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Ode to DadsDavid Tuttle
Never did I imagine my 24-year-old son and I would work side-by-side for nearly 16 months in a home office on the second floor of our New Jersey townhome. Like many other young adults, he returned home during the pandemic, and he is still here.
By July 2020, a Pew survey estimated that 52% of Americans between age 18 and 29 were living with one or both parents – the largest group to do so in the last 80 years. While the months of this pandemic drag on, some young professionals have yet to make their move. Rising inflation and out-of-this world rental/real estate markets are just some of the hindrances.
I had mentally prepared myself for my oldest (then a college senior) to take flight. He lived in an apartment in a neighboring city while finishing a bachelor’s degree in industrial design and had plans of getting a job at a company and moving to where it was based.
Instead, during the lockdown that stretched into May 2020 (hello, virtual graduation!), he came home to live with his brother and me. On his first trip back, he unloaded his desk, computer, double monitors and accessories and marched up the steps to set up his “office” in one corner of my 11 x 11-foot home office.
My medical editor job had transitioned to work from home at the beginning of COVID-19 and I never went back to the office. My younger son, then a college sophomore, Zoomed in for class at his local university on our third floor while I worked alone on the second floor. After graduation my oldest started working remotely for a design firm and we became office mates.
Not since my children were toddlers and I was as a freelance writer did they occupy the same house (and sometimes room) as I did while I worked. Yet now our home served as a post-graduation safe landing place that allowed him to regroup and save money while he started his career.
We adapted. On most days my son and I work from opposite ends of the room — about four feet apart. My editorial work is solitary, with infrequent calls. Occasionally, I step out for a video conference and work at the kitchen table. While in the office, my son sits behind me obstructed by two large monitors and wears noise-cancelling headphones, which are tuned to his music, podcasts or conference calls.
One plus: Having him here is like having on-site technical support for my computer problems.
One day as I turned down the volume on my headphones, I heard bits of his conference call with co-workers and clients. He talked about his craft and provided ideas, critiques and feedback. He asked questions and evaluated material options and specifications, procurement and pricing.
He sounds just like a professional, I thought. Then I smiled.
At 24 he is, of course, a professional.
I am so thankful for this opportunity to see into his world. At some point he might have told me about a project or conversation in passing, but now I had an inside view. On that day I wondered, When did he learn all this stuff?
Daily, I get to see his competence, education, training, and his innate talents for product design in action. I unknowingly witnessed these talents when as a young boy he created structures with Legos or K’nex and when at age five he made a pop-up Mother’s Day card with pink construction paper hearts that sprang out as I opened it. Through the years, I supported his student projects and athletic achievements, but the pandemic showed me the culmination of all his efforts daily through our shared workspace.
Of course, I also learned that pandemic togetherness is stressful. With three of us in the townhome, we are pushing maximum density. Much of his former apartment contents are stashed in corners and closets and underneath beds so finding something is like playing a game of Tetris. And the food bill...that line on my budget has ballooned to an unfathomable number.
On busy weeks the dirty dishes stack high in the sink and all our frying pans need washing (the guys always say, “Let them soak — I'll do them later”). Once when I slid open the utensil drawer, no spoons sat in their slot. I hunted down soiled spoons on the third floor, and more used spoons by my older son’s desk and in the younger one's car.
I stomped back into the house holding the bouquet of sticky spoons. I shook them at my two 20-somethings, who smiled at me like the little boys they used to be with their blue eyes shining. They shrugged.
Then we all laughed.
As maddening as this all is, I remind myself that it is temporary. Someday soon they will fly the nest and my house will be immaculate, quiet and clutter free. I will not miss the mess...but I will miss the conversations, the company and the laughter.
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