Place Of The Changing Tides

Michael and I get on well, but it has been degrading for six months. He is backsliding into torpor. I am not kicking his ass for him. When I do, I get fussy, because I have to be the adult for both he and I.

Michael is still unemployed. I have not been convinced that he is trying to be; there is little to reccomend employment and self-sufficiency, if there is some idiot willing to support you. I haven’t known just what I want to do about that. And then I did.

A couple weeks ago I chatted with Michael. We sat at the computer and I brought up our household budget spreadsheet. I separated out the things that aren’t his problem (like budgie food), divided by three, and noted that, if he were a roommate instead of a child, that would be his rent to live here in the style to which he is accustomed.

Then we added his projected expenses; court fees, school fees, bicycle payment. And luxuries; a cup of coffee a day, a sandwich twice weekly, two dates with his girl-thing each month. He agreed that it was quite a chunk of change.

When Michael is registered in school, if he files paperwork the child support payments will shift from me to he. It will just barely pay tuition. Not books. Not coffee. Not, in fact, all of tuition. Unemployed, he will undoubtedly hit me for the rest of tuition, books, lab fees, rides to town, and so forth. I will feel obligated, since I am supporting him, to provide him with spending money, as well.

To sum that up, I will take an income loss, gain someone else’s bills, and be priveleged to feed and house him for free while he goes to school and plays in town. That doesn’t work so well for me. “Here,” I said, “is what I am suggesting.

“While you are going to school, you may live here for $200/month. You pay your own bills; the rent is just for housing, groceries, utilities, computer, and so forth. That isn’t even a third of what it actually costs to live here. If you aren’t schooling, you pay $600/month. It is not an attempt to regain the lost child support checks. What it is, is freedom. If you are paying rent, paying your tuition, paying your bills, have a job…you are an adult. That’s good for you. It’s a step forward.

“But that’s not my only goal. It’s freedom for me. If you are adult enough to pay bills, hold a job, go to college…you are adult enough to buy your own mp3 player batteries and movie tickets. You are adult enough to not need me to hold your hand. You are adult enough, in short, for me to be cut loose to just take care of my own problems instead of yours.

Then we did math and fiddled and figured out that, with a half-time job and child support, he could handle his expenses and have money to burn. No hurry to start this, I told him. October is fine. Get registered, get a job, get growing up instead of extending your adolesence, unchanging.

That was a couple weeks ago. It was the opening moves in my plan.

This week, Michael registered. To register, he needed $65 as a down payment. He called me for it, and I had him come visit me at work.

Anyone who knows me knows that I am excessively gently spoken to people’s faults. There’s reasons for that, reasons that I’m just unravelling, but that is a different post. Michael came, and I spoke.

“Here’s the deal. You haven’t a job yet, you’re doing the same things trying to get one, and they aren’t working. I’m worried that you aren’t very interested in having a job. Or that you aren’t desparate enough. Or…for the last few years, no one has required you to be…they’ve….” I faltered, looking for tact. Then I stopped looking.

“Fuck that. You want my money, you can get my thoughts without tact. You have been spoiled. Not that you are spoiled, but that people have been spoiling you. No one has required you to pull your weight, clean up after the cats, take out the garbage. That’s minor. You didn’t pass classes for years, but went to movies, played with the computer, went out and about, watched TV. No requirements to produce, no requirements to carry yourself, but all the benefits you could want.

“I’m worried that, even though I’ve told you you must work, must pay your way, that I won’t carry you…you don’t believe it, deep down. You believe that, when the chips are down, you can hit me for the $65 or whatever and I’ll come through. And we both know that I’m a wuss, and I would. I’ll give up what I want and give it to you, ’cause I’m stupid.

“I can’t. I can’t afford to take me back to school, so I can’t afford to put you through it. And I don’t want to. We talked about rent a couple weeks ago. That quantified, in very explicit terms, the value of responsibility. Responsible equals $200 a month. $199 isn’t responsible. Easy. No opinions needed, no different perspectives. We agreed what was reasonable, and anyone with an opinion can go whistle; you and I decided, and we are the only ones that matter in this decision.

“But now you can coast forever, unemployed, and I won’t put that into effect, because, again, I’m a wuss.


“I’ll give you to October 15. Seven weeks. Get a job, get enough money together to pay rent. If you haven’t, then I will approach you and we’ll discuss your options. I’ll know that you didn’t like the ‘live at home cheaply’ option. That’s okay. It won’t hurt my feelings. Sometimes we need to move out, but don’t have the balls to do it.

“The other three options would be 1. find an apartment (hard without money), 2. move in with the Clan (where you can be unemployed as long as you like) or 3. move in with your mother, who will probably support you and probably pay for your school and probably run your life.

“Don’t misunderstand me. I don’t want you to leave. I think staying with me is your best choice. But it is your choice, and I need to stop pretending I can make it for you. I can’t make your choice, but I can force the date, and then we can both get on with what we need to do, however you decide to work it.

“I don’t imagine you will remember a quarter of this. Remember this. October 15, no rent, you find another place to live. I will not wuss. I have told people I will do this, and that creates my courage for me. Here’s the cash. Go register and be wildly successful and happy.”

Seven weeks and we are both free of this progressively dysfunctional relationship.

Yesterday I told him, “I was pretty direct yesterday. I meant it, and I’ll follow through. But I really, really hope you decide to stay. I like you here, and I think it’s good for you to be here.”

“I want to stay. I hope I do, to.”


2 thoughts on “Place Of The Changing Tides”

  1. I do like it that you’re default-gentle – it lets people who are in a place to listen have a chance to actually do so without confrontation. That’s good, and kind of rare!

    But sometimes you get walked on, for one reason or another, so new approaches are required. To me, it sounds like you’re doing a great job at this now. Hope it works! We all have to make our own mistakes at that age, but I hope he takes as easy a path as possible. đŸ™‚

    If he really doesn’t pay rent, what are you prepared to do? Put his stuff in storage? Physically remove him? Can you actually follow through on this? I explicitly ask, not because I care, but because I think it’s wise to have an actual plan of action ready to go, to prevent pushback. And then hope like hell that he’s smart enough to not choose that option. But you’re totally undermined if you get your bluff called and don’t have a swift and effective plan executed.

    Maybe there’s a short story in it, at the end?

    1. If he doesn’t pay rent, I am prepared to discuss with him his remaining options, and likely put him up to the end of the semester so he can finish it successfully. I may not suggest that right away, but let him ask for it.

      Then I’ll help him move. Painfully, I don’t care where to. If he needs to try the refrigerator box gig, then he does, and I’ve told him I will help find him a nice one.

      And this will very much, if I can write it, be a book. Epic journey, and all of that.

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