Wednesday, 9 November 2011

The Kids Have Just Left the Building

A classic example of the 'how times have changed' topic, is the speed (or lack of) at which young adults decide that it's time to fly the family coop and set out on their own adventures.

For various reasons, some way beyond their control, the age at which our children choose to leave home for good is moving steadily upwards. Inflated house prices and exorbitant rents, coupled with university attendance no longer being available to those that can’t afford it, are helping to shut off the traditional avenues that allowed kids to get out from under their parents feet and live their own lives.

I feel so sorry for a lot of these youngsters. I love my mum and dad dearly, but I couldn’t wait to get away. Seven people into a three bedroom, semi-detached house in Moss Side does not go. Because I had a younger sister, it meant that us four boys, for a short period of time, had to live in the same room. That’s four boys aged 17, 15, 9 and 7, in a room built for two. There were no bunk beds, so we had two double beds shoehorned into the space, with their front right hand corners almost touching. We were like a younger version of the grandparents at the start of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, but there was no Golden Ticket out of there.

We had wildly different lifestyles, with John (17) and Joe (15) coming back from the pub or gigs and crashing into things, whilst Paul (9) and me (7) had nightmares about being attacked by farting bears.

Technically we all loved each other, but practically, the competition for the limited spatial resources meant unending conflict and the desire to bugger off smartish as soon as humanly possible was ever present.

To be fair, by the time I decided to join the army, things had relaxed a bit. John was married and Joe was in the marines, leaving just five of us altogether.

Army life was a doddle in comparison. I had my own designated amount of space and didn’t have to take part in daily squabbles and shows of strength to hold on to it.

Going home for leave always felt weird. At the age of 17, I already had my independence. I loved to visit, but the idea of having to conform to my parent’s rules again, ensured that I never made the arrangement permanent.

I can remember going for a beer with my brother years ago. He was out with a bunch of workmates and they were all ribbing one of the lads because he was the only one who still lived at home. They referred to him as a ‘bedroom millionaire’ because he could afford to buy a nice car and was in possession of an enviable amount of disposable income. He wasn’t on better wages, but gave his mum almost nothing for digs, leaving him eternally flush. This was great until each time he met a girl, having to feign illness rather than admit that the reason she couldn’t come back to ‘his place’ was that his mum and dad always stayed up for Match Of the Day on a Saturday night.

It’s worth mentioning that this geriatric bachelor was 21.

As a father of four young children, I know there’ll come a point in the future where this dilemma will arrive. It would be great to have them around forever, but part of their social education has to be making their way in the world, making their own mistakes, purchasing wonky furniture and realising that the chippy is an expensive meal choice if you use it as your only meal choice.

But I don’t want them to be saddled with debt and unhappy, which is already the cost of independence, a price which is only going one way.

Perhaps, when we’re in our 70s, we’ll be sharing the house with four people aged 40, 38, 36 and 34. They’ll still be squabbling, not about lost books or snot-stained homework, but who they inherited male pattern baldness from.
As long as they still comply with the rules laid down in childhood, they’ll always be welcome. I can just imagine Chester having a conversation with his girlfriend.

“Yes, of course I’d love to see Rocky 15, but as you well know, Friday nights are for baths and de-nitting.”

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