Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Fiction is better, Part V

A 21-year-old woman in the UK, Tamara Roper, recently arrived home from college, wrote a letter to her parents, explaining that she's a grown-up. Wrote it for the Guardian, though, and the newspaper opened this up for comments.

And... I'm glad that the summer I spent back home after graduating from college and before getting a job-and-apartment is not one I'd captured for all eternity. It's a stressful time for everybody. For parents, because they're used to their kid being out of the house, and what if their kid never gets a job? For the kid too, though, because they've gotten used to living as an adult, and then must face the harsh reality that without the means to pay rent and living expenses (the massively self-sufficient, who not only worked during school but fully supported themselves, may well not move back home), it was all kind of a fake adulthood, after all.

Everyone reverts to the old ways - the parents to the parents of an eight-year-old, and the 20-something "child" to the 13-year-old who resents being treated like an eight-year-old. Adult children in this situation - and if I felt this in 2-3 months, I'd imagine it only gets more pronounced - know they're a burden, and that they should be all serenity, gratitude, and helpfulness. But there's something about that situation that brings out the inner entitled adolescent.

And then comes the thud of a realization (at least if you live in NYC and move in certain circles) that many of the 'independent self-sufficient adults' to whom you're comparing yourself are just people whose parents are paying their rent. (Insert "Girls" reference here.) But then you're the brat for having moved back home after graduation, and not directly into an apartment of your own. Gah! Did I mention that all of this is about 2-3 months, several years ago?

Anyway, if you begin with the reactions to this other young woman's letter, you'd think the letter consisted of diva-like demands that the fridge be stocked with her favorites, the house cleared when she wishes to entertain. You'd think it was a letter to her parents requesting they raise her allowance so she can buy the Louboutins she's had her eye on.

Instead, it's an intended-as-humorous description of the experiences she's had as a student that have made her a different person (well, brought her to a different life stage) than she was when she last lived at home. She expresses her own intent not to be a petulant sulking brat, and asks that in exchange, they not preemptively treat her as one.

Between the lines, it's clear she's embarrassed about her situation. She doesn't spell out the financial details (or really much in the way of biographical details - this isn't quite overshare), only that she wishes she could contribute "more" (suggesting she is contributing some), and that she'll do her best not to run up utility bills. "I hate having to ask you for lifts," she writes, which might sound entitled, and might be just that, depending the level of chauffeuring we're talking. But it sounds like it's an area without much public transportation, and asking for lifts is plenty less entitled than asking for a car.

Does Roper come across as young? Yes. There's the old adage about how protesting that one is a grown-up is the quickest way to seem childish. And it does seem kind of adolescent to not want to tell your parents, or anyone you may be living with, the bare-bones details about your evening plans. And the bit about it being culture shock to return to "suburbia," sure, it does seem a bit like, what, should her parents have moved to a hipper area so she'd feel more at ease? It's not, in other words, that the letter can't be read as immature and entitled. It's just that the overall impression it gives is of a young adult with a certain (dark) sense of humor about what's bound do be an awkward situation.

But oh, the commenters. They have never seen such entitlement. Roper should be on her hands and knees thanking her parents for their hospitality. She should be grateful her parents remain married to each other. That they care about her enough to ask where she's going at night. Some people don't have loving, caring parents who even could welcome them back home. How about that!

And, I don't know. A line here and there about gratitude might have helped placate the commenters, but  it would have detracted from the precise experience the letter conveys. An adult who returns home after X years of real independence will get that this is their parents' - or parent's - place. But if you're a student who's just graduated, you only know this place as home, and you've never known anything else as such. If you're 14, it doesn't occur to you to be grateful for the roof over your head, except in some abstract way that one may be grateful not to be homeless. You feel entitled to being housed by your parents because you are entitled to this. I remember it taking a moment to sink in, at 21, that I was in someone else's home, and not my own. Which is, again, why I'm glad I never thought to write up my feelings in that moment for a mass audience.

1 comment:

Petey said...

1) If you read the Guardian with Javascript turned off, no comments are visible. Problem solved! We all know that commenters are kinda silly.

2) " I remember it taking a moment to sink in, at 21, that I was in someone else's home, and not my own."

But still, your letter to your parents requesting they raise your allowance so you could buy the Louboutins you had her eye on was a bit déclassé...