Saturday, September 15, 2007

Daughter Out the Door

A year after she moved back in, the brainy cocktail waitress is moving out—this time for good.

I hadn't expected her to take up residence in her old bedroom after graduating from college. Following my own graduation, I'd gone directly to Europe, drifting from one youth hostel to the next, working as a chambermaid here, a dog walker there, taking whatever low-paying jobs came my way.

When I came back to the U.S., I stayed with my parents only until they started charging me rent—a matter of weeks, as I recall. Then I moved into a garage apartment—not an apartment over a garage, but the garage itself. It had an overgrown garden with a wooden loading pallet for a deck. A screened-in porch served as the bedroom—not a problem, as the apartment was located in Coconut Grove, Florida. The monthly rent was $60.

Things are different for my daughter. Her newly graduated peers have not wandered off to foreign parts, but have instead searched for career-track jobs or enrolled in professional schools. Nobody's rent is $60 a month. To fund her job and apartment search, Cait did a lucrative stint as a cocktail waitress. Her goal was to find a "real" job, in the "save-the-world" sector of the economy. Now she has one. It comes with regular hours, health insurance, and a salary that's half of what she made serving tequila shooters and pitchers of beer.

Moving out is the next step. It's time. Having finished the grueling marathon that is a New York City apartment hunt, she's more than ready. And so am I, mostly. I look forward to reclaiming her room as a guest room, and have been debating such questions as how long to wait before I can paint over her candy-apple red walls. I'll miss her of course, but the truth is that although technically living at home, she's rarely around the house. And her new place is only a subway ride away.

Something else about her imminent departure is stirring up a storm of feelings. I remember exactly how it felt when I took that step—was it five years ago or thirty? I loved every second of setting up on my own. For the first time I was making choices without reference to the way things were done at home. I was becoming me, writing Chapter One of the life I lead now. Inside my little garage, I was free to do things my way. I might cover a wall in aluminum foil, and I did. I could decide to throw out leftovers right away, instead of storing them carefully in the refrigerator and then throwing them out. I could discover that mushrooms came fresh, as well as in cans. And as I was discovering who I was going to be, my parents were too. Most of the time, I think they took pleasure in watching my adult life unfold, surprises and all.

Last weekend I stood in our storeroom trying to imagine which of our extra belongings would pass muster in Cait's new place. Would the colorful (garish?) rug from Morocco fit in? Or the shower curtain whimsically decorated with a map of the world? What about that old wicker chair that could use repainting? I've always favored furniture that looks like it has been stored in a barn for decades, but my daughter might prefer things with no dents and scratches (patina, to me). I don't know.

It will be interesting to find out. I'm looking forward to it, surprises and all.

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