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.
If you've read my posts, you know that I don’t believe in New Year's Resolutions.
I prefer to make my resolutions every night. I resolve to be a little bit better tomorrow at some parenting “thing” (where “thing” is redefined daily).
So here we are. Summer. And you have to know this: I approach every summer swearing. Not in a bad way. But, swearing just the same.
I swear that I will make this particular summer the best one yet.
I swear that I will spend more time with my daughters, because we all have more time – or, at least, they do with no school day bells to jump to, no homework assignments to be accomplished every evening, and fewer extracurricular events to race to.
And so, in my mind, I owe it to them to take advantage of their free time to create more free time in my world. (And yes, I realize that I don't work on a school bell schedule and can't just shift gears but somehow, some way, I must.)
I also swear that in these months of freedom, we will laugh more, plan less, and just hang out. Because as teens / young adults, this is what they do. We don’t need play dates and organized outings to museums and playgrounds and amusement parks any more. (Though a few of those might still be fun – if only we could arrange enough family outings to balance out one person's boredom with another's delight … )
Kids at this age need parents that will see into the future (“future” may equal the next day or the next few hours) and concoct a plan that we can all jump into. But some kids (like mine) require a plan that looks 7 days in advance – at least. It's because their busy summer days of work plus well-earned laziness requires several days notice of a “major” family event (as in “Do you want to eat dinner together and watch a movie on Thursday night next week?”). Anything sprung on them becomes subject to criminal cross examination that makes any suggestion of familial proximity automatically suspect.
So, here I am halfway through summer thinking, “I blew it again.”
My older daughter is already setting in motion all the things she needs to do before returning to college and is trying to take charge of her health (see Being a Teen is an Age, Not a Diagnosis) and her life. Her younger sister has filled her days and nights with projects as she works out her medical issues to just stay awake as best she can (see The (Latest) Ultimate Lesson My Teen Taught Me).
Me? I am busy. Crazy busy. A single mom starting a business. Translation: I work 25/9 and laugh at the very idea of getting away when someone politely asks about my summer vacation schedule. Then hours later, I realize “Oh, cripe! My un-vacationing life is my current price for my dreams. But duh. What about my girls? Have I even considered 'summer' and 'vacation' in the same breath for them, at least?”
In my efforts to create a business to support all of us, I have left them behind. I failed Summer Parenting 101 with its overarching rule: Spend more time with the kids.
Talk with them. Hang with them. Be with them. Do what they want to do, and do it with them. And, get a decent exchange rate on doing what I want to do with them.
Turn off my Tech.
Turn off my work.
Turn off my scrambling brain that tries to loudly over-think any one-on-one conversations I am having with them so that when it is my turn to reply, I come up empty and clueless and have to confess that my brain was not as present as my heart. (You know those times: when you are watching someone's lips move while you are busy planning the rest of your day, formulating a grocery list, and generally calculating shopping hours until the holidays... Those moments. ARGH.)
Not good. Never good when that happens. And those moments are always followed with an apology and never an excuse because there is rarely, if ever, anything that is more important than my daughters. I need to unscramble my brain and listen harder and be softer in the moment. I know this, even as I recognize that I have not done this as well as I know I can.
I have several weeks to repair this situation, to bring up my parenting grade.
So this is my intention & assignment (and I will report back):
- We will eat together on all nights when we are together.
- We will plan movie nights and we will take turns compromising and not complain. (At least, I won't.)
- We will occasionally play a game and admit that it was fun. (Even if I still, sorry, can't understand Apples to Apples®... but I play an exciting game of Tripoly® and Royalty®.)
- We will plan an outing that involves shopping for college that is not rushed, but rather more like bonding time as we drive and talk and, oh, yeah, pick up a few things here and there.
- We will have times where we just hang out and not make lists. (I have a list of possible dates... never mind.)
- We will go someplace (or places) that seems silly or serious (Knoebels maybe? or the Crayola Experience? the Brandywine Art Museum? or the Hagley Museum? or – get this – a playground with swings and a ball to kick around)
- We will get something to eat that is dreadfully decadent that none of us should be consuming… but we will enjoy it and laugh. (I'm thinkin' funnel cakes with powdered sugar or a large dish of ice cream ... Yeah, definitely ice cream and make mine double German chocolate ice cream with brownies and hot fudge, please ... maybe on top of the funnel cake ... )
- We will hug more often, listen more often, laugh more often. (And I will initiate this.)
- And I will make sure that when they ask if I have 30 seconds, or 1 minute, or 5 minutes, that I not only have that much but more and that I am completely committed to them in that time. Completely. Without a mental timer. Without working on my usual lists while fake-listening. If I agree to their request, then I agree to be there fully.
Summer stretches only so long and makes demands on us all.
It is my turn to make a demand on myself because I want – I need – a passing grade. This is a "once in a lifetime" time. And since I can’t extend summer, I must extend myself.
And that is my ultimate intention.
Because my toddlers turned into kids turned into preteens turned into teens. And now young adults. They did this all faster than I could have imagined, and soon the summers will belong to them alone.
It is true that our days on earth our limited. I want to be with my girls in every way that I can.
So, I am resolving not to squander another parenting moment in these long summer days.
And I am resolving to live as if all my parenting time is summer time.