Deadline Approacheth

There’s a bit of a double standard in the yeshivish/ultra-orthodox community. It is perfectly acceptable for a boy to leave home at the tender age of 13 and never truly return for the perpetuity of his life. Yes, he visits for the occasional holiday or weekend, where he wallows pleasantly in the adoring ministrations of a family that rarely has to put up with him. This lasts  until they bore, he becomes the fish-like guest, his special privileges evaporate, and he begins to chafe under the parental regime. At this point, he toddles back to his dorm or apartment with a sigh of relief: family, like prune juice, is best taken in small doses.

Girls, on the other hand, are expected to happily marinate in the home juices until Prince Charming carries them across a threshold of their very own. And if that doesn’t occur before their locks become dusted with snow and their posture stroked by osteoporosis, well, there’s no finer place for a girl to be than in the bosom of her loving family.

When I was in high school I had an exceptionally dedicated and brilliant teacher who happened to be single at the age of 28. A friend once mentioned knowing where she lived because this friend’s father was friendly with the teacher’s father.

“Yes, but that’s where her family lives, not where she lives,” I pointed out. The friend gave me a “Duh” look and said, “She lives there too. Where else would she live?”

I was appalled. Here I thought of this teacher as a mature, independent adult, and she was probably still sleeping in a pink bedroom, eating her mother’s dinner, and shouting “Wha-at!” down the stairs when her father called her. Just like me. I went home and informed my parents that if I was still single at 28 I was moving out.

“Yes dear,” they said. “Wash the dishes after dinner and clean your room tonight. It’s a pigsty and if I can’t see the floor I’m not letting the cleaning lady in to vacuum it. How did you do on that chumash test you hardly studied for? And you only think I don’t see you sneaking a cookie out of the kitchen. Bring it back right now.”

“Maybe I’ll move out at 27,” I sulked, nibbling the cookie.

“Eat over the table or sweep the floor – your choice.”

“Twenty-six.”

When I turned 21 I lowered the age to 25. My parents, now somewhat touchier about the topic since I had failed to be swept away by my first suitor (or second or fifth), told me not to say things like that; they were irrelevant.

“If it’s irrelevant, than what’s the big deal?”

“You’re right, what’s the big deal?”

“So I can move out at 25, right?”

“Let’s not discuss it.”

The truth is, not all women are expected to live at home forever. Women from OOT are allowed to move to NYC and cram themselves into attics and apartments. This is considered a necessary evil for the sake of shidduchim. However, if you have had the dubious fortune of being born and bred in the tri-state conurbation, moving out of your parents’ house is Something Strange that will provide your neighbors with conversation during the 23 hours when they are not observing their machsom lefi.

Why? I don’t know. But I imagine I’ll find out. After all, I’m already 24.5 years old.

Living at Home and Maturity (Mutually Exclusive?)

Conversation at an editorial meeting preceding the publication of Leonard Sax’s “Boys Adrift:”

Female Editor: “…and these guys are living at home in their parents’ basements for years until they’re 27—even 28!”

Female Marketer: “I lived with my parents until I was 34.” Awkward silence. “Then I bought a house.”

Female Editor: “Ah, but you had a plan.”

There is a general conception that living at home breeds immaturity. I, for one, have never understood how maturity, the emotional state of reacting to situations in a socially appropriate and adaptive manner, should be dependent on the location of one’s abode.

It’s not that living away from home doesn’t have its allure. The Independent has the ability to exercise many exciting options the Live-at-Home doesn’t, such as leaving breakfast dishes in the sink, vacuuming after 10pm, and snacking on leftovers whenever he or she pleases.  In short – the ability to live without being held accountable for one’s every action. I would not, however, go so far as to call this line of reasoning “mature” by any stretch of the imagination. “Independent” and “mature” are not and never have been synonyms.

Overheard:

Conversant 1: “I’m sorry, but a person isn’t mature if they’re living at home. Sorry to say it, but if Mommy is still packing your lunches—hello! Grow up!”

Conversant 2: “Because buying your lunch at Starbucks is really mature?”

Of course, living independently does throw one into situations that are likely to develop mature behavior. Such as, for example, choosing to wash the dishes because one desires cleanliness, and not due to authoritarian dread. But, although it may be more difficult to develop these behaviors at home, there is certainly nothing preventing the assiduous adult from doing so. Moreover, plenty of people living independently never take advantage of these opportunities either, preferring to eat off paper or throw out the dishes when the sink gets too full.

At the same time, I have to admit that my behavior is very different when I’m living independently. On my own, I do the dishes without reinforcement, clean up for Shabbos spontaneously, and even prepare a brown bag lunch for the next day. At home, well, a certain amount of reminding is usually necessary. And forget the lunch. That’s why God invented vending machines.

So, do I magically mature when I leave home and regress when I return? Unlikely. Rather, when I’m on my own I’m playing house. In my house. The systems that help things run efficiently are the ones that I compose after my own trial and error. I have a feeling of ownership for my little household that I don’t have at home. When I was a teen and tried slacking off, the parents would remind me, “This is your home too.” But they were wrong. I was just living there.

Popular psychology tells us this is normal. The best way to motivate and encourage participation is to create a feeling of ownership. Etcetera, etcetera. And this would have been a good enough excuse for me if I hadn’t spent some time working in an environment with a two-tier employee system. The upper tier was a management caste that made the decisions. The lower tier was a union caste that carried them out.

Observing the union workers, I was struck by how much they resembled children going about their assigned chores. They dragged their feet, cut corners, and complained. In fact, sometimes they even whined.

Manager: “So, you were supposed to replace the candiflange. Did that happen yet?”

Mechanic: “Nope. But I recommend using the ATK-984.”

Manager: “We discussed that last week and we decided to go with the ATK-779 instead.”

Mechanic: “Piece of junk.”

Manager:  “Did you order it?”

Mechanic: “Nope.”

Manager: “Why not?”

Mechanic: shrugs “Nobody told me to.” Manager looks astounded. “I just carry out orders.”

When I heard this exchange I was initially embarrassed for the mechanic. Here was a full-grown, middle-aged man with adult children, and he sounded like a sulky teenager. Yes, he was in a situation where he did not feel ownership and so on, but he was an adult. He had a choice about how to behave, and he was supposed to choose the mature way.

And almost immediately, I was embarrassed for me. Because I’m also a full-grown woman, and sometimes I sound like a union worker. In fact, I even refuse to do things that I insist are not in my contract—like washing chulent pots.  Shouldn’t I also be taking the mature route?

Does the fact that we have always abused the better nature of our families give us the right to continue doing so as adults?

So yes, I enjoy living independently, with all the privilege it brings. But there is no doubt in my mind that living at home provides unparalleled opportunities to develop new facets of maturity.

Because as long as I’m living in this house, why shouldn’t it be my home too?

 

(Note: this does not extend to chulent pots.)