Enter, stage front and center*, the child-now-young adult home from college for summer break with a carload of “schtuff” to be unloaded and then repacked (with even more absolutely necessary "schtuff") in just 3 months. Oh joy.
Tis the return of the prodigal son/daughter/brother/sister. Possibly in plural form.
You can’t wait. No. Hold on a second . . . Yes. Yes, you can.
Others – including pets – can’t wait either. Actually, they can, too.
Everyone is feeling the return with growing anticipation and with rising confusion. Excitement or fear? Happiness or frustration? It’ll be a shift. An adjustment. There will be more people to laugh with, argue with, cry with, share with. The house will be full-er . . . again.
Not to be overlooked, of course, is the returning I-am-all-grown-up-now family member who also can’t wait.
But can. But can’t.
Still, it’s time to come home. (Even as they soon discover that they would like to leave again. 2 hours is great. 24 turns out to be insanely long. And there are days, weeks, and months to follow. Whose idea was this?)
Not long after the hugs, after checking to see who has “borrowed” what from their old room or if they even have their old room, the returning college kid is physically or visually touching everything in the house. Their trusted normal is now decidedly not their normal – no matter how hard you tried to keep things in their place or how much you decidedly moved things around. Their dependable is still dependable but … not quite to the same degree. They left that normal behind 9 months ago and, not counting short holiday breaks, they come back to what amounts to a strange degree of chaos.
Mostly internal. Mostly for them.
And that is very normal.
There is a great relief to be home. And a bewilderment. How do they fit in? Where? What’s their role? And hey! What’s this about summer chores AND a summer job?
They had more free time at college. And more friends. And a helluva lot more freedom. And, by the way, there were no litter pans or dog poop or babysitting duty or . . . any inane family rules at college. Just sayin’.
And if they’ve been studying abroad, there’s culture shock at an age that would make anyone push deep inside to debate global peace right alongside internal peace and family peace. As in: “What the heck is going on?” alongside of “How did I arrive back here? And to these politics?” and followed by “What happened to that warm, comfortable place that I remember, the one that sustained me while I was abroad and not admitting to anyone that I was homesick? Where the heck did that happy place go? How did reality screw with my memory?”
As parents, we are left with trying to redefine rules that everyone can abide by and reinforcing the silly ones – like “Don’t pick on your sister.” (Does that rule ever just get deleted with age? Apparently not.) Assuming we can eliminate the need to reiterate rules regarding what to put up your nose (Answer: Only your elbow and no, bendy straws and elbow macaroni are not elbows . . . ) or when to brush your teeth (Answer: More often than whatever you do … ), we are left with:
4 Old Rules to Hang on to (Plus 1 More to CMA):
- Yes, you still have chores. We all live here. We all help. Your list is negotiable – to a point. Don’t push the point. And don’t take advantage. Surprise me with maturity that doesn’t compare your chores to anyone else’s.
- Yes, you still have a curfew. It’s somewhat negotiable, but it still exists. And yes, there are still consequences for broken rules. Being older does not equate to adult status. And, by the way, most adults live with a self-imposed curfew – sometimes career-defined, often child-defined, but defined nonetheless. Define one that makes sense and is responsible, and you are more likely to get my immediate buy-in.
- Yes, you still have to treat everyone with respect. We can always have differences of opinion but everyone is allowed a reasonable, measured, and even passionate voice as long as they listen at least as much as they talk. Remember that talking louder and/or screaming doesn’t equate to being right or well-thought-of.
- Yes, you must still listen to your parents. Chances are we will get it right more than wrong. Questions are allowed and encouraged. (See #3 above.)
- The Plus One: Whatever rule I’ve forgotten, I have a right to remember at any time and put it back into play. I’m getting old and senile – as you like to remind me (or think silently). And a part of that is indeed true: like you, I am older. I will always reserve the right to discuss a new rule or revamp an old one. And I pass that right on to you as well. You’ve earned that much in your old age.
To my own recently-returned, college daughter (who has by now read this post and added her 2¢ worth which is equivalent to 2 gazillion parental points): You are still my child. It’s a lifelong affliction for us both and to which there is no cure. Until age 25, the decision-making parts of your brain are not fully developed. It sucks, because you feel perfectly capable now of making every decision that comes your way. Or, you feel you should be able to make every decision. Perfectly. Trust me, you’ll never be perfect on that front. (Or any other.) Two more things: 1) Please don’t give every decision of every day of your life the same weight. You’ll sink in your own quicksand. And 2) Ask for help. Don’t assume you are alone and need to be grown up and make every decision going forward. Smart grown-ups ask for help. Don’t forget how smart you are.
My daughter says/mumbles/screams, “Being home is hard and I don’t know why.”
Here’s the ultimate truth that I share with her: For all the angst – yours, mine, your sister’s, the cats’, and the dog’s – I am glad to have you home. I always am. For every week. For the entire summer. And for all the days of every year that you return.
It will be bumpy. But we have bumped through every age and stage, you and I together. In cuteness and obnoxiousness, in sickness and in health, in playdates and in prom dates, and in all those other crazy times from birth through high school and now beyond.
Really. We can do this one, too. We’ve got it covered. It’s not ever been easy-peasy. But it’s always been worth it.
Just do one thing: Talk to me. I’m listening. Always have been. Always will be.
And remember: when you enter center stage in that way that you just magically appear with all eyes and ears on you, I’m on that same stage with you – waiting for curtains, lights, and anticipating action. The actors are still the same. They just continue to grow into their parts whether you are here or not. That’s what makes the story amazing and utterly worth being part of in all of our changing roles and more noticeable chaos.
So . . .
Chaos and all.
* A nod to my editors: ½ of my editors [equivalent to 1 daughter] say that it is impossible to enter a stage from the center; the other ½ agree with me that the writer is taking liberties using a combination of “front and center” as in “attention-getting” with “enter from stage …” which, in this case, is center because kids coming home from college have a way of suddenly appearing center stage ala Dr. Who or Harry Potter on Platform 9 ¾. Editor #2 won this round. And yes, it’s good to have editors/daughters who don’t always agree. Makes for great long talks which, by the way, makes this entirely the point.