You’re excited. Well, of course, you are. Your college-age child is coming home for the holidays — for the first time! What could be more fun?
Hang on a minute. Get ahold of yourself. Allow someone who’s a veteran of these homecomings — that would be me — to offer you a bit of advice.
1) Don’t be disappointed if you’re not chosen to pick your kid up at the airport. That’s what his/her old high school friends will probably be doing. (If you’ve been asked to show up for airport duty, though, don’t pat yourself on the back too heartily. It may just mean everybody else is busy at the appointed hour — and you’re the only one with time on your hands.)
2) Also, don’t expect to see your kid within the first several hours of her arrival. She’ll be busy catching up with these same old friends. Unless, of course, she arrives at your front door with her suitcases, breezes in to tell you hello, and then leaves. By the way, she asks, could you lug said suitcases up the stairs to her room?
3) College freshman learn a great deal during their first few months away from home. Expect to have your home’s interior, your haircut, your fashion sense, your political and religious (or non-religious) beliefs, your cooking, your reading habits, your whole life, subjected to a bit of healthy criticism. “Don’t you want me to be honest?” your child will say. Wait a day or two before announcing that no, honesty went out of style after the 1970s. (Coincidentally, this was about the time you were a college freshman, coming home to your own parents.)
4) Forget about a curfew. Forget there is any such word as curfew, unless your kid has been attending one of those colleges run by overbearing, vigilant moral arbiters (in which case you’re probably not reading this list in the first place). Request only a phoned announcement when your kid will not be showing up to spend the night at your house so you won’t spend the entire night thrashing around, sleepless, imagining ambulances sirens, highway slaughter, and other horrors of modern life.
5) Keep an eye on your liquor cabinet without being too obvious.
6) If you want good information about what’s going on with your kid and his friends, corner his most polite, adult-friendly sidekick and start asking questions. Wave your kid away so you’ll get the really good stuff.
7) Steel yourself for this scenario: You and your significant other will be called on to take your kid out for dinner one night. You’ll probably have a great time. (Hey! This is what you’ve been looking forward to for months!) After you return home, you and your S.O. will probably be yawning and trying valiantly to stay awake since, after all, it’s almost time for the 10 o’clock news. This is when your kid will look at the two of you and say something like, “What are you all going to be doing tonight?” Try not to look too defeated, too hangdog, too old as you announce you thought you’d already done something tonight. Try to recall a time when there was life after 10 o’clock. But try not to remember too many details of life after dark.
8) When your kid isn’t looking, marvel at how much she’s grown up, how mature she is. But remember an important detail: Just because she’s mature, grownup, possessing new and important opinions about life, independent, sophisticated, and so on — doesn’t mean she isn’t still tied to you. Look at that extended palm. It’s still empty without you.
9) Enjoy yourself. Get your sleep. Don’t worry too much. You’ll probably have a great holiday time with your college kid. It’s just that it wasn’t exactly what you were anticipating. But so what? Having kids isn’t for people who value a predictable life. Happy holidays!
(Copyright 2007 by Ruth Pennebaker)