one of the boomerang generation, the millions of boomer parents who have become collateral damage of the recent financial meltdown. Young adults, who face high unemployment, are reclaiming their childhood digs. And so, most mornings, I wake up convinced I am living in a college dorm or flat share.
It all began with a casual comment I made as my children left the nest years ago for the first time, full of excitement about the new stage in their lives. “You are always welcome here should you need it,” I said.
I meant to add “in an emergency.” What I intended was to specify “when a tornado takes out your apartment; when your boyfriend/girlfriend dumps you and puts a Mafia hit out on you; or when nobody in the Western world will hire you.”
That’s what I meant to say but I didn’t. And now here I am, surrounded by my adult children, their pets and all their worldly possessions in the wacky and wonderful melee that is our daily routine. My empty nest runneth over.
First home was my eldest, the doctoral student trying to stretch her meagre budget to last three years.
We had a period of adjustment in which we realized we were getting on each other’s nerves – a lot.
Then came Rules of Engagement, by which I agreed to become chief cook and bottle washer, shopper, Finance Minister and Molly Maid, while she became my Minister of Technology, my Plus One for evenings when I required a “guest” at a party, and – most important – my resident Stand up Comic.
She did yard work in the summer, beating back my lawn of weeds with a hand mower while wearing a wife beater, ripped shorts and a peaked Vietnamese straw hat. Since I did not have garden gloves and she did have blisters from the mower, she donned flowered oven mitts to protect her hands and complete her ensemble. It was a statement outfit. The neighbours loved it. I didn’t, but you get what you pay for.
More than a year after she finished her degree, she finally found employment in Britain, putting an ocean between us.
I settled into a peaceful life, contemplating plans for my new office, replacing windows, sprucing up my house and enjoying my empty nest once again. I could eat popcorn and ice cream for dinner if I chose to. I could crank up the air conditioning to meat-locker levels to compensate for my hot flashes without fear of censure.
Then they came back – my younger daughter and son – and we became a flat share.
Each came with strange food products – anything made for or from hippies and unicorns, anything that was high-fibre or could be cooked down into a slimy, green mess. They brought foods I couldn’t pronounce and had never heard of. They stored them in the kitchen, the laundry room, the cold cellar: Everywhere I looked, cupboards were filled to capacity and bursting forth when I foolishly tried to open them.
We all cook different meals, tripping over each other as we reenact a scene from MasterChef Canada while trying to maintain a level of civility. We take turns cleaning up the dishes – each with our own way of doing things and individual supplies of cloths, scrubbers, detergents and towels.
We tried to establish a schedule so that everyone got a stab at the car at some point during the day. But people disappear without notice.
“Where did your brother go?” I asked my daughter.
“To the store. We ran out of kale.”
“Of course you did,” I retorted. “But I just went to the store. I could have saved him a trip.”
“But he wanted the multi-coloured kale that is grown on the eastern side of a local commune by farmers using pristine glacial water and no chemical fertilizers. Handpicked, of course. They don’t carry it at Food Basics.”
I was suitably chastened.
With my eldest daughter also in residence over the holidays, the food situation became even more tense. She suffers from Crohn’s disease, and the high-fibre diet favoured by the other two sends her digestive system into spasms. I keep a supply of not-particularly-nourishing but easily-digestible foods on hand for her. But she felt threatened. I caught her, dressed in winter coat and jaunty beret, carrying something out to the garage for storage on top of the freezer.
“What have you got there?” I asked.
Gazing around furtively, clutching a pot wrapped in a towel, she shushed me. “This is last night’s chicken,” she whispered. “I’m hiding it so the other two won’t get it. It’s the only thing I could find that I can eat. It’s mine!”
“Feeling a bit Tiny Tim or Oliver Twist-ish, are we?” I asked.
“Don’t laugh. This flat-share arrangement isn’t working for me.”
“I hear you. When you go back to the U.K., may I stow away in your baggage? We can take the chicken with us.”
I could almost hear the revolving door swishing behind us.
Laurie Best lives in Waterloo, Ont.