I love my family very much, but when I moved away in 2006 I wasn’t looking back. I loved the freedom and thrived on being independent. I moved from place to place, and lived with all kinds of different and exciting people. Until, eventually, my husband and I had enough money to live just the two of us in our dream home. It wasn’t much by a lot of people’s standards, just a one bedroom flat in North London but to us it was perfect.
Every week we’d buy a little something new for the house, we’d throw dinner parties, we’d have our friends to stay at the weekends. I did all the cooking, he did all the cleaning; marital bliss! At one point I was such a domestic goddess I was baking a loaf of bread from scratch every day. Each evening we’d sit in our front room, light the many candles we’d bought, and talk about how much we loved our home.
Then financial disaster struck. We were spending more money than we could afford, and the debt was piling up fast. Our bank account was like a bucket with a giant hole unable to be filled.
How did I react? I ignored it. I couldn’t face the fact that our beautiful, simple lifestyle was not sustainable. One day my husband came to me, almost shaking with fear and said “Grace, we can’t live here anymore. We’re going to have to move back in with your parents.” I couldn’t ignore the hole in the bucket any longer.
Before I carry on, I want to point out how lucky I am — lucky to have parents that would bend over backwards to make sure we were okay. Parents who, although they have nothing much themselves, do everything in and beyond their power, for us. The reality is, without their generosity, eventually my husband and I would have been homeless. I am, always have been, and always will be, eternally grateful to them. But in the moment when I realized that my whole life was about to be packed up in boxes, and my marriage was about to be squeezed into a 5-by-5 bedroom, I’m ashamed to say I felt pretty damn hard done by.
It’s not just any old home I found myself crawling back to, nearly 18 months ago. It is a very tiny, very full home with an eclectic cast of characters. There is my mother: a hippy at heart, bathroom mural-painting, home-educating, raw food-eating Matriach. My Father: the joke-cracking, conservative-voting, temper-tantruming, loud music-loving Patriach. There is my elderly grandmother with very late stage Alzheimer’s. My actor/musician brother and his actor/musician girlfriend, both in similar financial straits. There is my wonderful-but-shy husband, whose ideal lifestyle would be spent in almost total isolation a million miles away from any living human, preferably on an uninhabited planet where I could visit every so often but never for longer than an hour. And me: the world’s most difficult person to live with! I work mostly in comedy, and like all comedians, I am in constant need of attention, praise, and worst of all reassurance — like some sort of praise-eating leech.
This behavior increases whenever my pride takes a knock, and when I moved back home my pride was knocked so far out of the park it seemed to me it would take a lot of leeching to get it back. For the first few months of living back home I was horrible. I’d stay in my room for days on end feeling worthless. And when I came downstairs I would pick fights without meaning to, and leave nothing but misery in my wake.
There were lots of practical concerns that made living at home difficult. We only have one bathroom. There isn’t enough space for us all to sit in one room comfortably. I have to take an active role in caring for my grandmother, including running through the streets shouting her name when she’s disappeared, and cleaning and changing her. But none of this was the real problem.
What really got me down was a sense of failure. I thought living with my parents again, in my late-twenties, was a sign that I’d taken the adult test and been given a big red F! I was angry with myself and took it out on everyone else.
Time is a great healer. One day I stopped berating myself. Living with my parents again wasn’t the way I’d planned things, but it wasn’t a disaster. I looked around and realized that I was surrounded by people who made me laugh, who loved me, who, despite everything, wanted me there! We were a community and maybe that was something I could take a new sense of pride in. We were successfully looking after one another. Three generations living under the same roof and sharing a life together.
It’s not always perfect but when is anything ever perfect? I won’t always live like this. My brother and his girlfriend will be moving on soon and, hopefully my husband and I will be back on our feet before long too. But — and I never would have believed this possible when it first happened — there is something magical about this time. This chaotic, rough and tumble, getting in each other’s way, dancing desperately outside the bathroom, nothing’s ever tidy for long, call the police Grandma’s disappeared again, why are people playing the guitar at four in the morning lifestyle is weirdly wonderful.
Now I don’t just know I’m lucky somewhere deep down — I feel lucky!