Our youngest graduated from California State University Sacramento in June, 2010, the day before her big sister graduated from med school at UC Davis. The CSU system has been impacted by state budget cuts and an imploding enrollment. Students can’t get the classes they need to graduate. Youngest daughter ended up doing a fifth year because she couldn’t get into a class during her junior year that she had to take before she did her practicum. Middle daughter would need another year at CSU San Jose because she was short four units to have priority for a class she needed that was offered only in the spring. She had hoped to graduate in December of 2010 but graduated the following spring.
Oldest daughter had a life plan since kindergarten. Middle daughter took her time deciding what she wanted to do, but once she found what she loved, she managed to take all the right steps and was employed in her field before graduation. Youngest daughter also had a plan. She knew what she wanted to do in high school—film editing. Now armed with a degree in communications, she was looking for a job in a very narrow market. Once boyfriend was laid off from his job driving a big rig, it became clear that the easiest and cheapest thing for youngest daughter to do was to move back home and search for a job in Los Angeles. So she packed up and came home, bringing two cats, two dogs, and boyfriend who came with the shell of a car that he was rebuilding. The house, which had seemed too big for the two of us and our three replacement children, became crowded. Youngest daughter needed a job.
Enamored of the big screen, addicted to television, thousands of young people make their way to Los Angeles, looking for the opportunity to work in the film industry. College degrees, experience, contacts in the industry, all of these open doors but the job opportunities are still few and short termed. The economy had tanked. Unemployment was at an all-time high. New college graduates were not finding jobs. Many were applying to graduate school to strengthen skills or avoid rejection. Youngest daughter had a few interviews, one that seemed like a job she would want, others so suspiciously odd she ran the other way. The best job was a call from a major television network. A recruiter for the network saw her resume online and called her in for an interview. Within minutes, everyone at the interview knew she lacked one essential skill that was needed for the job. She didn’t speak Spanish. Someone assumed that she could speak Spanish because of our last name.
After four months of searching, our daughter had exhausted her small savings. She wanted to get on with her life. The house was small; her cats confined to the bedroom; dogs were continually underfoot. She had no money for Starbucks. The DVR was always full with my shows. She wanted a job. So using the skills she acquired in college working as a baker and shift manager for a bagel company, she talked her way into a job managing the bakery for a small grocery chain. The job was exhausting. She searched for recipes; she rose early to bake. She looked for ways to save the store money, turning loaves of stale bread into bread pudding. One small moment of triumph was when a celebrity chef actually ordered several trays to be served at a Thanksgiving dinner for an aging rock star’s family. At least she had a job. Boyfriend didn’t.
It is difficult to share your house with a complete stranger. Young people do it all the time. They are assigned roommates in college dorms. They look for people to share apartments or rental houses. Sometimes one meets someone who will be a friend for the rest of one’s life. (My theory is that happens to men more than women.) Other times one fulfills a financial obligation and then never sees that roommate again, using the experience for cocktail chatter. As older adults, we want our privacy, our independence, our routines. We don’t want strangers living in our homes. The boyfriend wasn’t a complete stranger. He had been my daughter’s roommate for over a year. They had rented rooms in the same house and then began dating. Still we had met the boyfriend only a few times. He had come to our house for Christmas. We had gone out to dinner together several times during graduation weekend. He was quiet and polite. When he talked about his job, he gave the impression he was determined and hardworking. He was good to his dog, who was glued to his side. He seemed to be everything we would want in a boyfriend for our daughter. So when daughter asked if she could move back home and bring him along, we said yes.
Of course, this raised some moral issues. Isn’t marriage a sacred institution? I was raised Catholic. I wasn’t totally comfortable with the idea. Should we be encouraging cohabitation when the two weren’t married? A friend said no. We should be setting high moral standards for our children. He wouldn’t allow his daughter’s boyfriend to spend the night under his roof. Ironically, he wasn’t married to the woman he was living with. My husband shrugged. What choice did we have? If she wouldn’t leave the boyfriend, they would be homeless. We should take them in.
At this point, I should confess that as wild children of the seventies, my husband and I lived together before we got married. Honestly, we didn’t live together all that long before we got married because guilt got the better of me. I was so weighed down by Catholic school guilt and my mother’s nagging that I proposed to my husband. It wasn’t a very romantic proposal either. It went something like “marry me or I’m leaving.” But the marriage worked. Our premarital cohabitation was not a secret. My siblings told my children. My mother told my children. My mother told my children some other stories about my participation in questionable activities, a large number of which really involved my sisters—all of them. Evidently I did enough bad things for five girls. Her other four daughters have been nominated for sainthood. So how could I protest my daughter bringing home her boyfriend?
Consequently, our youngest daughter, along with her boyfriend, moved back into her childhood home. This was to be temporary. They were going to find jobs and move out on their own. Youngest daughter remained the hard working go-getter that she had always been. We (husband and I) were not sure boyfriend was looking for a job. He kept irregular hours, spent hours on the internet, watched television the rest of the time. It’s a bit disconcerting when you go for your second cup of coffee and the pot is already empty. Rushing out the door on my way to work, I would open the refrigerator to grab leftovers for lunch only to find nothing left. If I wanted to be on the computer, he was already there. If I wanted to watch television, he was already watching “Ice Road Truckers”. If I went out on the patio to drink my coffee, he was there smoking. He was wherever I wanted to be.
By the end of the summer, it was clear that we were supporting a complete stranger because our daughter was in love. The boyfriend had no job, no money and no transportation. He did have a stripped down car body and a half built engine. We wanted to help so we put him to work. First he rebuilt our backyard fence. Then he painted part of the house. Every cent he got went into the car skeleton. He just needed another two weeks and it would run. One more part, that’s all the car needed. As soon as he found part x, the engine would start. While the neighbors didn’t complain about the automotive work to us, our homeowner’s association sent us a letter, warning us that non-operable cars could not be in the driveway or in front of the house. Finally the car roared to life. Boyfriend drove the car to his brother’s home three hours away. The car died. He took a train back to us.
In the meantime, youngest daughter moved from one grocery store to another, continued to send out resumes and finally landed a film industry job, editing 3D footage for two summer blockbusters. The job was contract work, tied to the two movies, but it paid twice as much as the grocery store and had overtime. This was her dream job. She was able to save up enough to buy a computer so she could freelance from home. She was saving to move out of our house. Success was in the air.
Boyfriend also got a job. He still didn’t have transportation; subsequently he rented a car to get to work. For a short time, he was working nights, searching for car parts by day. While we thought that he should save enough to buy a reliable used car, he wanted to fix his dream car. Furthermore his brother wanted the broken down car off his property. Suddenly the job was gone. The car was back. After a year, this stranger was still living in our house and showed no inclination to leave. We asked ourselves if we made a mistake taking him in. He had been independent since high school. As far as we knew, he had always been employed. Was it just too easy to live at our house?
Tension was high, suffocatingly so. My daughter thought they could afford to move out. She found a place with a friend but they had to wait a month. In the meantime, politeness eroded into rude hostility, causing me to demand that boyfriend move out immediately. The car was running so he left, taking only his dog. Youngest daughter thought that as soon as her dad heard what I had done, he would rescind the eviction notice. She was, after all, daddy’s girl.
Boyfriend ended up sleeping in his car until he could get into the place they planned to rent together. The day they were supposed to move their furnishings, he broke up with her. His unemployment was enough to pay his share of the rental. Daughter was heartbroken.
Within three weeks, boyfriend drove his painstakingly rebuilt dream car off the road, into a ravine, but luckily he walked away with only a few scratches. The car was towed and he couldn’t afford to get it out of impound. My daughter learned she was pregnant.