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Leaving Paradise

A good friend who has daughters aged 30 and 23 is visiting for the weekend. She sits with me in my concern that my daughter doesn’t seem ready to take control of her life yet. This daughter, my fourth and last child, is 21 but dropped out of college and is working for a minimum-wage employer that never gives her more than 30 hours a week of work. She has not, so far, been able to find any other kind of job. Just this week, wrapping up my World Lit class, I taught the conclusion to Milton’s Paradise Lost and asked my room full of 24 college students, “When do you think it’s time for a person to leave home, get their own apartment, let their parents move on in their lives?” Their answers were revealing.

“When they finish college.”

I asked, as if hypothetically, “And if they drop out?” Silence. “When they get married.”

“My brother is 29 and still lives at home.”

“My sister is 33 and came back after her divorce–with her two kids.”

“I’m 25 and a veteran, and I’ve got the GI bill to pay for college, but if I couldn’t live with my parents, I couldn’t do this.”

“I tried it on my own, but it was a dead-end. I couldn’t make enough to get by, and when my roommate ran out on the lease I was in deep shit. If my parents hadn’t let me come home, I don’t know what I would have done.”

One student asked, “What do you mean, let their parents move on? My mom doesn’t want us to leave. I’m 27, and I’d like to move out, live on my own, but my mom would be devastated. We’re the only life she has.”

Their answers gave me an attack of tachycardia. Sweat rolled down my sides. My hands began to tremble. I couldn’t breathe. “Let’s go back to the text,” I said. Milton.

In either hand the hast’ning Angel caught
Our ling’ring Parents, and to th’ Eastern Gate
Led them direct, and down the Cliff as fast
to the subjected Plain; then disappear’d.
They looking back, all th’ Eastern side beheld
Of Paradise, so late thir happy seat…
Some natural tears they dropp’d, but wip’d them soon;
The World was all before them, where to choose
Thir place of rest, and Providence thir guide:
They hand in hand with wand’ring steps and slow,
Through Eden took thir solitary way.

I looked up from the page and saw tears in several students’ eyes. For my students, as for my daughter, the idea that “The World was all before them” is not encouraging, not reassuring. Leaving Paradise doesn’t feel natural to them. They don’t reach out for the world that lies before them with open arms. They cling to the illusion of safety, despite their conflicts with parental boundaries, rules, or expectations. “Leave me alone. I need fifty bucks. I’ll clean my room when I feel like it.”

Not one person in that room full of students had a rule of thumb, a guide, a notion of when it’s time to go. Not one had the sense that their parents might have something else to do, another dream to pursue, a new direction of their own. Why is that? Have parents failed to create lives for themselves (that mother who would be devastated if her children moved out suffocates her children with her needs). Has the economic situation become so dire (especially for college drop-outs) that there is no way to “choose thir place of rest,” no way to pay the rent, the electric bill, the cell phone bill, the car payment, the grocery bill (or McDonald’s)–on what they can earn?

What then, does the adventuresome parent (ahem!) of a beloved, adorable dependent twenty-something do? Move her into her own apartment and subsidize the rent? Does that parent hold herself hostage to her own sense of responsibility? Does that responsibility have no boundaries?

Maybe such a parent doesn’t have the right to retire and claim her Social Security at 62. Maybe such a parent has to suck it up, go on working a little longer, and hope with all her heart that the twenty-something will eventually find a way to cut that parent loose…. Maybe the adventuresome parent (or grandparent–my youngest daughter is just two years older than my eldest grandson) is wrong to dream of a new world all before her, where to choose her place of rest. I was craving (craving, that non-Buddhist life error) a change of life. Maybe I don’t get it. Yet.

My friend says maybe I just need to extend my time of working till next year this time. Give up on being able to retire in December. Get two apartments–two efficiencies, and move Basho and myself into one and my daughter into the other–far enough apart that she stops depending on me for transportation. Be sure her apartment is near public transport. Stick around, give moral and financial support one more year. Tears come to my eyes. I’m so tired of this. It scares me. What if one year isn’t enough? What if this goes on forever? Panic flushes through my veins like a hot flash. I observe it and breathe deeply.

…and Providence thir guide…

I think of my grandfather. He died at 62, still working as a clerk in the hardware store his father owned. My grandfather supported his wife, his mother-in-law, and me: the grandchild his daughter brought home and left with her parents after her catastrophe. He never had the privilege of retiring, going to live in a Buddhist community (not that it would have occurred to him). His late-life adventures were occasional fishing trips. He tended his tackle box, tied his flies, talked to his buddies about which fish go for lures and which don’t. He kept his fishing reels clean and ready. He made his time off count: he had his hip-waders, his dogs, his chickens, his friends, his church. He made every day count. He wasn’t waiting for Paradise or knocking on the western door to get back in. He was more Buddhist than I am. On the other hand, he only worked his steady 46 hours a week. He didn’t work nights and weekends, didn’t bring home papers to grade every night. He wasn’t a teacher. Burnout wasn’t a concept for him. His gentleness, his generosity has always been a model for me.

My visiting friend said this: “If you look beyond yourself at the whole world–Africa, South America, Asia–most people don’t either die or retire at 62, except in the movies. They go on, tired, doing their boring jobs. They don’t have choices. You have choices.” Yeah, I said, feeling ashamed for the tears in my eyes. I do. And maybe I’ll choose to support my daughter another year, and see what Providence has to offer beyond that. How long has it been? I married in 1965, when I was 20. I became a single mom when I was 23. I’ve been supporting my kids and other people since then. Those are the facts. That’s what I have chosen to do.

This summer, I’ll go to those Buddhist communities and see how they feel. Maybe there will be a way for me to retire in December. Or not. Maybe I’ll go on another semester. (To avoid panic, it’s best not to think ahead further than that. Anything could happen. Things could change. I’ve always been wrong when I tried to plan the future. Always.) It’s not even summer yet. I’m ahead of myself again. I’ll finish this semester and then teach British Literature 2 (my favorite lit course) in May. Maybe that will cheer me up, as I take my solitary way….

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4 responses to “Leaving Paradise”

  1. Hi Grannygold, In India, joint families are common place. In urban areas, sons move out when they get married, but generally only if there is a shortage of space. However, the trend towards nuclear families is definately increasing. Several of my married friends are living apart from their inlaws/parents. Other are still living in a joint family and contribute to the family kitty for expenses. Quite a contrast from life in the US, where moving out is the norm rather than a rarity. In fact, currently as I am working in the same city where my parents reside, I am living with them and I am much much older than your daughter. Please dont worry too much, I am sure with some guidance and support things will be fine. Hugs Dusty

  2. From an analytical POV, what is the worst that can happen if you decide to pursue your retirement. Your daughter is an adult, and if you have brought her up well, will cope and find her own solutions. I am not making light of the situation, it will be difficult, but better some tears now than stored resentment 10 years hence.

  3. admin says:

    Thanks to Lubna and Sans. I continue to sit with the situation and will try not to whine and kvetch about it endlessly on the blog.

  4. Steve Raymond says:

    Grannygold/Kendall –
    Just read your post *Leaving Paradise* and [your writing is just SO good that I HAD to respond ; ] since I am dealing with these same issues myself (kids 19 and 23) I was hungry to follow your every thought and reflection…
    the jobs available to ordinary young-people [these days; in my area, at least] DO NOT PAY FOR the lifestyle that is portrayed widely (e.g. car, apartment, clothes, food, energy) as “normal”, anymore. That American Dream is unavailable nowadays. The corporations that afforded us those luxuries have changed their policies; gone global; decided to keep more profit; and their former dependents be-damned . . .
    The whole ‘Ozzie-&-Harriet stage-set’ we were led to believe-in is in-truth an “Un-SUSTAINABLE” un-attainable lifestyle. . . if you follow my analogy . . .
    I am fortunate to have ‘a good piece of ground’ . . . 5 acres . . . with Redwood Trees and farm-able earth; water, and sun, and sky… a small orchard … other like-minded neighbors nearby. An understanding of barter.
    I can affect my own future harvest by working harder (vs asking some ‘BOSS’).
    Two more rows of bush-beans ‘in’ last night [after I thought that I’d finished ‘gardening’ for the day, but then got a ‘second wind’] means another bushel in July . . .
    Another hour of milling, means new boards for a new set of Redwood planter-boxes at The Farmer’s Market next Saturday.
    I have invited my kids to “bounce back” here, if they choose [from Thailand and U.C.S.B.] and figure-out their own way to
    fit-in-and-be-A-Contributor . . . manufacture a new wood-products line, or compost ? . . .

    As to your situation:
    1) You are a superb writer.
    You write every day, already.
    There are people who GET PAID
    for writing as well and as often as
    you do.
    It seems plausible to me that your
    next life-change will encompass
    further utilization of these talents
    (lots of Dem’s need Speech Writers ; )
    2) I was going to try to say something
    wise and experience-laden about your
    inner-conflict regarding when and how
    and whether-or-not-to “deadline” your
    daughter with a move-out date; when
    are you providing nourishment, and
    when are you empowering weakness?
    But, I realize, I’m too much in the
    middle of wrestling with a similar
    situation myself . . .
    “If I stop providing them with money,
    then they will suffer; and if I am
    around suffering people, then I am
    unable to be at peace.”
    So it goes.

    I’ll be interested to hear your further thoughts on these matters (not seen as ‘whining’ and/or ‘kvetch-ing’ ; )

  5. admin says:

    Wow! I have just printed out that comment, Steve, and I’m going to tape it to my mirror and look at it every day.

  6. donna says:

    Heh. I told my 21 year old I’m kicking him out when he’s 25 if he doesn’t leave before then. ;^)

    But really, I worry. There are so few opportunities for our kids these days – even the “good” jobs are going overseas, including engineering jobs – even though companies say they need more workers, the truth is there are plenty of trained American engineering students and companies just want to hire cheaper workers.

    With no loyalty from companies, and little chance they can succeed in their careers, I wonder what our kids will be doing in twenty years unless we completely revise our culture. The rich 1% take 70% of the wealth in this country – that’s ridiculous.

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