“It has been an adjustment”
Daniela Elser, 39
In late February, I sat in a favourite restaurant in Tokyo happily eating gyoza. I was on my way home from a brief trip to London and was looking forward to getting back to my life in Sydney.
Which is why it was so discombobulating that less than three weeks later, I found myself standing in my bedroom at my parents’ house petulantly arguing with my mother about not leaving my clothes strewn about the place.
While my mum pointed out – with the patience of a UN peacekeeper sans beret – that every surface was covered with a tidal wave of dirty socks and t-shirts, I, a 39-year-old woman with her own PO Box, lint roller and accountant, nearly stamped my feet mid-teenage tantrum.
As of the time of writing, I have been living with my parents for eight weeks and three days, but who’s counting?
It was in early March, soon after I arrived home from overseas, that the news about coronavirus became too grim to ignore and I realised I had a decision to make. I could wait out what could be months and months in Sydney in a tiny apartment away from my family or I could decamp to their home on the coast for an indeterminate length of time, comforted by the knowledge that I was close to my nearest and dearest, not to mention a well-stocked wine fridge.
Reader, it has been an adjustment.
Any minute now, my mum will ask me if I’ve had breakfast or need to do any washing or sweetly but pointedly asking on an hourly basis, ‘Ahould you be wearing socks?’ It is a strange and not altogether unpleasant experience to be cosseted by parental concern day in and day out.
(While writing this, my mother asked me whether I was going to admit how much she picks up after me: Mum, consider this my grateful Internet thanks. Also for getting all those stains out of my t-shits.)
However, in normal times, I live on my own and work for myself; I eat when I want and what I want and make 1001 daily choices entirely guided by my own selfish whims. Now, my life is one of constant negotiations and discussions, 97 per cent of which are about what we are cooking and when. Happily, ordering from Dan Murphy’s regularly is not one of them.
In normal times I make 1001 daily choices entirely guided by my own whims.
I have not spent this long living under the same roof as my mother and father since I was 14 (I went to boarding school). Normally, I head to my parents’ house once or twice a month at least and we are used to being together but only in short bursts where we are all on our best behaviour. This time, with the unremitting reality means we are seeing each as never before. There have been tears (mine) but overall I know this time together is a boon – an unexpected opportunity to spend the sort of quotidian time together that is truly love – to lovingly bicker about pasta and the temperature of rooms and whether we need more and that I am all to aware we may never get again.
That said, I would be lying if I said this had all been sunshine, hugs and Von Trapp-esque bonding sessions. I miss my friends, my flat and my independence, and I’m also struggling in the face of the long, gloomy pall that’s been cast over pretty much every aspect of my future – from dating to the chance to finally spend those delicious six months in Italy I’ve always dreamed about. At times, it’s hard not to let the undertow of angst pull you under, which I would wager has not made me the easiest person to live with.
We are three adults who have firmly established routines and lives and have had to find a way to spend at least 12 hours a day under the one roof. We collide in front of the fridge and the kettle and the remote control, day in and day out.
However, we have developed some new, lovely routines too. My father and I now usually sit in the verandah in the sun before lunch together; my mother and I go to the weekly farmers’ market where I manage to drag an ungodly amount of kale and Swiss chard back to the car. I am going to miss this when I am back in Sydney and making solo expeditions to Woolworths.
Now that the lockdown is easing and the end is in sight, I find myself torn; both exhilarated at the thought of restoring my autonomy, and sad that this strange, unicorn of an experience is drawing to a close. Should I have made more of it? Should I hold on to this moment for as long as I can? And, should I have been less sullen and picked up all those dirty socks, after all?
“Our relationship has always been harmonious, but now I’m more grateful than ever”
Bronwyn Birdsall, 37
Mum’s voice barely showed any sign of surprise when I called her in mid-March to ask if I could temporarily move home. I’d spent the morning with her closest friend, talking through my options if the majority of my marketing clients were to shut down, as I expected they would. The answer was clear; minimise my costs and go to Mum’s.
On that Tuesday it may have seemed extreme to some, but by the Saturday when Mum picked me up from the small airport near her house, it was a smart decision. On the Sunday, the shutdown was announced, and on the Monday, several of my clients called to say they could no longer afford my services. I’d packed up my whole life in less than three days.
In the weeks since, Mum and I have settled in with unexpected ease – even though she happily lives alone, and has done for many years. Our relationship has always been harmonious, the knowledge of how fortunate I am to be here has opened up a well of gratitude beyond what I’ve ever experienced. Living together through this crisis has let me see just how generous she is.
Perhaps because we know it is temporary, there’s also a novelty to having time to hang out with each other – no Christmas lunch to plan, no birthdays on the horizon, no real reason for me to be here.
I’ve never noticed before the sheer extent of Mum’s genuine joy and curiosity in new things: getting me to explain the rules of basketball as we watch The Last Dance, or the intricacies of working in a fine dining restaurant as we make our way through Chef’s Table, or sitting with me as I create an ad campaign to see how Facebook really works. She says she’s learnt more about my everyday life in these weeks than she had in years.
She says she’s learnt more about my everyday life in these weeks than she had in years.
On our daily visits to nearby beaches, I’ll realise we aren’t talking – a rare thing in our family – just appreciating the broad horizon and fresh salt air as we walk side by side.
These moments in nature bring peace, perspective and comfort. And as the news rolls in, bringing with it statistics of death on a scale I can barely comprehend, I remind myself that each of those numbers had a life that no longer exists, family and friends that are now grieving. I try to hold that thought as I treasure what I’m experiencing now: unexpected, precious time with my Mum.
“The decision to move back from London was made in a six-day rush”
Hannah-Rose Yee, 29
When I lived in London – an entire lifetime ago, by which I mean two months – my Saturday mornings had a routine of sorts. Typically, I’d make coffee, take a leisurely stroll to the off license to buy the newspapers, stroll a little less leisurely back to my flat to drink the coffee and spread each section of the paper across my bed like sunbathers at the beach.
It was nothing to write home about, really, and so I didn’t. I never sent my parents an email telling them about the fact that I would spend four hours on a Saturday, staining my fingertips with ink as I read the newspapers, partly because the routine felt so prosaic as to be meaningless, but mostly because I didn’t think my parents needed to know what I did with all my time.
I was a grown-up woman on my own in London and I was accountable to nobody. If I wanted to eat a packet of Wotsits – English chips, or <crisps> as I came to learn they were inexplicably called over there – in bed, well, who were they to stop me?
I was a grown-up woman on my own in London and I was accountable to nobody
Now, two months after I spent every Saturday doing exactly what I liked, I’m back in my childhood home. It feels like being a teenager again, and not just because I’m sleeping in the bedroom where I once tacked Tim Walker photoshoots to the walls and dreamt of Milo Ventimiglia. There’s no privacy in our tiny house.
My parents are everywhere, all the time, and they want to know what I’m up to. The leisurely, secret Saturday business is over. There’s only togetherness: the three of us sitting quite literally cheek by jowl at the breakfast table as my mum asks me, yet again, what it is that I’m going to be doing with the rest of my day, at what time, and for how long, and can she do it with me Rosebud, which is the name only my parents call me.
It feels like being a teenager again
When coronavirus uprooted everything two months and a lifetime ago, I was desperate for the immoveable support system of my family. I loved my London life, which was big and full and, crucially, entirely my own. But although I’d lived there for two years, I was also alone, and the pandemic really made me feel it. The decision to come back was made in an instant and then, six excruciating days later – plus a fortnight in government-mandated isolation away from my parents – I was home.
All the anxiety of feeling untethered disappeared overnight. It was replaced by other stuff, because that’s what anxiety is like, but in the two months and a lifetime since I came home, I’ve never, not once, felt totally alone. Sometimes it’s frustrating, but mostly it’s a relief. I’d forgotten how reassuring accountability feels when it comes from somebody who loves you.
I went for a walk this week, a long and winding one through the backstreets of my suburb which, when I was 14, felt like my whole world. I didn’t tell my mum where I was going: I was trying to claw back some of the independence that I left behind in London. When I got back I touched her on the arm and her face lit up. “I didn’t know where you had gone,” she told me. “I missed you.”