The latest culinary masterpiece to grace the kitchen is chia pudding with mango. Our younger daughter made it … or planted it … or whatever you do to create chia pudding.
This is the generation that is living with us now, raised on competitive cooking shows and oddball ingredients that they insist are good for everyone, in that earnest, all-knowing way 20-somethings have.
I mean, how do you know if chia pudding is ready? Do you open the fridge to find a bowl of sea grass, flowing and wonderful, like Amy Adams’ hair?
Excuse me, sweetie. Do I eat this or mow it?
This week, I’ve turned to other fathers for solace about the boomerang generation. Like me, they’ve had children return home for economic reasons. It’s a wonderful experience and a trying experience. It’s parenting on a post-graduate level.
I estimate that each adult child living at home adds $500 to $600 a month to the family budget, in chia seeds, almond milk, organic granola, gasoline, insurance and cellphones.
That’s not even accounting for wear and tear on the house. Having an adult child home is comparable to boarding a horse.
Like Chuck, I love having two of my adult children home even as I grumble about it. We see it as sort of a hostage situation, except the identity of the captors is unclear. Neither Chuck’s family nor mine charge rent, in the belief our kids need to bolster their savings if they are to ever afford a place of their own.
“She’s actually thinking about moving out,” he says of his daughter, 22, home since graduating from college in December.
Yet there is no practical plan.
“One of my running mentors said my daughter’s using the ‘power of magical thinking.’ Because you think it, it will be,” Chuck says.
And he echoes all my own feelings. That they’re adults yet they’re not adults. That they’re a joyous presence though not quite an asset around the ranch. Sometimes he has to make chore lists, as do I.
The ability of a 21-year-old to stroll right past stacks of dirty dishes with a clear conscience should never be underestimated.
Chuck’s daughter is working part time. Mine is working an entry-level job that requires 12-hour days, so our situations differ. But we both have to stop to make a point sometimes: “We are not your personal valets.”
To those without kids, we seem like the biggest saps. They believe our kids are taking advantage of us. One such reader weighed in after my column about the foster beagle we inherited when our older daughter moved out.
“You’re treated like you’re not really necessary for their functions until they decide that you are, and then are left with whatever they can’t care for,” he noted.
I don’t think anyone who hasn’t had kids can understand. And today’s harsh economic realities sometimes require an uncomfortable and over-the-top level of compassion.
“At 60, I have resigned myself to the fact that the boys may be living with us longer than I may be living with us,” another reader, Frank, wrote of his sons, ages 17 and 21. “There is no job security for them and the rug will be pulled out many times over their career. In the digital world, someone writes a free app and 10,000 people are out of work.
“But my boys have a resilience that seems to be the strength of their generation,” Frank said. “Things roll off them – especially my admonitions – and that is a valuable virtue to have.”
The dirty little secret is that even good dads have seesaw moments when they wonder: “Am I doing too much, or not enough? And where’s the payoff?”
“The only reason I can see for having children is to observe someone going through everything that you went through. Except, this time, you try to intervene to make it better, but you just waste your effort,” Frank continued.
“Parenting is probably inextricably linked to masochism.”
And yet, Frank wrote, “Almost on cue, my 21-year-old comes through the door and says something remarkably funny that makes me laugh. Hard.”
So, he concluded: “I changed my mind. I’m glad to be a parent.”