Living at home during college wasn’t my first choice. But I couldn’t stomach the idea of taking out thousands of dollars in loans each semester, just for the privilege of residing on campus.
I’d chosen Concordia University in St. Paul for its diversity, small student body and quality professors. While I had carefully chosen which college to attend, I wasn’t all that interested in living in the freshman dorm, waking up beside adrenaline-fueled 18-year-olds. After all, I started college when I was 21.
Renting an apartment with friends? I couldn’t afford it, since my class schedule didn’t allow for working more than 20 hours per week.
There were many plus sides to living at home with my parents. I didn’t have to put up with campus gossip or drama. I’d hear about drunken ER visits or the Wi-Fi that was always breaking down and feel relieved to have been miles away. Nodding my head in sympathy, I listened as classmates moaned about the cafeteria food or how the coffee shop was never open on weekends. I shuddered at some of their stories of dorm life. Exhausting 3 a.m. fire drills, the smell of pot forever wafting through the hallways, the heat that didn’t come on until late October.
Meanwhile, I’d be baking pies in my family’s double oven. Or picking the last of the raspberries from our garden. On hot autumn days, I’d tan in the backyard of our Roseville home, glad to be away from the loud city. And I spent many a chilly Minnesota night cuddling with my cats. Or lighting candles and reading late into the evening. Saturday mornings meant waking up alone in my room, glad no one was there to see me stumble out of bed, hurrying for the coffeepot. It felt like the best of both worlds — learning all day before studying in my cozy room during evenings and weekends.
Of course, I didn’t feel so lucky when I woke up to snow and had to shovel myself out of the driveway, driving 12 miles at a snail’s pace and arriving late, halfway into my first class. My gas bills were no joke. And I didn’t enjoy trying to start my 1995 Honda in the bitter cold of a January morning.
As class assignments piled up, I found myself lugging bags of books and papers, my laptop and lunch. There was a permanent ache in my right shoulder from where my book bag dug into the soft muscle. Some weeks, I spent more time rushing between classes or cranking out papers under the library’s fluorescent lights, coming home only to flop into bed.
Then again, something about my commuter struggles felt right. I expected the tiring days. I expected the sleep deprivation. I was ready for the professors who felt like holidays were the best time for assigning extra projects. I didn’t want my education handed to me; I wanted to work for it. I wanted to struggle through a hard class, celebrating the end of a long week with a glass of wine and an early bedtime. Getting a low grade on a paper motivated me to write better, think harder, ask more questions. I was willing to leave the house while it was still dark out and return long after dinnertime.
What I hadn’t expected was the struggle of dealing with my parents. At college, I was treated for the first time like an adult, asked to discuss world problems, figure out student loans. At home, I’d be studying in my bedroom when a parent would stop by to ask me to wash my dishes in the sink or pick up my sister from school. In the beginning, when I didn’t own my own car, I had to adhere to a strict curfew and felt like I was back in high school. I found myself making excuses. I remember telling friends I needed to exit a party because I had an early morning. In fact, I had just 10 more minutes before my parents starting calling to ask my whereabouts.
Living at home was undoubtedly the smart financial decision, but my independence still felt caged. I had a good relationship with my mom and dad, yet I often felt like a teenager trying to wriggle free. I complained to my boyfriend that I couldn’t leave the house without my parents jumping on my back, asking why I was leaving and how long I’d be gone. But somehow, in between my struggle for independence and my parents learning to coexist peacefully with an adult college student, I began to spread my wings.
Slowly, my parents stopped asking questions that felt so annoying. And I began asking them for advice. My dad even started editing some of my hardest papers.
I began paying for more of my own expenses, discovering the downside to adult independence.
Buying my own car, I learned, gave me the freedom to go anywhere I chose at any time, but I still owed my parents the kindness of letting them know my plans for the night.
Rather than feeling caged, I began to feel like I was surrounded by well-meaning adults who wanted to help me grow, who gave me the freedom to shape myself into the woman I wanted to be. I’ll be graduating this spring, and before I know it, I’ll be moving out for good. That’s why I relish the family dinners and long chats with my mom. I know one day soon I won’t be waking up at my parents’ house on Christmas morning. I won’t happen to be home when the Cubs win the World Series. My mom and I won’t get to laugh together about the cats.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not hesitant to live on my own, but I’m not in such a hurry to leave behind my life’s greatest guideposts. It was a privilege to grow up alongside them, flapping my wings of independence while slowly striking out on my own.
Reeve Currie is a 20-something writer who is passionate about women, daily life and cats. Check out her blog, Girl on the Verge, or find her on her second obsession, Instagram. Currently working for Belong Magazine and interning with Tiger Oak Media, Currie plans to continue with a career in writing.