Fights over who gets to control the television. Arguments that the music is too loud. Notes taped to doors, ordering parents to keep out.
As American campuses abruptly shuttered last month amid the worst public health crisis in their lifetime, thousands of crestfallen students journeyed back to their parents’ homes — and to their childhood bedrooms, household chores and limited freedom.
“I feel like I’m in high school again,” said Gabriela Miranda, 21, whose parents enforced strict rules when she was a teen — and enforced them again when she returned home last month for spring break.
She didn’t complain much when she faced those restrictions last month — ask permission to see friends, be home by 10 p.m. — because she expected to return to the University of Georgia, where she is a junior, and to her unconstrained, occasionally hedonistic college routine.
But then the university announced that classes would move online for the rest of the semester, deflating any hope she had for continued independence.
“Before the pandemic got crazy,” Ms. Miranda said, “my parents would say, ‘Why do you want to go out — it’s family time?’ Now they just don’t want me to leave the house.”
She is hardly alone.
College students across the country have had to adapt to online classes, social isolation and fears of infection. Some are in quarantine after returning from disrupted study abroad programs, while others are agonizing over the cancellation of graduation ceremonies, athletic competitions and internships.
But the more difficult adjustment, many said, has been returning to their parents’ homes — and their parents’ rules.
“After living so long without your parents, you can’t do it again. It drives you crazy,” said Hayden Frierdich, 22, a senior at the University of Alabama who is scheduled to graduate this spring into a job market devastated by the coronavirus.
Until the pandemic upended his semester, Mr. Frierdich had worked as a bartender in downtown Tuscaloosa. He temporarily lost his job, and so he went to stay with his mother and sister in Pensacola, Fla. But neither of his parents, who are divorced and raising his younger siblings, can afford an extra mouth to feed, he said. Nor do they have the money to cover the $1,000 he needs for monthly rent and car payments.
Late last month, his boss offered him a different position at the bar, which is now open only for takeout and deliveries, so he returned to his college town — good fortune, he said, because he regained his financial independence.
Angela Kang, a senior at the University of Texas at Austin, and her twin brother recently moved back into their parents’ suburban Austin home, forcing the entire family to readjust to life together.
“We’re all kind of locked in different rooms with our online life and conference calls,” said Ms. Kang, 22, who has struggled to focus on her remote-learning classes and write her thesis in the absence of the typical school day routine.
With Texas under a shelter-in-place order making it impossible to work even at a coffee shop, Ms. Kang has come to view her bedroom almost like her entire off-campus apartment, serving as a place to sleep, study and work out.
But the cramped spaces have also motivated the Kangs to revive family traditions, like Sunday dinners and movie nights on Fridays. At the same time, Ms. Kang and her brother have gained a new appreciation for chores — even volunteering to do yardwork or wash dishes. “There’s some relief in doing manual labor,” she said. “Just to get my hands somewhere that’s not a keyboard.”
Alyssa Ashcraft, a senior at the University of Texas at Austin, does not have nearly as much space now as she had in her apartment, which she left after the campus closed. Now she’s back at her parents’ house in Nederland, Texas, near the Louisiana border, sharing her childhood bedroom — and childhood bed — with her older sister.
Navigating each other’s sleep schedule is one thing, but the bigger challenge, she said, is when everyone is awake. Ms. Ashcraft, who still has her job with the university’s alumni association, is working from home, as are her parents, who are both schoolteachers.
When she needs her space, Ms. Ashcraft takes her laptop to the porch. And in a throwback to childhood notes telling parents to keep away, she tacks a small handwritten sign on the door that says, “I’m in class,” or, “I’m in a meeting,” so that no one goes outside.
Still, confrontations in their cramped house are inevitable, and often hark back to old-fashioned sibling rivalries: arguments over who gets to use the TV, music playing too loud or a mess in the kitchen. “I feel like sometimes I’m 18 years old again and I have never left,” Ms. Ashcraft said. But, “I just have to remind myself that this will be over one day and I will get to continue building a life for myself outside of my childhood home.”
In the month since she returned to Swarthmore, Pa., dragging a large suitcase, Phoebe Rosenbluth, a senior at the University of California, Los Angeles, has mostly stayed at the home of her boyfriend’s family because her parents, who live nearby, turned her bedroom into an office after she started college. Ms. Rosenbluth has visited her family every day, using the time to paint with her 15-year-old brother and reconnect with her parents.
Still, she misses her Los Angeles apartment and the freedom to eat whatever — and whenever — she likes. During one recent family dinner, Ms. Rosenbluth rejected her mother’s green bean casserole in favor of a meal that reminded her of college life back in California: cheese and crackers: “It’s what I eat in my apartment,” she said.
Sheltering in place has been challenging for the entire family. “It’s like a horrific extended Thanksgiving,” said her mother, Melissa Jurist, with a touch of sarcasm. “Nobody likes the food and I’m just cranky.”
Plus, having two children trapped at home has made it hard to focus on her job as an educator. Then there’s all the extra cooking and cleaning. “I am a cruise director, short-order cook and scullery maid,” she joked.
On the second day of their forced family reunion, after two family members interrupted a phone call to ask about snack options, Ms. Jurist came up with a simple solution that would help keep her sane and her children well-fed: a sign she titled, “What can I eat,” which she taped to the fridge. It details food items and their locations, like “carrots and celery — bottom drawer.”
Georgia Minkoff, a junior at the University of Michigan, spent her first two weeks back home unable to touch her parents’ fridge — and quarantined in the basement of their house in Briarcliff Manor, N.Y. She had been studying in Paris when President Trump announced a ban on flights from Europe. A few frantic days later, she flew home.
Her parents made her isolate downstairs, she said, but life in quarantine was not too bad. Her mother served all her meals, “which is kind of a perk,” and she staved off boredom — and the anguish of her aborted European semester — in a Snapchat group with her similarly quarantined study-abroad friends. If she needed anything, she texted her younger sister, who dropped requested items — a mask, a sweatshirt, a washcloth — down the laundry chute.
And once quarantine ended? She returned upstairs to her family, and had to make her own meals again.