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My parents, my roomies

I may be a millennial basement-dweller, but I love getting to know my mom and dad as three-dimensional human beings, Erin O'Neil writes

First Person is a daily personal piece submitted by readers. Have a story to tell? See our guidelines at

Most Saturday mornings, I drift awake to the sound of my parents' laughter. Their voices are hushed with the knowledge that I'm dreaming downstairs, but I catch snippets. They recount moments from their week or delight in the best excerpts from the Saturday columnists. They contemplate plans for the day or just muse about the world.

My dad is a coffee hobbyist and roasts his own beans in our utility room. I know that by the time I have woken up, he has already lovingly pulled espresso and foamed milk for my mother's latte. They sit at the living room window, hands clasping mugs, faces turned to find the morning sun or to smile at each other as they converse.

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Other Saturdays, when my father, who is a pilot, is out of town and it's just Mom and I, I wake up to the sound of her coming down the stairs to my bedroom. She will often have a coffee in hand, offering it to me as she sits on the edge of my bed. It is a perch she has occupied throughout my life: to read me bedtime stories, to administer a thermometer, to stroke my hair, to coax me awake on school mornings. As adult daughter and mother in this familiar juxtaposition, we talk about our lives with a frankness and openness I treasure.

At 31, I am one of scores of millennials occupying parents' basements. When I moved back home after years on my own, it was supposed to be temporary. I had been living with a partner and when we split, my parents were so tender and kind and said, without hesitation, "Come home. Live with us." That was three years ago.

Ours is perhaps an atypical situation. I am gainfully employed and could live on my own, but I have chosen not to. It wasn't an active decision. There was no sit-down, no pro/con list, no pronouncement. Just a series of days, weeks and months of feeling happy and loved, which offered no convincing reason to leave.

The summer after I moved home, I travelled to visit a friend in Whitehorse. Everyone I met there seemed to be from somewhere else, so hometowns were frequent conversation fodder. When I would share that I lived at home with my parents, I would get skeptical, even horrified looks in return. My friend would interject: "Oh, but, her parents are cool."

It's true. My parents are cool. And living with them as roomies has been one of the best unexpected joys of my adult life.

The three of us feel as though we've stumbled on a secret (although it is no secret in many parts of the world): that intergenerational living is good for everyone. We take care of one another. We are company for one another. We keep one another sharp. We listen to one another. They would be fine without me as a permanent basement fixture and I would be fine without them as the familiar footsteps above. But that's not really the point. The point is that these are my people and this period of cohabitation has allowed me to get to know them as adults, as individuals, rather than as parents.

Most of us leave home just as we're exiting that awful hormonal teenage period, where life is best with the least amount of parent time possible. They're everywhere. They're bugging you about where you're going. They're prodding about your plans after graduation. They're asking when you're getting that summer job. They're raising their eyebrows about your totally cool friends. They're, like, so not chill. So it is an absolute shock to discover that these enemies of teenage freedom are actually three-dimensional human beings who exist on Earth not only to bug you.

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Here is precisely what I've discovered.

My mother is in pain a lot of the time, but she is relentlessly positive. Not cheery – we are not "woo" people – but focused on what she can learn, what she can share, what she can accomplish. As an adult, I have come to appreciate her wholehearted devotion to my sister and I, something I did not have the perspective to properly gauge until recently. Each friend I bring home to meet her falls in love with her, too. She is warm, curious, kind, thoughtful – the mom I want to be one day. When I am at my most tolerant, most inquisitive and most generous, I see her influence in me.

My father has influenced a different side of me. We can rile each other up about the madness of the world and our tiny speck of participation in it. In particular moments of our discussions, he radiates with the same anxious horror I feel about humanity. At other times, he is circumspect, reminding me that it's all relative, that we are lucky to live in this day and age and to have a loving family. He is no longer the gruff, goofy dad of my childhood; he is my friend, my confidante and my cheerleader.

By the time we reach 18, we have already spent most of the time we will ever spend with our parents. Past childhood and high school, our time with our parents is limited. For some, it is further limited by distance or soured relationships. For others, it is cut short unexpectedly by sickness or death. The opportunity to spend time with parents wanes as we age and it is so easy to waste.

I think of my time as a millennial basement-dweller as bonus time with Mom and Dad. For the rest of my life, I will treasure this period of companionship and friendship with the people who made me. I've always known that they made me, physically, but I now know that they made me who I am as a person. And one day, when I do move out into my own home, I will visit them on Saturday mornings as often as possible.

Erin O'Neil lives in Dundas, Ont.

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