Unfortunately, my long weekend was off to a rocky start. There were fireworks at my house as my husband confronted my 22-year-old sister and told her to find a place of her own.
As you may recall, my baby sister (she is the youngest of four children and I am the oldest of the four) came to live with us 3.5 years ago. She was estranged from my parents in New Hampshire so she came to live with us in California and attended the local community college. She was 19.
While we never established any ground rules, we assumed that she would help with her newborn nephew in exchange for free room and board. It never happened. Well, at least not consistently.
Initially, she was grateful to have stable housing so she was very helpful. She was so helpful that my husband and I began to pitch in $500 a month for her to have spending money. But then school started, she made friends and disappeared. She told us not to worry about paying her and instead found a higher paying job. The problem is she was living with us rent-free and wasn’t contributing anything for it. We grew resentful as she used our home as a crash pad and for free food and laundry. Even more insulting, some of her friends at the community college had children! Yet, she acted like hanging around us was a burden to shoulder.
I approached her a couple times about pitching in, which the first time she acted flabbergasted and threatened to find another place to live. That was six months ago. The second time she was more gracious and offered to draw up a schedule to earn her keep. The arrangement lasted two weeks. We went to Europe, came back and found out she took a job, which would take her even more time outside the home.
“I will try to fit you in,“ she told us sheepishly. Try? In the meantime, Markos and I were passive-aggressive as we always were with my sister. I wanted so badly to support her until I felt confident she could stand on her own two feet. Because she was my sister, my husband was always reluctant to say anything to her.
But after weeks of stewing, all the pent up resentment boiled over. He was upset she did not help me the week he was on the east coast for the Colbert Report. She knew I was home alone with the two kids.
On Saturday morning my husband confronted her. “I am concerned that we made a deal and you have not been helping out like you said you would.“
“I am trying!“ she yelled at him. “It is hard in the Bay Area!“
“Don’t give me that crap,“ Markos said. “Elisa and I did it. We lived with six other people in a house in Boston. People get roommates. People do this all the time.“
She stormed upstairs to her room and slammed the door. “Don’t give me attitude!“ Markos bellowed.
The scene was almost comical. It was as if she were his teenage daughter. He fumed about it even hours later. Well, at least we know what’s in store for us with our own children.
Which leads me to my point: I have come to the sad conclusion that parents can’t give their children everything. Our intentions are good. Understandably, we don’t want our kids to face hardship. But facing hardship shapes character and gives people a motivation to work. It gives us the motivation to live.
I had the complete opposite upbringing from Ari. I was the oldest of four children and the six of us lived in a two-bedroom house in a rundown section of Miami. I don’t remember a time, in which my parents did not worry about money. They always had a hard time paying their bills and we would have the water, phone and electricity cut off at our house. But it did — as my mother once proudly pointed out — give me the motivation to work. Hard.
Yesterday my sister let me know she was looking at apartments in Berkeley this weekend and she would be out within the next two weeks. “I am getting rid of some stuff now,“ she said. Was she selling things? Putting her stuff in storage? I wanted so badly to ask her if she needed money. Did she need an extension on moving out? But I stayed mum. This is necessary. I am sure she is freaking out. But one day I am certain she will thank us for it.