I spent much of my adult life avoiding living with my parents. While some of my fellow Italian family members opted to stay with their folks until getting married, I left home and went to college out of state as soon as I could. Then I moved clear across the country to L.A. Now I’ve settled about 200 miles away from home in New York City.
It’s not that I don’t love my parents. I love them so much that I moved back to the East Coast so I could be within driving distance of Boston, where they live. The thing is, despite the fact that immigrant families find it culturally acceptable to stay with your parents pretty much forever, I wanted to truly embrace the ways of my American peers and be independent. Which is why living next door to my boyfriend’s mom for the past year has been both uncomfortable and comforting.
I moved in last January. After bopping around between three crappy apartments within eight months I decided it made the most sense to shack up with my beau. I mean I was there 99 percent of the time anyway, it only made sense that I live there, right? However, my boyfriend had never lived with a girl, let alone in an apartment next to his Christian minister mom, who didn’t exactly approve of shacking up before tying the knot. But her love for her son (and for his amazing girlfriend) outweighed her traditional values, and, with her blessing, I moved in.
I didn’t think families could be more tight-knit than mine until I met my boyfriend’s Indian family. It seemed the percentage of Indian-American kids living with or right near their immigrant parents was even greater than the number of Italians I knew who still hung on to that ethnic umbilical cord.
I wasn’t turned off by the fact that he lived next door to his mama. Actually, I was attracted to the fact that he is so close with his family since this was a cultural value I was familiar with, and especially since part of his reasoning was that he wanted to take care of his mom now that his father is gone (his dad passed away five years ago). A guy with strong family ties + he loves his mom + he doesn’t think my loud, ethnic family is weird ’cause he has a loud, ethnic family of his own? Seems like a dream, right?
Well, sorta. Despite the warm, fuzzy nostalgia I felt being around a motherly figure with an accent who would remind me to “bring an umbrella ’cause it looks like rain”, being in such close proximity to anyone’s mom, especially your significant other’s, can sometimes be annoying.
Now, just to clarify: We live next door to his mom, not with his mom. We are in a separate apartment, with our own door. A door that is about two feet from her door. A door that is connected to very thin walls. A door that isn’t always locked because we have a dog, and sometimes she comes in to take care of the dog, and sometimes we forget to lock it again when I’m, oh I dunno, coming out of the shower sans towel because I think it’s cute to do my “just got outta the shower” dance in front of the TV while my boyfriend is watching football and then … oopsies, Mom walks in.
Luckily I have pretty quick reflexes. In addition to almost seeing my crotch, his mom has been known to pop in during arguments, sex, and when we aren’t home to help herself to MY jar of baby pickles. For the most part though, she’s been pretty respectful of our privacy, more so than I thought a mom could be. But she is still a mom, which means her son acts like her little son when certain issues arise.
What I’m trying to say here is I’ve heard my boyfriend whine “Mmmmmmmmmmmooooooooooommmmmmmmmmmmmmm!” more times than any lover should. It’s not his fault; I think most adults can agree that no matter what age you are, when talking to your parents, your life-is-so-unfair teenager voice often comes out. It’s high-pitched, it can cause infantile foot stomping, and it’s decidedly unsexy. On anyone.
You know what is sexy though? A washer and dryer — and his mom has both, which means I get to use them! Other sexy stuff? Storage space in her garage, cold medicine brought to my bedside when I’m sick, and more homemade shrimp curry than I ever thought I’d eat in my life. There are perks to being in close proximity to a mom and tender loving care is certainly one of them.
After many years of independent living, I kind of needed a break. It feels nice to be mothered once in a while and to have someone nearby who will listen to me cry and make me dinner when I’ve had a rough day. Strangely enough, his mom’s chicken biryani has the same medicinal affects on my heart and soul as my mom’s pasta and meatballs. (There must be some kind of cooking ingredient that only mothers can access.)
It also comforts my own mom to know that there is another mom near me, looking out for me, loving me. Whenever I’ve fought my mom’s smothering and over-protective ways she always said “you’ll never know what it’s like till you have kids of your own.”And she’s right: I can’t imagine what it’s like to send your little baby, no matter if she is thirteen or thirty, out into the big bad world without Mommy to protect them.
Even though I’m an “adult” my mom feels good knowing I have a real “grown-up” around to help me out. And I think in many ways it comforts my boyfriend’s mom because she doesn’t have daughters. So there I am to loan her nail polish remover, give her opinions on outfits, and listen to her bitch about what some lady said behind her back at the church meeting.
After an incredibly rough financial year (for both me and boyfriend), I have really learned to appreciate my living situation. Our landlord is kind, generous, and doesn’t freak out if our rent is late (or even paid for that matter). I resisted ever living so close to family because I wanted to prove how mature and strong I was, but true maturity and strength is asking for help when you need it and accepting support from those willing and happy to give it.
So right now, for a little bit, I’m not living the independent life I dreamed of, so what? While I don’t want to live next door to anyone’s parents for the rest of my life, for right now I am going to be grateful for this period of comfort and mothering. I spent a long time resisting my close-knit, loud, and often smothering ethnic roots, but those roots are pretty cozy and the food is delicious.
Giulia Rozzi is a New York City–based comedian, actress and writer currently at work on a memoir about ethnicity and relationships. She enjoys making lasagna for her boyfriend’s family while munching on samosas.