After 10 years, a son moves home

The kid is moving back home on Sept. 1. He's been gone for 10 years,

the first four in college, the last six living and working in Los

Angeles. In those years, Erik would come home to do his laundry,

collect birthday presents, observe holidays and attend selected

family functions. Home was also an occasional bed-and-breakfast that

he used more frequently when he found a writing partner closer to

home than she was to Los Angeles. But after Sept. 1 -- three weeks beyond his 28th birthday -- Erik's new home will be his old home.

Deja vu -- as Yogi Berra liked to say -- all over again.

In the patois of Erik's generation, that's cool with me. The kid

has been useful in certain areas around the house. He's the only

family member who can lift the water bottle onto its stand. He has

also become an effective intermediary in domestic disagreements,

especially when his mother is clearly in the wrong. He can point this

out with less collateral damage than I can.

Erik is moving back home because the cost of living in Los Angeles

was forcing him to look for a regular job at a time when his writing

was showing realistic promise of providing him a livelihood. The only

tangible way for us to help Erik in this situation was to offer him

his old bedroom rent-free while he pursued the promise. A year, at

most, he tells us. If it hasn't happened in a year, he'll look in

other directions.

About the time his mother and I agreed on this decision, we were

startled to read a long piece in the Los Angeles Times about the

strong and growing movement of freshly minted adults back to

childhood home and hearth. According to a recent U.S. census, some

25% of Americans between the ages of 18 and 34 now live with their

parents. This translates to an estimated 18 million young people who

have set up hopefully temporary shop back home. It is especially

tough for people of my generation to get our heads around this social

revolution. When I was growing up, a kid was expected to make his own

way in the world when he turned 18. If college was in this picture,

the parents would help for the next four years to the extent of their

ability. And God help the student who looked to home once this

process was completed. So what has changed?

For starters, we have the zooming tab for education that has led

to staggering student debt. Then there is the escalating cost of

rent, the only housing option -- except returning home -- available

to most young people. Constant financial crises grow out of a soft

employment market in which the number of middle-class jobs is

steadily shrinking.

When variations of these factors drive young people to look

homeward, there is a litany of possible problems that need to be

resolved before they become serious irritants. We plan to review them

with Erik in the next few weeks, and all three of us are making

mental notes in preparation. Here are some of mine.

* Do not use my bath towel because it happens to be the closest at

hand in the bathroom we will be sharing. Likewise my razor.

* When borrowing anything from my desk -- scotch tape, scissors,

whatever -- put it back when you finish so I don't spend half the day

looking for it.

* When grubbing through the newspaper in the morning, don't

rat-hole the Calendar section or leave the rest of the paper in a

misshapen mess that has to be reconstructed before I can read it.

* Check with higher authority before commandeering the laundry

equipment.

* Be aware that bumper stickers on your car that are hilarious in

your Los Angeles neighborhood don't play at all well in ours -- and

I'm not talking politics here.

* Lock the front door and turn off all the lights when you come in

at night.

* Do not schedule television activities when there is an Angel

game in progress on the tube.

* Occasionally ask me for advice -- or maybe even a war story --

whether you want it or not.

These are a few of the more serious issues on my list. Such

matters as giving up his room when our friends from distant places

visit will, I'm certain, be brought up by his mother.

One thought that kept occurring to me as I made up my list was

that it would be much easier to compile a list of positive things his

live-in presence will add to our household than those that might

cause problems. The tone here has always been lifted when Erik

appears.

Come to think of it, I can deal with a lot of wet towels in

exchange for that. So welcome home, kid.

* JOSEPH N. BELL is a resident of Santa Ana Heights. His column

appears Thursdays.

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