Earlier in January, I decided 2020 was my year for setting boundaries. So, this morning, I told my mom that she wasn’t allowed to talk to me before 10:30 a.m., citing a need for boundaries and a lack of coffee.
Yup, I’m a fully grown adult millennial who has chosen to return to my childhood home for a quarantine of indeterminate time during the spread of the novel coronavirus. And I promise, I used a kind, considerate tone when telling my mom not to ask me her incessant questions. After all, she oh-so-kindly drove into Williamsburg, Brooklyn, two Thursdays ago to bring me back to the Long Island home where I previously resided for 18 years, all so I could avoid public transportation amid the rampant breakouts of COVID-19 in New York City.
I brought with me two suitcases and a few totes, stuffed with my Tempur-Pedic pillow, a stack of leggings, a scented candle, lots of full-size skincare products and my beloved Drybar dryer brush, in addition to most of the contents of my fridge, freezer and pantry. The food part, it seemed, was wholly unnecessary, as I’ve learned that my mother is something of a doomsday prepper. She had seven cans of Trader Joe’s bruschetta on hand, was already equipped with 36 rolls of toilet paper and had four gallons of oat milk already chilling in the fridge. And this is just normal inventory for her humble abode.
Here’s what else I’ve learned about my mom since basically moving back home: She requests that her pots and pans are double washed (first with Bar Keepers Friend and a second time with dish soap), she actually wipes down the stove after every use and she’s a big fan of catching up with her friends multiple times a day on the phone—shout-out to our paper-thin walls.
And here’s what I’ve learned about myself: According to the height chart on the basement door, I haven’t grown a single inch since March 2005, a side effect of sleeping in a twin-size bed is that my arms go numb often during the night (???) and all of my childhood tchotchkes, pink-framed pictures and sparkly Claire’s jewelry look absolutely hectic in the background of any video call.
So why did I decide to leave my queen-size bed and my independence, all to embark on my childhood 2.0? For one, it’s been really reassuring to spend this uncertain, scary time with my closest family members (oh yeah, my brother’s here too). There’s also a lot more space inside my mom’s home than in my three-bedroom flex apartment, which means I have more spots to use as my desk during the workday. Not to mention, we’ve got ample outdoor space—including beach access just five minutes away—where getting some fresh air and practicing social distancing is really, really easy.
By now, my mom and brother feel like an extension of my roommates; we go in on Amazon orders together and Venmo each other our share, we offer to cook breakfast or lunch for the others and we aren’t shy about partaking in a dance party at least once during the workday in the name of mental health.
We’ve also developed so much more patience with each other than we’ve ever had. While we’ve traveled the world together and been involved in a few screaming matches while overseas, we have yet to have any sort of disagreement since being relegated to our new living situation. Instead of raising our voices at each other when we’re busy with work and can’t answer a question about whether Mom should buy a Dyson hairdryer from Nordstrom, we keep cool, calm and collected. By that, I mean we just point at our noise-canceling headphones and keep typing.
But I’ve also reverted back to some of my admittedly immature childhood ways, like flopping onto the couch after dinner and not offering to load the dishwasher—something I’d never do if a friend had me over for a meal. But it looks like I’m not the only one. Explains Catrina Yohay, a 26-year-old managing editor who’s currently holed up in Chatham, New Jersey, with her fiancé and her parents: “Why do I think it’s OK to leave my clothes strewn around my room? Or not hang up my towel after I shower? Is it because I feel just a little less responsible for my actions—i.e., not my house, not my problem? My guess is yes (sorry, Mom).”
As I spend more time in my mom’s house, especially as holidays and personal milestones loom closer, finding a sense of normalcy feels extra off. For my family, that means figuring out how to celebrate Passover—and eat matzoh for a week. Hell, where will we even find kosher food in the picked-over grocery stores? For Vinamarata Singal, a 24-year-old product manager who’s currently bunking up with her ’rents in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, it’s even more personal.
“My birthday is coming up in a few weeks,” she explains. “This will be the first time I’ll celebrate my birthday so alone (and I have no idea how one hosts a Zoom birthday party...). This will be the first time I can celebrate my birthday with my parents as an adult, so that will be good (I think).” Both of her parents are doctors, which actually makes things pretty stressful in her household. “They’re both also on the older side,” she adds, “especially my mom, who is an anesthesiologist and will have to intubate patients. My dad’s research office was even converted to a corona testing facility!” Luckily, her family has maintained their chill and nonchalance—so far.
But chillness, or lack thereof, is definitely a point of contention for many of us return-to-nesters. Since I’ve chosen to stick with my mom, I feel like I can’t disobey her rules or put her at risk. After all, even though she doesn’t look it (and won’t admit it), she’s at an age where she’s at a higher risk for complications if she does contract the virus. So if she doesn’t want me going out anywhere, even to the grocery store, and would rather sign up for subscriptions like Purple Carrot and Misfits Market, in addition to ordering delivery bagels from Russ & Daughters and local veggies from a nearby farmers market, well, so be it.
For Brett Goldstein, a senior PR manager who left Manhattan for her parent’s ski house in Waitsfield, Vermont, the rules are a bit stricter: “We’ve been taking our temperature regularly and monitoring for any symptoms.” Her family (and her new fiancé) have agreed upon a plan where if one of them does get sick, they’ll be quarantined from the rest, in the apartment-style guest house.
But what does it look like if you’re spending this time in someone else’s parents’ house? Says Yohay’s fiancé, Brendan Dunlap: “I can’t help but feel like I am almost infringing on her parents’ daily routine, even though I know I’m not. It took me long enough, but I finally do feel ‘part of the family’ enough to be comfortable raiding the pantry for midday snacks or making a third cup of coffee in the Keurig. I’ve even carved out a little space in the fridge for a few of my favorite craft beers,” he admits.
Luckily for both Goldstein and Yohay, who have brought their new life partners along for what already feels like a lifetime of social solitude, the quarantine does have a silver lining: It’s just another way to bond before saying “I do.”
Yohay is happy that they can now easily communicate their wedding plans with her parents, without having to deal with chains of emails, GChats and endless calls. They simply sit down at the kitchen table and start hashing out the details. “Now we have nothing but time together, and it’s helped us really home in on what we both want for our big day,” she explains.
Goldstein adds: “We just got engaged and moved in with each other at the end of February, so it’s been rather fun and cozy. Luckily, my parents’ house is on 60 acres, so we can get some much-needed fresh air and alone time. But maybe check back in a couple of weeks?”