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My wife and I held hands and braced for the news. “Your case is very serious,” he uttered. “One of the worst I’ve seen in 25 years in the profession.” I knew it was bad, that’s why we called him in, but I didn’t realize just how bad it had become. The beefy-handed man had just done a walk-through of our home, poking here, shining a light there, shaking his head everywhere he went.
“First, we have to deal with their food source – the kitchen,” he said. Yes, they are particularly troublesome in the kitchen, I thought. Each night, we leave our kitchen fit for a Home & Garden photo shoot. Every morning, we come down to a disaster – all manner of refuse strewn about. Cupboard doors open, crumbs on the counter. It was like a dance of the midnight food fairies had carried on while we slept. An awful mess.
“We’ll have to gut it completely – go right back to the studs. Rip up the floor, tear down the plaster and replace all the electrical. We’ll put your appliances in storage. You’ll have no ability to store or prepare food for about three months.”
“Next, we target sources of water,” he continued, adding that he’d learned that, whether alone or in packs, our intruders would spend a considerable amount of time at or near water sources engaged in lengthy grooming rituals. “So we’re going to cut off all water to your main floor and above. You will have to rely only on your tiny basement bathroom. “
“Finally, we target their nesting places. This is problematic in old homes like yours. They can burrow in and get very comfortable. They’re nocturnal creatures, so we have to concentrate our activity during the day, making a lot of noise to disrupt their sleeping habits.“ But I still wasn’t convinced. “Sir, if we start work tomorrow, we guarantee your adult children will be gone by summer.”
I shook my head in disbelief. How had it come to this? Undertaking a kitchen and a two bathroom renovations just to get your three twenty-something children to move out of the house! Where had we failed? What signs in their childhood had I missed?
All three kids appeared to be developing ‘normally’ throughout their childhood. They learned to walk, talk and have play dates. They enjoyed primary school, after-school programs, evening activities, sports, arts and music. With high school came boyfriends, girlfriends and the realization that their parents were complete ninnies. Finally, post-secondary and the dreaded (read celebrated) move off to college/university. Done, finished: On to adulthood for them. Setting off, making their way in the world – all that good stuff.
Slowly, by stealth it all started to unravel. First, came the “temporary” move back to pay off student loans. Then came the “I’m saving for the future and living at home really helps” phase. This was followed quickly by the, “All my friends still live at home so I can’t find someone to share a flat with.”
The penny finally dropped one night when I tried to provide some fatherly advice to my 25-year-old daughter. With her strapping brother in tow for protection, she was about to meet an unknown young man to recover her cell phone lost the night before at a downtown club. I suggested that a $20 coffee gift card would be a nice way to say thank-you. She replied, “Dad, are you kidding! That’s something an adult would do.” I was stunned. I thought 25 year olds were adults. Had I missed a memo? It was then that I realized she and her siblings had what I call “Peter Pan Syndrome” – a refusal to grow up. Most of their friends suffered from the same condition. It’s like the sign on the highway saying welcome to Toronto had been replaced by one that said Welcome to Neverland! If 60 is the new 40, then I guess 30 is the new 10! When did the natural order of things become living with your parents until they retired and downsized! Sometimes, I think we’re going to have to move out and leave them behind instead of the other way around.
Here it is, one year after the reno and they are still living at home. At least I have a new kitchen and two new bathrooms. Yes, I know, I am an enabler. They pitch in by doing chores – but not an equal share. They help prepare meals – but not as often as they should. They make messes that aren’t completely gone when they “tidy up.” But what do I get in return? I get to hear what’s new and exciting or old and boring in their lives every day. I get to meet and talk with their friends regularly. I know the latest tricks and tips for Twitter and Instagram because I get on-demand tutorials. I can always count on a large cheering section for televised sporting events – and they have learned to bring the beer! I get an opportunity to understand and connect with my young adult children and their friends because if I listen, I will hear what is important to them, what they care about. I get the opportunity to discuss and debate the things that matter to them and pontificate occasionally (okay, regularly) on what is important to me.
I don’t know everything about their lives and I don’t want to. We give them their space and they give us ours. Throughout their childhood, I took the advice of others seriously when they said to enjoy every moment with them because some day they will grow up and move away. I am still taking that advice seriously today.
I think it is best summed up by a colleague with very young children who exclaimed that it must be absolutely awesome to have your twenty-something children still want to be a part of your life and have you be a part of theirs.
I replied that it was indeed absolutely awesome – just don’t tell them that.
Howard Gaskin lives in Toronto.