It is the middle of the day and I am celebrating my 22nd birthday in the tasting room at a local distillery in my hometown of Alameda. And while it seems a bit strange to be imbibing so close to noon, I am doing it in an atmosphere and in a manner of sophistication—like wine tasting. I’m still technically drinking in the daytime, but sipping instead of chugging; therefore it’s classy. Oh, and my parents and brothers are with me.
No, this is not your conventional family birthday party. But then my family is not your conventional family.
Since graduating from college the month previous, I have been living at home. My mother seems pretty happy that I’m back. For one, I know how to work that tricky television remote. More important, my return means that her best friend is home, and she treats me accordingly. Sometimes I learn things that I don’t really want to know—for example that she would leave my dad in a second if Matthew MacConaughey showed up at our door—but I am now an adult and can take it.
After we leave the refined surroundings of the tasting room with its commanding view of the bay, we head home, and elegance devolves quickly into silliness. We scatter around the overgrown backyard with the canoe in the corner, as Mom scurries off to the kitchen to try her hand at mixing drinks. We soon discover that she is making them really strong.
My dad keeps checking up on me, adding his two cents on everything from when to serve the cake to how to modulate our noise level. He doesn’t think I am a “functioning member of society” yet, so he tells me how I should do pretty much everything. One time he even bought me premade frozen spaghetti, not thinking that I’m capable of the oh-so-difficult task of boiling pasta. I guess this is the price I pay for being his youngest and only daughter.
My brothers do what they always do: pick on me. It’s a favorite activity. No birthday will get in the way of treating me like the annoying little sister that I will forever be.
I didn’t think I would have to deal with their shenanigans when I decided to move back in with my parents. That was before I discovered that the home I was returning to was some strange mixture of The Real World and Full House. My brother Stevie, 26, has been living in the basement apartment of my parent’s house enjoying “funemployment” since he got laid off from his accounting job over a year ago. Scottie, 25, quit his finance job in Santa Barbara to try his luck in the Bay Area and moved back around the same time I did. Their friend Jake, 27, also joined the gang to bring the count to 2 parents, 3 fully grown kids, 1 Jake, 7 cats, 3 dogs, and 3 turtles. It’s a good thing my parents don’t charge rent.
Later that night, Steve and Scottie, spirited as ever, take some breaks from teasing me about my “Pomeranian hair” and “finger-toes” to poke fun at my parents. They do an impression of what they think my mom will be like if and when they put her in an old folks’ home. Their take is that she will harass orderlies and angrily demand pinot every chance she gets. She laughs at their antics.
The next morning, all we have to show for the party are the remnants of a cake that looks like it has been ravaged by starving 5-year-olds, some serious headaches, and memories (some fuzzier than others) of having a great time.
Some people may consider me a failure for moving back home. Even I can get defensive about it, answering questions about my situation with a sarcastic “I’m living the dream!” I’m joking when I say it, but maybe there is something to it. No, I am not yet the functioning member of adult society that my dad would like me to be, but for now, I’m happy being a member of this society, however unconventional.
Unfortunately, I will not be able to celebrate my birthday with my family this year. When I told my parents, they were upset. But they quickly found a way to solve the problem: We’ll go all-out for Scottie’s birthday. What this means I am too afraid to ask.