Nicholas McDonald grew up tempted by drugs and under pressure to hit the streets. Lacking male role models, the Maryland resident says he always saw his mom as "the apple of my eye."
Natasha Shamone-Gilmore tried to protect her son growing up. Now, 24-year-old Nicholas is doing his best to return the favor.
Nicholas' family is one of three Morning Edition is profiling in our series Family Matters: The Money Squeeze. Like so many 20-somethings, he is taking some extra time — at home — to chart his journey.
"I can't do whatever I want to do," he says. "My heart is in so many different places. I can't pick up and go."
His grandfather, suffering from dementia, lives with the family — three generations under one roof. For Nicholas, it's been an opportunity to help his mom, get to know his grandfather and find himself.
DAVID GREENE, HOST:
Let's return to our series "Family Matters," where we're following three families who share a common challenge. Several generations of adults are living under the same roof, trying to support each other. We're returning to the family we've been following in Capital Heights, Maryland. You may remember the grandfather struggling with dementia. He spends days in an adult day-care center. His daughter juggles caring for him and working a full-time job.
Today, we meet the grandson in the family, Nicholas McDonald. At age 24, he lives at home and has been trying to do his part in caring for his aging grandfather.
NICHOLAS MCDONALD: I've always called him Gramps, and I don't think that he's heard that enough. So every chance I get, I call him Gramps.
I say Grandpa-a-a-a. And he's like, Nichola-a-a-as. You know, and that's just something that we just started to do, you know, since he's moved up here. And it's great. You know, it definitely wakes me up, and helps me to stay determined, to stay motivated, to continue this journey.
GREENE: It's a journey that appears headed in the right direction. When Nicholas stopped by our studios, he was close to nailing down a job at a roofing company.
MCDONALD: Sixteen dollars an hour is something that I've never received. I also look forward to staying busy.
GREENE: Good, stable job - it sounds like it.
MCDONALD: Absolutely, even when things slow down, $16 an hour, 30 hours a week, is still something that I can contribute with.
GREENE: When you say contribute, you mean to...
MCDONALD: Give my mother something, you know, for her to go shopping or get some groceries.
GREENE: It really is all about contributing, in multigenerational families like this. And for Nicholas, it's been an opportunity to become more responsible and to find his own way.
MCDONALD: You know, I started smoking when I was like, 12.
MCDONALD: Yeah. And I had been wanting to let it go since about 2009. I was just like, you know, I'm getting older, you know; my parents are expecting things from me. I need to let it go. And finally this year, my grandfather - dementia stages kind of developing a little more; and me needing to contribute to the family instead of taking away from because of my faults; I just made the decision to like, let it go.
GREENE: How did you start at age 12? Did someone introduce you to marijuana?
MCDONALD: Well, I was a pretty deprived kid. My mom never let me out, really, to go play with any of the guys because she knew of the influence that they had.
GREENE: She thought you'd go by - down a bad road if you hung out with...
MCDONALD: Yes, I was a bit of a follower. But my father was never around, and my granddad was a bit of a pimp - if I might say.
GREENE: Wow. OK.
MCDONALD: When I say pimp, I just mean like, he had his way with the ladies. And when I was young, I saw that. When I reached middle school, I was attracted to females to a degree. Certain guys had their certain ways with the ladies. Those guys, I wouldn't say I looked up to them, but I wanted to learn their ways with the ladies a little more. And these guys smoked weed, they drank beer - acting like they're grown.
GREENE: You make it sound like your grandfather moving in has matured you, in a way.
MCDONALD: It has, in a lot of ways. My mom is really Granddad's caregiver. Like, she's the bomb.com. She's the one that takes care of him.
GREENE: The bomb.com - I like that.
MCDONALD: My stepdad, he just is not as emotionally in touch there, but he still provides a roof. He still provides food.
GREENE: Well, you're at an age where some people your age have moved out and gone on and, you know, lived on their own. You know, you're with your mom, you're with your stepdad. What keeps you there right now? I mean, why is that the choice you're making to stay and not move out on your own?
MCDONALD: Well, one reason is, I haven't had the financial stability - or mentality, either - to save up enough money to move out. Secondly, I know the economy is really, really down right now, and it has been for some years. And people have kind of like - tried to been blind to it so they can do whatever they want to do. But I can't do whatever I want to do because my heart is in so many different places. I can't pick up and go.
GREENE: Remind me how old you are.
GREENE: One of the things we're looking at in this project is that a lot of people your age are taking some more time than people in their 20s used to take, to kind of figure out what their dreams are. They're staying home. What do you make of that? How much responsibility should parents have to take care of their 20-somethings, you know, and give them space to keep figuring things out?
MCDONALD: How much? As much as they need. With the economy being so bad, you know, on the other side of things, people are going crazy. Another friend of mine from church, he was at a party with a couple of guys trying to start something. But my friend wasn't up for that, so he left. And when he approached his home, they emptied a whole clip into the passenger door, and sent my friend to the hospital.
GREENE: He was hit by the gunshot?
MCDONALD: He was hit 12 times.
GREENE: My God. You know, it strikes me, you know, you're 24 now - obviously, not 12. But in some ways, at least, this is not all that different than you kind of sticking with your mom and being protected from bad influences out in the world.
MCDONALD: Not necessarily. My mom has always been the apple of my eye. You know, I didn't have a lot of male examples in my life, and I felt like it was always going to be me and her. When she got married, I kind of felt like I was going to lose the love that I always had. And it got kind of rocky, it got kind of distant - to push me away so that I could become more independently minded.
But I needed that, and I need more.
GREENE: Are either your mom or your stepfather - do they ever push you and kind of say Nicholas, you've got to decide what you want to do, at some point; you've got to - you know - get out there on your own?
MCDONALD: Curtis definitely does.
GREENE: Your stepdad.
MCDONALD: Yeah, he doesn't put it in such a direct way, but he indirectly says it - you know you're 24, right? You're in the house; you know you're 24. You look back, and you'll be 30.
GREENE: Is he right?
MCDONALD: No. No. But if I'm 30 and home, and able to move out on my own but still there being as though I can help take care of my mom, and take care of my granddad, and - I'll be fine.
GREENE: Nicholas, you and your family have really opened up for us, and we really appreciate you coming in to talk to us today.
MCDONALD: Absolutely. I actually read the article of the three families you guys are following, and I almost cried reading the second and third families' article, because it is hard out here.
GREENE: Thank you for coming in.
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GREENE: And if you'd like to get to know Nicholas better, we have photos of him and his family at our website, npr.org. Also, yesterday Nicholas sent us a text message. He got that roofing job and after three days, he says he loves it. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.