By Canice Leung
My mother is banging her tiny fists against the steering wheel and glaring at the red pickup truck in front of her. It’s 8:40 a.m. on the 404, and this five-foot ball of fury is pissed. “That asshole is driving alone in the high occupancy lane!” she screams, sinewy things bulging out of her neck, huffing and muttering unheard insults under her breath.
Her yelling jolts me out of my half-hearted dozing in the passenger’s seat. I’m not used to waking up this early. “Mom, I think it’s okay, we’re still going twice as fast as those in the other lane,” I offer meekly. “No. NO. It’s not! This guy has no respect for society. None.” I clench my eyes shut again, hoping maybe if I can’t see her foaming at the mouth, I won’t hear her laying on the horn either. I think there’s more to being a civil human being than following painted lines on the road, but I don’t say it. And then, I think—Oh god, oh no, I think, my mother is crazy.
I had been living back at home for a week when this happened, and in this moment of clarity on a September morning, I realized my parents weren’t the super heroes I’d thought them to be. Instead I saw what made them human, fallible and flawed — and worth being friends with.
Of anyone, I was the most surprised to be the prodigal daughter who was returning to the nest after two years of living independently. My adolescence was punctuated by trips downtown. Loitering on Queen Street West was more alluring to me, and more countercultural than anything on my tree-lined street. As only a 15-year-old angst-ridden teenager can, I dreamt of the day I wouldn’t have to make the last subway back home.
But now, on my own, I was underpaid, overworked, malnourished and without a Plan B. Having seen that side, all I wanted was to be back under the wings of my mom and dad. Figuring that the grass must be greener on the other side, I started packing up. And I’m not the only one.
According to the 2001 Canadian census, rising costs of post-secondary education, poor job prospects and delaying marriage into later years are reasons why more adult children choose to live at home. Moving out doesn’t stop them from coming back, the survey says. It’s so common now that a third of young adults between the ages of 20 and 29 will come crawling back at least once. More than 40 per cent of people between the ages of 20 and 24 still live at home. For a commuter school like Ryerson, the number must be even higher.
For me, moving home was a matter of practicality. I found myself with a five-month gap between leases. Weary of house-hunting and the downtown life, I acquiesced when my parents offered me my old room.
I am confounded by my new status as an outcast. Having first tasted independence in the isolating world of dormitory living, and then in a mice-infested house in Little Italy, the prospect of waking up to a rodent frolicking in my breakfast cereal left something to be desired. But ultimately, the decision to move back home was voluntary. Or so I told myself.
The perks are nice, I argue (usually, I chant this affirmation quietly in my head). Optimism fills my voice when I talk about it, trying to find the redeeming qualities of being back in the suburbs. The food and rent are free, car access aplenty and the isolation is doing wonders for my grades.
But if I’m not paying for rent, sacrificing my privacy is the trade-off. If I’m out past 9 p.m., my disappearance prompts a worried phone call. My bank statement has been opened, another time my cellphone bill was scrutinized.
Over dinner — a silent affair punctuated by the clinking of chopsticks against bowls — my mom leans across the table, eyeing me strangely. In a conspiratorial whisper, she says in Cantonese, “Are you seeing someone? You look… different.”
My parents, like so many other traditional Chinese-Christian parents, maintain an iron wall of taboo on subjects, including but not limited to: homosexuality, drugs, sex and dating. Less is more — they don’t have heart-to-hearts after seeing me dropped off at night or after eavesdropping on phone conversations, but make up for it by reading my mail. The Chinese family hierarchy eclipses federal mail laws when it comes to who I call and what I buy.
I gape at her for a minute. “Sort of,” I offer, non-committally.
“What do you mean, sort of?” she says, interrupting my thoughts.
Her face, full of hope, has flattened.
“Oh, you know. I was, but I’m not now. Like, last month,” I waffle.
Before long, I feel my mood souring again. My expressions are sullen and indifferent, all for the sake of being a pain in the ass. After I accidentally mix my white and darks while sorting laundry, I snap at my dad in misplaced frustration. One night, my mother undercooks some food despite my insistence that it needs longer on the stove, and I flatly refuse to eat it.
Some Caucasian friends woefully describe the totalitarian fashion in which their parents cut them off financially after high school graduation. My response is to stare blankly. The thought of my family cutting me off is unthinkable. Like many immigrant families in Canada, traditional ideas of extended family and lifetime family responsibility are carried over from one country to their next.
My older sister graduates from medical school in April. She’s eyeing a residency in Toronto, meaning the nest could be full again.
My time at home is coming to an end. My new lease begins in February, so once again, I am piling my belongings into the familiar cardboard boxes.
One night as we’re washing dishes, I ask my mother, “so are you going to miss me when I leave?”
“Mmm,” she ponders for a moment, “no.”
I’m crushed, bewildered. I thought we had finally reached level ground.
Then, she chuckles. “Why should I? Your sister will be home soon to take your place.”