I’m really fortunate today to live a comfortable, middle-class existence. I’ve owned a cute, cozy, two-bedroom bungalow in the Highlands for 10 years.
I have an ancient car that runs OK but isn’t pretty to look at. But, if I need to replace it sometime soon, I could swing the added payments with very little hardship. My business has been steady and successful so far, and I cannot emphasize enough just how much I love being my own boss.
Sure, I’ve got some debt, the house is always going to need some work, and I can’t afford to travel the world right this minute. Life ain’t perfect, but the intangibles of peace and serenity make up for any material things I might lack at the moment. Truly, I have everything I need and most everything I want.
That wasn’t always the case. I’ve never lived in a cardboard box, but I definitely started at the bottom … in a crappy apartment with a minimum-wage job. When my son, Ethan, was small, we were even on food stamps for a couple of years. I wrote a bit about that time in our lives here.
At age 19 now, Ethan doesn’t remember any of our early struggles. He’s always had clothes that fit, shoes without holes and good food to eat. He has never been without cable TV (except for that one year I cut it off as a punishment), toys to enjoy and high-thread-count sheets that matched his carefully decorated bedroom walls.
Today, he has a smartphone and PS3, neither of which he purchased himself. We’ve taken trips to Florida (including Disney), San Francisco and Chicago. I’ve also spent a small fortune on team sports, movies and Broadway shows over the years.
Yeah, I don’t think Ethan has a clue just how spoiled he is.
Some recent developments tell me that he’s is about to find out, and I could not be more delighted. And not just because I am a diabolical asshole who wants him to pay his proverbial dues, though I would be lying if I said that wasn’t part of it.
See, the boy is apartment hunting. Not just talking about it, but actually saving money and making appointments with landlords to tour vacant places. Shit just got real.
What I find interesting is, this is not an “oh-my-God-I-have-get-to-out-of-mom’s-house-because-she’s-a-controlling-harpy” act of desperation. We’ve been getting along really well the past year. No, it appears to be a legitimate step toward independence. This is a big deal for a kid who has been excruciatingly (for me) aimless since he was about 14.
He has a steady job that gives him a lot of hours. He is becoming a reliable and responsible adult. On paper, he could afford a small apartment with a roommate and still be able to eat.
But I don’t think he gets that there’s a lot more to being out on your own than rent and Ramen. I have no doubt that the manner of living to which he has become accustomed is going to swirl down the toilet bowl with a quickness.
Speaking of toilets, I have always said the one lesson that drove home the reality of my own independence was related to toilet paper. Similar to Ethan’s thinking today, my naïve, 21-year-old self calculated how much my rent, utilities, gas and food would cost when I moved out, and I determined I would be fine.
However, I did not account for many of the necessities that my mom always had on hand … like shampoo, toothpaste, deodorant, Q-tips, band-aids, cleaning supplies, trash bags, paper towels, coffee filters and — you guessed it — toilet paper. All that stuff costs money. It was a rude awakening when the only TP I could afford was ass-chapping, single-ply.
I have to say, I am REALLY looking forward to the day when Ethan learns that lesson first hand. I hope that when that day comes and his butt cheeks are burning, he will think of me and send out a silent prayer of thanks that I stocked Charmin in the linen closet all these years.
But I digress.
As Ethan is planning his move, he’s starting to talk about what he’ll need at his new place to make it livable. Dishes, for example. I’ve got way too many (one set in particular I never liked and don’t remember why the hell I bought it), so I’m happy to stock his cabinets. I’ve got an extra frying pan, spatula and baking sheet. I’ll even buy him some cheap forks and spoons so he doesn’t have to eat with his hands.
The sum total of furniture he will be bringing with him is a bed, desk, two dressers and one chair. He has a gaming system but no TV. The boy doesn’t have a lamp to his name, although there may be one I’d be willing to part with. One of my friends may have a couch to donate, and my mother has an extra kitchen table she inherited from my great aunt.
Yep, Ethan's first apartment is going to be pretty barren to start, but that’s how it’s supposed to be. Mismatched, second-hand furniture is a right of passage when you move out on your own. In my first abode, we had one hideous, orange couch that sagged in the middle with God-knows-what effluvia fermenting under the cushions. But I loved that couch because it was mine.
I’m sure Ethan will feel the same about whatever furnishings end up in his new home, no matter how grotty. At least, I hope so.
There is something immensely satisfying about putting down roots and being in charge of your own survival, for better or worse. I truly am thrilled for my son to experience that sense of fulfillment for the first time.
Plus — not to sound like an old curmudgeon, but what the hell — any sense of entitlement you might have been holding onto gets purged real quick. Supporting yourself for the first time is the fastest and most intense character-building exercise of a young person's life. I should know.
And holy shit, this all means that I will be living alone FOR THE FIRST TIME IN MY ENTIRE LIFE. When I moved out of my mom’s, it was to an apartment with my boyfriend and two roommates. I got pregnant and married in short order thereafter. Even after the marriage ended, I still had Ethan with me full time, so I have never, ever had my own, solo space.
I don’t know what the hell I’m going to do with myself in an empty house. But just like Ethan, I am excited to find out what this new chapter holds for both of us.
I’m sure that once reality sets in and I walk across the hall to his empty bedroom for the first time, my excitement will be replaced with an overwhelming sense of loss and wistfulness. I’ll probably cry a little, just like I did when I dropped Ethan off for his first day of kindergarten.
But that’s a post for another day. We’re not there yet. Ahem.
So, to my sweet boy: I wish you much love and luck, buddy. It won’t be easy, but you’re smart, resourceful and tenacious, so I know you’ll be fine.
And don’t forget to come visit your ol’ Momma once in a while, even if it’s just on laundry day.
About Amy Higgs
A former newspaper columnist, Amy takes her random, slice-of-life stories to the web. After nine years, she's still just saying.