Coronavirus is prompting young adults to move home with mom and dad. But should they?
Andres Vidaurre’s story is a lot like those of the many young adults who make their way to Los Angeles in search of work and a vibrant, diverse city to call home.
The 27-year-old Houston native moved here two years ago after attending Notre Dame University and settled down in a five-bedroom home in northeast Los Angeles that he found on Craigslist. He has roommates — 22 to be exact. Each tenant pays $580 a month and each room has several bunk beds.
Vidaurre loved the vibe, so when the house manager moved out, he took over the role, which allowed him to live there for free. The additional work came with a new set of headaches, but his duties never included “pandemic response” — until last month.
On March 14, one of his roommates texted to say he had tested positive for the novel coronavirus and had moved back with his family in Fresno.
Vidaurre delivered the news to his roommates. Almost everyone handled it calmly, he said. But there were a few exceptions, including one who started packing and left that night on a 13-hour drive back to his parents’ home in Oregon.
But moving back in with his parents isn’t an option for Vidaurre, as it might be for others in their mid-20s. His mom has an autoimmune disorder.
“Going to Houston and coming into contact with them is really not a desire I have right now,” he said. “I just really hope they stay inside.”
In the last month, as the headlines about the pandemic have become grimmer, young people in cities across the country have contemplated the possibility of moving home to live with their parents or extended family.
Some of them can’t afford it. Others, like Vidaurre, worry that they might be asymptomatic and put their medically frail relatives at risk, as some reports suggest that infection is more likely to happen in clusters, such as with a family living under one roof.
But many others are returning to their childhood bedrooms and setting up workstations in the dining room of homes where food — and support — are in ample supply. The trade-off is often living in a household where siblings are sleeping nearby and families are trying to figure out who will do a video-conference from what room.
Decisions to stay or go have been made under pressure, sometimes in haste. For those who have moved home, it’s not clear how long they’ll be there. It’s highly unlikely that anyone was thinking about their emotional or financial independence, but their decisions could very well influence the way they and their parents navigate the world for the rest of their lives.
Young people who are hunkered down far from their immediate families may be confronted with parents whose separation anxiety is growing. Subtle cues may be missed; estrangements may be amplified.
But no one can think about any of that right now. The future will have to wait.
Cole Gilbert, 26, says the seriousness of this pandemic sneaked up on him. As schools across the state closed and Gov. Gavin Newsom told people over age 65 to stay home, Gilbert said, he continued to live a “normal” life, going out for drinks March 14 at a packed bar in Venice, where he lives.
Then, days later, Newsom asked restaurants to close to dine-in guests.
Gilbert thought about his routine and started to worry about washing his clothes at the laundromat. “I didn’t want to go to the grocery store” to prepare for a long shut-in.
“I feel like in a time of crisis, the places I retreat to are my comfort zones,” Gilbert said. So he grabbed his dirty clothes and his two dogs and headed to his parents’ place in Long Beach.
Gilbert works as a production manager for his family’s aerospace finishing company. The Friday before he returned home, the company had furloughed half its staff as business dropped off. Gilbert wondered whether his move home might be permanent.
After business started to pick up again, the company was able to bring employees back on and Gilbert surveyed the landscape.
Living at home hasn’t been so bad.
“I’m more of a grown-up now about everything,” he said. “Going home and realizing I have responsibilities at the house. Now that I’m their guest, I’m not treating it like my home. I’m trying to do my part,” running errands and buying groceries.
Gilbert has given up his place in Venice and plans on being a Long Beach resident for the foreseeable future. But he swears it won’t be forever.
As the novel coronavirus continues its assault, how should families deal with the return of adult children who considered themselves launched?
Julie Lythcott-Haims is a former college administrator with two college-age children who have returned to their Palo Alto home. Her 81-year-old mother lives in a small house at the back of the property and her 20-year-old son just came out of a 14-day quarantine after returning from Portland, where he lives and works.
The author of “How to Raise an Adult,” Lythcott-Haims said there’s a fine balance that parents need to strike between communicating the seriousness of following rules and young people’s desire for the independence they had when they were living on their own.
“Everybody is accustomed to greater autonomy and freedom, and now we’re in an environment where everyone is supposed to be locked down,” she said. “We kind of want to be sure everybody is abiding by the rules, and yet we’re all adults here. So I think there’s a lot of walking on eggshells about serious issues.”
Lythcott-Haims says this all fundamentally comes down to trust — whether the person has returned home or not.
For young adults who are far away from family, it’s also a fraught time. When twentysomethings are separated in moments like this, she says, they become more like peers with their parents. Trust comes when parents and adult children are able to have honest conversations about the risks they are facing and the precautions they are taking.
“I think they’re both worried about each other and they’re both having compassion for each other and wanting to check up and check in,” Lythcott-Haims says. “But inherently, each is required to look after oneself, which I think develops agency and resilience in those young adults who did not return home.”
After losing her job at a restaurant, Brenda Mendez, whose family escaped violence in Guatemala, felt she had no other choice but to try street vending. Her son didn’t want her to be alone.
In the middle of last month, Milwaukee native Ben Levey had a frank should-I-stay-or-should-I-go discussion with his mother. Both of his parents have had health issues.
“I was potentially worried about being asymptomatic and getting her sick,” Levey said of his mother. “That’s scary because you really don’t know.”
His regular Friday night Shabbat dinners with friends in Washington, D.C., had started to change. Instead of ripping the challah bread with their hands, as is custom, Levey and his friends cut it with a knife and kept some distance from one another. The 24-year-old stopped taking the train to his job at a nonprofit.
As it became clear that he could work from home, Levey decided that his best bet was to pack up his car and make the 13- hour drive back home to Wisconsin. Now, he’s living in a room where he hasn’t spent much time since he was 17. He has claimed the living room as his workspace.
His younger brother also is home from college and taking his classes via Zoom.
“We’re four adults in a house in the suburbs,” which feels just a little more cramped than it has in the past, Levey said. “My dad has the back office. I got the living room and my mom is in the bedroom.”
Lucy Putnam, 23, didn’t have to travel far to get home. Still, it was a decision that gave her pause as she wrestled with the implications of getting her parents or siblings sick.
Putnam’s roommates at her apartment near Beverly Grove had been on the go, not paying much attention to social distancing before it was mandated. “I had been interacting with my roommates,” she said, so she asked her parents, “Would you prefer [for] me to stay in my apartment? I’m young and it won’t affect me.’”
No, her mother said, please come home.
Putnam, who works in film and TV development and can work from home, is grateful to have the means and the ability to ride this out in her childhood bedroom in West L.A.
There was, however, the challenge of having a boyfriend, who had been coming and going from the house, which worried her parents. He eventually returned to his family’s home on the East Coast.
Reggie Dominguez spent days self-isolating in a hospital parking lot, homeless and worried he had coronavirus. There are many more like him on skid row.
Three weeks into the stay-at-home order in Los Angeles, Vidaurre’s circle of roommates continues to shrink and his anxiety growing.
It turned out the housemate who returned to Fresno had not been infected with the coronavirus. He had influenza.
There are still about 15 people living in the house in northeast L.A.
With that many people in close quarters, Vidaurre feels like he constantly needs to clean dishes in the communal kitchen. When someone else begins cleaning, he wonders if the cutlery he just left to dry has been contaminated.
“It just increases the paranoia so much,” he said. “If it were possible to transition to living alone and creating an environment that can be clean and safe, I would do that.”
Vidaurre plans to be out of the house by the end of the month.
He and one of his roommates, Oko Carter, 30, share a box of disposable masks.
As with Vidaurre, Carter returning to his family isn’t an option. Both his grandparents are over 70 and not in great health. And his dad is a truck driver transporting medical equipment in Florida.
Carter’s dog-walking and dog-sitting business has dried up, but he has lived in Los Angeles for a decade, and he says that if he’s going to ride this out somewhere, it’s going to be here.
For now, he shares a room with two other people — one of whom works at a local 7-Eleven. Some of his housemates have lost their jobs or are struggling in the gig economy.
“The bedroom normally holds five people, but only three are here right now,” Carter says, sounding almost relieved. “It’s just been this feeling for those who have remained — it’s been a little sad seeing people who had work just have nothing.”
Still, Carter remains optimistic. He notes what’s been written on the dry-erase board in the communal kitchen.
Keep your head up.
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