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One Bird’s Choice: A Year in the Life of an Overeducated, Underemployed Twenty-something Who Moves Back Home

by Iain Reid

Home Free: The Myth of the Empty Nest

by Marni Jackson

There was a time, not so very long ago, when the idea of a young adult moving back in with his or her parents after leaving home to pursue an education, adventure, or gainful employment would have been viewed as an aberration. These days, however, the tendency for twentysomethings to return to the fold while they “figure things out” is increasing.

Cashing in on current interest in the so-called “echo boom” generation is card-carrying member Iain Reid, who at 26 moved back in with his parents while working part-time at a low-paying, seasonal job for the CBC in Ottawa. What was supposed to be a short summer sojourn metamorphosed into a year of napping on the couch, drinking his dad’s beer, and having his mom do his laundry.

Reid is a natural storyteller, and One Bird’s Choice is full of charming anecdotes and vividly described characters. But there is little substance here. Despite the fact that Reid spends most of his time unemployed, dishevelled, and bored, he actually reveals very little about his motivations for staying put. Is he depressed? Has he made the wrong career choice? Is he just a slacker?

Reid acknowledges a certain degree of shame in his situation, but the impression one gets is that he stays because he can. Mom and Dad (we never learn their names) welcome him with open arms and no expectations. He eats their food, sleeps in his old room, and aside from helping with a few chores, contributes almost nothing. It’s not so much that he wants to take advantage of his parents, it’s just that they make it so damned easy.

Mom and Dad are the best part of the book, by far. Their banter and idiosyncrasies provide pure entertainment, though they do come across as a bit daft at times. Reid owes them a world of gratitude, and a year’s worth of back rent.

In a related vein, respected journalist Marni Jackson is a hippie-turned-hipster mom navigating the uncertain waters involved in allowing her son, Casey, to chart his own course to adulthood in her follow-up to 1992’s much-lauded The Mother Zone. That book was a frank and poignant account of motherhood during her son’s first eight years. Home Free picks up the thread almost a decade later. Casey is a university student in Montreal, but Jackson is still attempting to choreograph the young man’s complete exit from under his mother’s wing.

Unlike Reid, Casey never returns home for an extended period of time. He travels, drops out of school, re-enrols, and temporarily floats home to Toronto or the cottage for family vacations. Still, the apron strings stretch pretty far, and what Jackson explores is the notion that maybe kids, hers included, aren’t entirely at fault for their ennui: “We [boomer parents] read articles about the listlessness of the ‘boomerang generation,’ their entitlement and lack of direction. We don’t like to consider how our overparenting may have contributed to this.”

Though Home Free is built around her own experiences, Jackson’s use of statistics and academic references lends weight to her idea that the boomers have set their children up, if not to fail, then certainly to be on a slower course to adulthood than any generation before. Indeed, for every foolhardy adventure Casey strikes out on, Jackson has a story (albeit a richly described and archly witty one) of her own such adventure that trumps it. The difference being, as she reiterates several times, the world has changed since then. When Jackson was her son’s age, a person could be a flake for a few years in her twenties and still land on her feet. A young man could backpack through Europe without his parents following his every move on Twitter or Facebook, so it was easier to establish independence.

Jackson compares and contrasts generations throughout the book – not only her own and her son’s, but also that of her parents. The result is a thoughtful and thought-provoking work that, despite occasionally feeling like a series of magazine features that have been stitched together, is sure to enjoy the same positive reception as her first parenting memoir.