The seeds of me moving back in with my mother were planted long before the Covid-19 pandemic started — I just didn't know it yet.
First, in 2015, after years of them struggling with health and financial issues, I helped my parents buy their house in upstate New York, but I never planned on living there. In early 2019, even when I helped them renovate it so my father, who was losing mobility, could navigate it more freely — though I struggled to afford it — I still had no intention of making their home mine, too. When my father then died in June 2019, despite not wanting to leave my mother living up there all by herself, I couldn't imagine moving in.
And even when Ma was diagnosed with breast cancer in late 2019, and I started splitting my weeks between my overpriced studio apartment in Brooklyn and the house upstate (on which I was paying most of the bills) in order to help manage her care, I never considered giving up my city life to move to the suburbs. Absolutely not!
What spells failure more than a single woman in her 40s moving in with her mother near the small town she grew up in?
Then the pandemic hit.
After a three-week quarantine — yes, we knew the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention only recommended two — I went home to stay with Ma.
Suddenly, all the myths I had bought into about what success looks like and how we were supposed to live as adults began to crumble. My mother was going through her final round of chemo, the last she needed to save her life, and yet I couldn't be there because she was too immunocompromised for me to go back and forth and risk exposing her to Covid-19.
So I waited in my practically dorm-room-sized studio in downtown Brooklyn afraid to even go in the elevator, let alone outside, trying to decide what to do next.
Like a lot of people in my position, I realized that, if I couldn’t leave it, my shoebox of an apartment was not designed to be a full-time home.
And my mom needed me: She couldn’t go to the grocery store or the pharmacy. She couldn’t physically deal with people coming to the door to make deliveries. She needed help getting to her appointments. That, after all, was why I'd been splitting my time between my place and hers to begin with.
So after a three-week quarantine — yes, we knew the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention only recommended two, but tests were hard to come by then — I went home to stay with Ma.
Suddenly, all the myths I had bought into about what success looks like and how we were supposed to live as adults began to crumble.
The plan was to stay for a month at first — until things “got back to normal.” But, of course, nothing went back to normal after a month. And our relationship changed: The trauma of losing my father the year before coupled with first her cancer and then the possibility of her navigating a different deadly disease alone quieted my perceived need to live independent of her. I’d already lost one parent; I wasn’t ready to face the potential loss of another.
Before I knew it, one month led to five. Somehow, rather than paying for a house I'd never live in, I was paying for rent in a place I was terrified to go near. I moved my stuff out of my studio and ended my lease.
In months that I was living with Ma — upstate and outside of the city — something else had happened, too. My body changed: Long riddled with anxiety issues, I was calmer, more in touch with nature, eating better and feeling less under attack from the day-to-day challenges of living in New York City in a body that wasn't white, thin or young.
I spent more time cooking and even learned some of her recipes, something I'd previously rejected as too domestic for me. We were able to heal from the loss of my father and face the unending global devastation together. We fought and drew new boundaries; we learned more about one another and our motivations as adults, not child and mom. We talked openly about mental health and spirituality. It was not all roses; we are still mother and daughter, after all.
And we are both aware this is temporary — which, somehow, makes both of us sad.
But as we consider the possibility of going back to the separate lives we once knew, I am still deeply changed by this time living with her and in nature (and with our five cats). I can’t imagine having lived through this any other way.
Perhaps some people still see moving home as a regression — maybe our endless quest to move ahead and “make it” will survive this pandemic intact — but it gave me stability during an unprecedented trauma. I know I’ll be better off for it, for the rest of my life.
Other essays from our project on what we should keep post-pandemic:
- Covid masks save American lives. They still can (and should) post-pandemic, by Dr. Megan Ranney
- Social distancing during Covid means no hugs. My personal space finally feels respected, by Christina Wyman
- Covid 'essential' workers were always important. Don't abandon them post-pandemic, by Kim Kelly
- Covid's remote parties allowed us to celebrate with all of our dearest, not just our nearest, by Rachel Pomerance Berl
- Even post-Covid, outdoor dining should keep going. Our staid restaurant culture has to evolve, by Deanna Fox
- Covid walks kept this angry caffeine addict sane. And I'm going to keep walking, by Meredith Bennett-Smith
- Covid deaths made us aware of our mortality. Here's why that's a good thing, by Maggie Mulqueen