Being a reasonably private man, I was nonplussed to see that a recent twist in my life had become "The Talk of the Town" -- at least according to the New Yorker.
While flipping through the magazine in my parents' living room, I stumbled upon one of its cartoons that, upon closer inspection, revealed my alter ego. My pen-and-ink doppelganger -- a tweedy, horn-rimmed preppie -- was sitting with his parents and pleading with them: "Just let me stay here with you and Mom. I don't like what I've seen of the real world."
At age 31, after 10 years of independent living, I not only wanted to, but was able to come home again.
At first, the decision was coldly practical. Home would be my cost-free laboratory for converting a dull but secure full-time job into freelance fulfillment. In the master plan, I would move home, smooth out all the professional rough spots and be on my way. It would be as emotionally involving as a truck stop and leave as lasting a mark as a Band-Aid.
Of course, my insouciance couldn't have been more blind to the raft of emotions and miniature epiphanies the move home would yield. From rekindling the embers of old friendships to reacquainting myself with my parents, coming home became less of a transition phase, and more of a complex, involving chapter.
Despite its unforeseen benefits, living at home at 31 was hardly part of my great American dream. I certainly didn't plan this Zip code detour when I accepted my bachelor's degree from Georgetown University in 1979, and my master's from Columbia University in 1982. With those diplomas in hand, I felt destined for smooth career sailing marked by calls, letters and triumphant visits home to tell of my exploits in the "real world." I would be the conquering yuppie hero, a Volvo sedan my chariot.
Soon enough, my career as a full-time magazine writer and, later, freelance writer, flew on its encouraging upward arc. But though the freelance work was steady, the paychecks dribbled in and were no match for the relentless surge in the cost of living.
Rent, once so effortlessly managed, became a burden, while $7 movie tickets became a luxury. From one day to the next, I was staring at the financial fait accompli of either abandoning my dream of writing or my independent living. I chose the latter.
As it turns out, I wasn't the only one packing his bags. I am but one in a horde of young professionals who limp home, tail tucked behind an attache' case, to the cost-free comfort of home. The Census Bureau reports 18 million of us resettled professionals and students, ages 18 to 34, a one-third increase since 1974.
The younger end of the scale, populated with 20- to 24-year-olds drifting between college and graduate school, shows 51 percent of single men and 34 percent of single women are gladly rediscovering home cooking -- an increase of one-fourth since 1974.
For the oldsters, ages 25 to 31, more of us than ever (up three-fifths since 1974) find home a tempting rest stop. With these numbers confirming our trendy status we needed a label: Thus "boomerang kids" was born. We are now a certifiable social phenomenon thanks to a spot on "Donahue," and the publication of two books ("Boomerang Kids" by Jean Okimoto and Phyllis Stegall; and "Postponed Generation" by Susan Littwin). If they get around to making our movie, it might be called "Adolescence II."
Moving home is not a decision we boomerangers make lightly. Backs against the wall, we are squeezed by the pincers of rising living costs and white-heat competition for jobs. Since 1982, the National Association of Homebuilders informs us, rent has shot up by 28 percent while 25- to 34-year-olds take home only 77 percent of the wages of people in their early forties. Back in 1970, it was 86 percent. This higher-cost, lower-pay stew becomes indigestible when considering the average of $20,000 in student loan debt many young professionals face. All in all, we are a financially underweight class for whom home is a very palatable alternative.
It isn't "home" in some romantic abstract that proves an irresistible lure to us re-nesters. Rather, we are drawn by the cozy standard of living and the grudging realization that we won't be able to duplicate our parents' domestic comforts any time soon.
American Demographics magazine writes that children growing up in households with an annual income above $50,000 were more likely to remain or return home than those offspring in lower net-worth households. Sociologists explain that children in more affluent families are so spoiled by mom and dad's BMW, VCR and country-club membership that they loll around enjoying these amenities for as long as the blank check of parental kindness is available.
But returning home to this cable-ready womb comes with a psychological price. The "boomerang" label is neither accidental nor flattering. It implies an aborted flight pattern to a healthy, independent life.
In the United States, which embraces the "on-the-road-again" spirit, physical independence and maturity are first cousins. The accepted sequence for cutting the apron strings is driver's license at 16, vote at 18, graduate at 21, pack up a U-Haul at 22. There is no cultural tradition of returning home at 31. It is virgin emotional territory.
In Europe, specifically France and Italy where I have lived, adults living with their parents is more woven into the cultural tapestry. Indeed, the European family model, though dented by a growing divorce rate, still has a large share of extended families of grandparents, parents, children, even spouses of children, under the same shingled roof. My suspicion is that were I in Europe, I wouldn't feel that my move home was a glaring nonconformity or a potential drain on my self-esteem.
But I didn't grow up in Paris or Padua, so the self-consciousness lingers. "You can recognize the behavior when re-nesters defensively explain their situation as a temporary expedient," notes Bruce Jennings, a sociologist with New York's Hastings Center, an ethics research organization.
Jennings must have eavesdropped on me when I attended several parties soon after the move home. "Just passing through," I'd say to the curious, before rushing to change the subject. I stopped going to the local tennis club with my parents to avoid meeting too-inquisitive friends whose curiosity I didn't need. I also dreaded running into an old high-school or college friend who, inevitably, would ask where I lived.
Despite these guilt-filled mind games, I have found the move home to be an experience rich in emotion, maturity and, as planned, professional gain. It has not, as the sociologists warned, laid the traps of complacency and atrophied ambitions.
Indeed, part of my revved-up drive has to do with being in a cushioning environment where I am free to fail or succeed in the precarious freelancers' game. To share my victories and defeats with my parents is a great balm as well.
Deepening the relationship with my mother and father is the most precious benefit of the move. That my parents and I are so fundamentally compatible, despite the generational chasm between us, makes our living together shockingly easy. After 10 years apart, some of our individual routines fit like cogs and springs in a Swiss watch.
My parents head for the shower in the morning while I prefer the evening; they aren't chirpy when they wake up, and I'm just as taciturn; and we have identical cravings for Chinese take-out and Ingrid Bergman movies. We pass our quiet time in the same way, wading through a stack of magazines while classical music wafts in from another room. We are all prisoners of public television.
Most valuable about this time with my parents is that so few offspring have it. While many children flee the nest, leaving behind a cloud of post-teenage misunderstanding and angst, my parents and I have this brief second chance to patch up our differences.
Our emotional roadwork is possible because the parent-child relationship has been replaced by one of three adults living together, each pulling his weight. This equal footing, and knowing how temporary our commune must be, seems to heighten even the simplest moments.
Pizza dinners on the back porch become exercises in nostalgia as we'll pick up on some spindly thread of an old family yarn and weave it again. To discover dusty episodes in my parents' life -- my father's first ride in a horse-drawn carriage or my mother's aborted plane trip from London on the eve of World War II -- is, alone, worth the price of the move.
Andrew Marton is living the life of a "boomerang" in Chevy Chase.