blog

Thank goodness for the dog

I can forget about student loans for a minute

boy hugging yellow labrador dog
veroturg via pixabay

My son just moved into shared accommodation and there’s a friendly dog living next door. I’m grateful for that.

The whole children thing goes on and on, doesn’t it? Infancy gives way to childhood and then stormy adolescence finally mellows into kidulthood. They might grow up but they don’t move out and parenting is never done.

Although I have little time for the whole Millennial bashing thing, it is certainly true that the old rules about being an adult have changed. There’s even a new term for it — adulting.

 Adulting represents appearing adult while retaining the wide-eyed naiveté and barely suppressed panic of a child doing a grown-up’s job. The kidult is neither fish nor fowl. The law says she is grown, but she knows she is an impostor, playing games and shuffling in her mother’s too-large shoes. She also knows she may never acquire all the accepted trappings of adulthood. The deck is stacked against her and the house always wins.

Me, an adult? In this economy?

In 1978 a US student could work one minimum wage job and graduate college debt free. A 3 bedroom, 1.5 bath ranch home in Ohio cost $24,500. Average house price was $54,800.

In 1978 a UK student could get a means-tested government grant to live on while attending university without fees, work in the summer, and graduate debt free. Average house price was around twice average annual salary. Now the average home outside London costs eight times average salary.

Chained to debt

Young people start life burdened with debt. They are encouraged to get a degree with the promise of a better paying job. Once upon a time not so long ago, that made sense.

On average, UK students graduated in 2017 with £50,000 of debt, more if they were from poorer backgrounds or had longer courses and took larger loans. Interest rolls up from day one of the course, at rates up to 6.1% at a time when base rate is just 0.75% and mortgages can cost 1.5%. Student debt is being packaged for sale to investors, which can only mean ever higher charges.

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In the US, the average student loan debt for 2018 is $32,371 (source). Unlike the UK, debt is not forgiven after 30 years (subject to earning less than £21,000, a figure which has been frozen since 2012).

Just get a job – ?

All the jobs I did to support myself at university have disappeared. Clerical jobs and factory jobs alike are now done by machines. My son has worked at events where adults with index linked pensions and big houses treat the wait staff like servants. It’s not enough to repay his overdraft.

And only a small proportion of graduates will earn big salaries. Most will start at around £20,000 and expect to see little growth, in line with pay generally.

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I try to encourage him to save, but it seems pointless to him. How long will he have to save for a deposit to buy a house? Eight years, saving 15% of salary. Ten years if he wants to live in London.

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He might as well blow his salary (assuming he can get a decent job) on cars and holidays and whatever fun he can get. He knows he’ll have to work into his seventies and there’s no guaranteed pension pot at the end of the rainbow.

In my day…

Children are still taught to get educated, get a job, get a house, get married, have children. These are the aspirations of previous generations, but the world has changed. New adults are encouraged to mortgage their futures before they have one. Opportunities to build the assets now held by older generations are out of reach for many.

Is it any wonder that young people look at the disparity between the future they were promised in school and the reality, and find the older generation’s attitude wanting? They are not lazy or entitled. But they feel cheated.

Thank goodness for the dog

My son starts a paid internship this week. For once he will have a little money in his pocket and know some of the freedom that I remember, in exchange for his time and labour of course. There are so many years of toil and responsibility ahead, and I don’t expect him to follow my path in a world that’s so different.

A friendly two year old labrador lives next door to his shared house. She will help him miss our dog less, and to forget that the world has its hand in his wallet, even before there’s anything to take.

blog

All by myself

the joy of travelling alone

JESHOOTScom woman in airport via pixabay
JESHOOTScom via pixabay

My very first trip abroad was to the United Arab Emirates, back when the glitziness of modern Dubai was barely a twinkle in someone’s eye. I was a solo traveller and everything about my journey was new and exciting.

Fast forward several years. Travel had to be planned with military precision, necessary to ensure the safety and comfort of two children plus myself and spouse. Other people needed things and I provided them, whether an acceptable snack or a favourite toy. My needs sat at the bottom of the list.

As the kids grew, I took them further afield; America, Morocco, Mexico, Australia. There were places I wanted to see, and people tend to disapprove of leaving your kids home alone. So I brought them along, visited zoos and aquaria and water parks, and compromised on the cultural bit I enjoyed because kids get bored. Bored kids are a particular nightmare abroad, cooped up in a single hotel room.

Going solo seemed an impossible dream in a future too far away. But the future has a habit of appearing suddenly, here in the present.

My recent trip to the US was my first solo longhaul journey in a long time. Despite the irksome immigration formalities I wrote about here, I was excited to go. When you become a mother, you lose yourself as an individual. All is submerged in the identity of family.

No matter how you fight against it, the world sees you as mother first and last. Western society is hardly child-friendly, and you are responsible for making sure that nobody suffers just because you have offspring.

Can’t you stop that baby crying?
Please control your child, his running around like that is annoying me.
You shouldn’t feed them that.
Video games all the time, no good for developing brains. What’s wrong with books?
In my day…

I did my time, got the T shirt, and now I can sympathise while parents struggle to deal with children who are just being children. Yes, babies cry on take-off. They aren’t able to knock back a couple drinks or a Xanax to take the edge off like you did. Yes, the parent would stop them if they could. I won’t add to the disapproving glances that only multiply the stress of family travel.

Managing your children plus the expectations of everyone around you is exhausting. But staying home for eighteen years was not an option. As a bonus, my (grown) children are well travelled and able to cope with the inevitable hiccups of delays and missed connections. They are equipped for their own adventures.

All by myself

Now I can wander round shops if I want, read a whole novel, go to the restroom alone. At my destination, I can stay up and write during a jetlagged night, visit museums and gardens and art galleries. I can take off on a whim in an Uber without deferring to the majority vote. I never have to visit another water park.

It’s a process, seeing my freedom to decide as pleasing myself rather than being selfish. But it was so liberating that I’m already planning my next solo trip.

There is much joy in visiting Roman ruins with someone who really wants to see them; me, myself and I.

 

blog, Pat Aitcheson writes

New adults, old times

the nest is never quite empty

dennisflarsen via pixabay

 

My son is home for the summer from University. My daughter never left, since she chose a college five miles away. She’s working now in a job not worthy of her first class degree, but okay for a start.

It’s been good for her, but this isn’t how I planned it.

She was meant to do what I did; fly the nest at eighteen with never a backward glance. She is part of a modern trend, whereby more adults aged 18–34 live with their parents than ever before. She can’t afford even a tiny rented place of her own on her current salary. I bought my first house aged twenty-five, on a mortgage of twice my salary. I try not to think about how or when she will be able to do the same.

So we’re four, a nuclear family again. Just like old times, except not. They’re adults. They don’t have to tell me what time they’re coming home. But I do have to include them in dinner plans apparently, except for when I don’t because he’s been invited to Tom’s ad hoc barbecue and oh, can you give me a lift?

I’m struggling to calibrate my parenting. On a scale from ‘call social services’ to ‘paranoid mama bear’ should I be ‘kitchen’s stocked, clear up after yourself’ or ‘give me your schedule, I’ll make that chicken casserole you like.’ Or something else entirely?

Back to the future

There’s something about returning to your childhood home that unearths long-hidden behaviour patterns and dysfunction. I saw that with my own siblings. Despite having partners and jobs and adult stuff, we still somehow lined up in age order, complete with ancient resentments about favouritism. It was ridiculous and exhausting.

We all get on, mostly, and I’m grateful. The family unit is reformed differently each time he returns, a minefield of unspoken rules and covert expectations between generations and siblings. I slide reluctantly into a role whose restrictions I was all too glad to leave behind. The apron strings bind both sides. Maybe they think I chose my role. Perhaps, but it is well past its expiry date, for me anyway.

Spread your wings and fly?

Around my garden, birds are feeding their young. It’s full time work, but at least there is a clear contract. I feed you until you’re as big as me. Then you’re on your own.

My kidults are caught between dependence and freedom. It feels to me like they have the best of both, feeding my resentment. Some lessons, like the mechanics of being fully responsible for yourself, cannot be taught. Those lessons must be lived and learned.

No doubt we should sit down together and lay ground rules, and we will. Just as soon as she gets back from her night out and he gets out of bed.

Meantime… dinner at seven okay for everyone?