Sunday, December 13, 2009

Lessons in Talking to Adult Children

A few weeks after my youngest child moved to his first apartment (on-campus housing), I had an occasion to drive him back to school and drop him off at his new place, which he shares with two other young men. The condition of the apartment was appalling and I spoke with him about what is required to clean and maintain an apartment. He said that they would get to it soon. I thought that perhaps they needed a little bit of a nudge so I decided to call the Residence Advisor (R.A.) Supervisor for their building. She was a perky young lady who spoke with a Valley Girl accent. I asked her if perhaps the R.A. for their floor might do me a favor and poke his head into the apartment and give the guys a word or two about taking out the trash before the rats moved in, cleaning spilled and dropped food off the stovetop before it caught on fire, and giving the bathroom a once-over before the mold needed a shave with a machete.

R.A. Supe Girl informed me that the R.A.s don’t do that kind of thing. I said I was concerned about the health and safety of the guys. I asked if they had a fire extinguisher in their apartment and she assured me they did. I said that made me feel much better, but had they shown the guys how to use it? R.A. Supe Girl informed me that they don’t do training on the use of the fire extinguishers. I suggested that this was perhaps a somewhat unsafe situation and that I would appreciate it if she could send an R.A. to have a talk with the guys about safety, stovetop fires, and how to use their fire extinguisher. R.A. Supe Girl informed me that they don’t do that. She said that different people have different lifestyles and levels of cleanliness and that perhaps my son and his roommates were comfortable living in filth and squalor (she didn’t use those exact words). Then, now here’s the kicker, she suggested that I have a conversation with my son “speaking as an adult to a young adult” about my concerns.

At that moment, I realized she was “handling me” and that a 20-something Valley Girl in a R.A. Supe work-study job was following the instructions in her “How to Talk to Parents” Handbook and giving me advice about how to relate to my adult child. I’m thinking, how many adult children do I have and how many does she have? I’m thinking, how many children have I put through college and has she even graduated yet? I’m thinking give me the phone number of this girl’s mother. I politely extricated myself from the conversation, thanking her for her time, hung up, and immediately called my son and read him the riot act. As an adult speaking to a young adult, I said, “Don’t make me come down there with my yellow rubber gloves, Lysol spray, and toilet brush.” I told him I didn’t care if they drowned in dirty laundry, but they had to clean the food off the stove burners. I wanted them to read the instructions on the fire extinguisher (test would need to be passed before I would make another rent payment). I would not, I repeat, would not pay to have the rug and the stove replaced, the bathroom repainted, and the kitchen fumigated when they moved out. The cleaning deposit was for cleaning, not rebuilding.

The next time I visited the apartment, the kitchen and bathroom passed inspection and the trash was emptied. The stovetop was clean. It wasn’t perfect, but it was a safe and healthy home. So glad I had that little adult to young adult conversation with my son.

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