My back hall resembles an athletic war zone: four pair of sneakers (basketball, running, paint-splattered, and one pair of nondescript Nikes); a large gym bag with half-used water bottles; wet towels; and dirty, sweaty shorts and T-shirts. Add to that two pair of beat-up boat shoes and two pair of sandals. I am not complaining; my 19 year-old son is home from college.
I must admit that after four weeks of unpacked bags with clothes making a trail from the kitchen to the no-longer-visible floor of his bedroom, I found it difficult not to nag.
But then I remembered my almost sterile, too-clean, no clutter townhouse of the past year – and I embraced the chaos. Fraternity T-shirts became my new reading material – AE Pi Foam Party; Vegas Formal 2013; Spring Rush 2013: Unrated; Spring Rush 2012: Impossible is Nothing; Homecoming: Work Like a Captain; Play Like a Pirate. And I thought, “What’s a foam party?” And why does one T-shirt’s logo resemble the Playboy bunny ears?
When a son or daughter returns home from college for the summer, a re-entry period is sometimes necessary in order to keep your sanity. Young adults, especially those who have ventured far away from home, have developed their own priorities, neatness not usually being one of them. They are used to living in frat houses or sorority houses, in off-campus apartments, or in dorms. They are used to eating at odd hours and going to the gym at 10 p.m. They are used to coming and going as they please, and suddenly, they are transported back to the land of their childhood, where schedules are kept, beds are made, and it isn’t acceptable to show up at 4 a.m. without a text message or a phone call.
I suppose for some parents this can cause middle-of-the-night anxiety when they can’t sleep because they are waiting for their son or daughter to come home. Memories of high school parties and young drivers can make even the most relaxed parent shake while listening for the garage door to open and then finally being able to breathe a sigh of relief. Old habits die hard.
But I am different. While I have survived two years of empty nest syndrome in my 50-something single state, I have actually missed tripping over a basketball sneaker in the middle of the night on my way to the kitchen to get a glass of water; I have definitely missed preparing dinners that take longer to cook than they do to eat (“Sorry, Mom, I have a game at 8); I have missed the casual coming and going and keys on the kitchen table; I have missed the random, in-depth conversations ranging from politics to family relationships that seem to come out of nowhere that let me know that my “baby” – he’s number 3 of 3 – is growing up to be a kind, considerate, good young man. So yes, I can tell you with great certainty how good it is to have my son home.
Perhaps it has something to do with what I call the third-child syndrome. There is a kind of relaxed, easygoing, don’t sweat-the-small-stuff frame of mind that comes with having already raised two independent, productive young adults. When child number three comes along, there is less worry and more ease. And somehow, that ease translates into a relaxed summer mindset.
Before I know it, summer will be over. Duffle bags will be brought up from the basement; my independent son will undoubtedly ask me to help him pack; I will drop him off at the Southwest terminal, and I will try to hide the tears when I say goodbye.
I will go back to my new “normal”; weekday dinner-time conversations will be replaced by text messages and a three-hour time difference, and once again, the back hall will be free of sneakers and clutter.