Living At Home

I have never thought of myself as someone defined by what she does for money, but that was before I wasn’t really doing anything and didn’t really have any money. It turns out that a huge portion of my self-identity or whatever has depended on…not work, exactly, but having work, specifically the kind that puts a paycheck in your bank account every couple of weeks. I haven’t had one of those since February, but it’s only since I’ve been living at home that it’s been actively bothering me—and also that I’ve been actively trying to change it, and actively failing to do so.

“Living at home” also doesn’t quite cover it—I’m living on the same island that I grew up on but in a different house (with the same mom). I’ve unpacked my things but only temporarily—of course, I’m still not sure what “temporarily” means yet, as I have happily cleared another hurdle in the Immigration Footrace (which is rapidly feeling more and more like a marathon) but still have no idea when I will be going back to New Zealand. I’m here but I’m not, in a home that isn’t. I say this every time I come back here for a holiday but I hardly recognize the place—there are new hotels and a Starbucks now and even new invasive species and the beach looks different and the bathroom fan makes a weird noise that the bathroom in the old house didn’t and you can’t see my elementary school from the street anymore because there is a whole new school in its place, and that new school isn’t even new, it’s five or eight or ten years old now.

I have basically been a housewife for my mom since I got back from Seattle: I’m cooking and cleaning and going to the store and going to Target, making my to-do list every day. I’m making up for lost time with Netflix and reading a lot, and trying to walk on the beach every evening when the sun goes down. I have started volunteering for the Obama campaign and am at home when the plumber comes. And every day since I’ve got here I’ve tried to get work—work that needs to be temporary and allow me to leave with not much notice, and pay decently, and also not be too far away, and also doesn’t require me to be fluent in Spanish. I’ve applied for fifteen jobs in twenty-eight days and haven’t heard back from most of them, and the shame keeps getting deeper and wider as I vacuum the living room again and chop vegetables for salad and do the projects Mom needs done in the house, as I watch my bank account dwindle because I need to have health insurance and because I have to pay fee after fee after fee to emigrate to New Zealand and because I was only able to save so much, because I assumed that I’d be able to find something that would meet all my requirements, when and how I needed them to be met.

And I guess it’s my blindness to my own privilege that allowed me to make that assumption, while still depending on my mom for my room and board–my mom who works twelve hours a day while I wait for the phone to ring and yet tells me that having me here is a pleasure and she’s so happy I decided to come home for a while. Writing all this down I see that I’m trying to justify it: it’s not forever, it’s a special situation, it’s not because I’m lazy or don’t want to work, I may not get to spend this kind of time with my family for a long while. I keep thinking about this time next year: telling the story of how one day I thought I would go to New Zealand for a year and then hey! I really liked it! and so I thought I would try to stay, you know, and then staying meant leaving and going back and it got pretty sticky in there for a while but now, now that I have a little distance from the whole thing, it’s alllllll worth it. I can hardly imagine that time, even though I imagine it pretty near constantly. Will I really do this? Will it really happen?

Clearly I am feeling pretty low at the moment, but really I’m still doing pretty well, in every sense—due, again, to my myriad privileges. Will that change, too, like everything else has? Will things get worse before they get better, and how much, and for how long?

9 comments

  1. I hear you. Girl, do I hear you. I am unemployed, and looking, looking, looking, and it’s the worst time to be looking, and my kind husband keeps telling me that it’ll be fine, and in the meantime I do things like clean out the pantry and volunteer to charity and update my CV (again). And sometimes, I have to just take a nap so I don’t get sad.

    But things could be worse. So I keep telling myself that, that I’m “lucky” because we aren’t facing losing our house or going without medical insurance, etc.

    It’s hard when the intellect knows full well what the psyche can’t exactly grok.

  2. This is not advice, because you’re a lot more intelligent than I am, but just a suggestion: as much as you feel like you’re dwelling in purgatory right now (and the weather down there supports my weak metaphor! Or was that a similie because I used the word “like?”) (See what I mean about the intelligence level?) try to look at it more from the point of view that the universe conspired to allow you an unexpected period of time with your mom. A few years back, my husband and I had the humiliating experience of having to spend a summer in my parents’ CAMPER because he was interning and we were broker than broke…and I was so embarrassed to be back “home” as an adult. My dad is gone now, his death shocking and crippling our whole family, and now I look back on that summer with nothing but gladness we got to have that time together. This is a horrible comparison, but my point is just that even though you’re probably very bored and frustrated a lot of the time right now, this is where you’re supposed to be for now. I’ve always read about your relationship with your mom with envy, as I wish I was close to my mom but that will never happen.
    The unemployment, I TOTALLY feel you on that – I start to feel a little crazy during prolonged periods of not working. I hope you’ll find something soon because I’m sure that will help your outlook on everything.
    I did not mean to write all that; I hope I didn’t offend you – I am highly caffinated at the moment, so just be thankful I don’t have your phone number!

  3. Yeah, I have also gone through that unemployment frustration; I live in France and I can’t even get a job as a substitute receptionist because I don’t have a French diploma. Boredom is a word that has lost all meaning. Anyways, your post made me think about that old adage that they always trot out for execs who work like 100 hours a week- no one ever lies on their deathbed wishing that they had worked more. Sure, you wish that you didn’t have to remind yourself of it but that doesn’t change the fact that you ARE lucky to be able to spend this amount of time with your mom, as an adult. I realized after taking care of my mom all summer (she was recovering from two surgeries) that even the difficult parts were really really worthwhile. I think that I had still looked at my parents in the way that I did when I was 16- not in a bad way, just a very immature way. Living with her, as an adult, made me reevaluate the way I look at her and even the way I see myself. Being able to understand my mom better definitely is an important part of being a good mom to my own daughter. On someone else’s blog I recently read a post that pointed out that every “work” experience she had, no matter who silly it seemed at the time, has suddenly proved itself useful and so rather than stew in discontent over the fact that things don’t seem perfect, we should learn to trust that it will all make sense in the end. I thought that was excellent advice.

  4. Oh hon, I know what you mean. I came to that same realization while I was in Japan. It’s rough. It’s all you can do to keep making sure there are Things To Do just so you don’t die of boredom. Many hugs, and call me if you just need a smile.

  5. Looking for work is one of the hardest things ever, in some ways much harder than having a low-paying high-stress job that requires crappy hours. It sucks utterly. This is a totally legitimate thing to be unhappy about.

  6. I’ve said it before and will say it again: the only thing worse than having a job is looking for one. Make sure to make time to do things that make you happy. Even (or perhaps especially) if they’re not good for anything else.

  7. blargh. That is tres no fun! And now you’re making me feel teh anxiety, because my current job ends in a month and I have no guarantees of a new one starting. Mutual praying starts…now?

    You, I am sure, shall prevail. You’re way too awesome to not employ. Right?

  8. Absolutely agree with everyone who thinks that being unemployed and looking for work bites. Hard.

    Also sending love and perseverance to you! I hope that things start to feel a little more hopeful very soon, and that you do look back on this time with your mom and the Obamates as a lovely little interlude (as I am sure you will!).

  9. I’m just a lurker, but I wanted to say that I’m in a similar situation though mine is cushy and totally of my own choosing and I am so, so unbelievably lucky that I was able to do it (I quit my engineering career last November and have been trying to figure out what to do next). I’m a housewife now and not even a particularly good one; would that I was vacuuming the living room “again”–I don’t understand where all the time goes considering I don’t have a job. Sacrificed to the internet gods, I guess, and that reminds me that I really do need to make some headway on getting out of this limbo before I look back and 5 years have passed and my husband has long since started to resent me.

    With that disclaimer, I bet your mom is being sincere when she says that she really enjoys and appreciates your company. Even from a practical, nuts-and-bolts standpoint, she must appreciate coming home from her demanding job to a well-oiled household and a home-cooked meal. Of course the income would probably be better, but my husband does mention from time to time how nice it is that he doesn’t have to worry about the household stuff at the moment. Not that I don’t hope you find a job and for the immigration process to speed up, so that you can get where you want to be, but I agree with the other commenters that enjoying your time with your mom–and really believing that she is enjoying it as well–is the right way to go. You’d hate to get to the end of this time and realize that feelings of guilt or stress prevented you from appreciating or savoring the good things the situation had to offer.

    I don’t mean to lecture at all so I hope it doesn’t come off that way! I just know all too well the feeling of having my self-worth totally tied up in my job, and how futile and consumptive of energy that is starting to seem for me, so I guess all I really wanted to say is: don’t feel guilty.