One by one, they return home – my little Einsteins, my little bombardiers.
They circle the old homestead a couple of times, then drop their stuff in the garage and basement, unloading all the ordnance from their college days, including the Ikea furniture that smells of Pabst and Pop-Tarts.
It holds memories for them, of late-night study sessions and beer pong. Like very sticky scrapbooks you can sleep on.
Oh, this boomerang generation. They treat our houses as temporary storage, right? First back for us was the lovely and patient older daughter. You may remember her. She was lovely. She was patient. When she smiled, she turned my heart into her very own church.
The lovely and patient older daughter is the senior child of two parents who were both oldest children. Imagine that dynamic. Early on, she declared herself a supplementary parent, one who was aware of all our previous mistakes. After all, she’d lived them. But she eventually moved out again when it occurred to her that we didn’t fully respect her parenting tips and weren’t going to cede her the power she thought she deserved.
I believe her exact words were: “I’m outta here.”
One day she simply declared political asylum and moved to a little bungalow in Santa Monica, a town that often takes in the disaffected (including a lot of industry types).
“Wow, this is nice,” I told my wife, Posh, on our first visit. “We’re really going to like it here.”
“We’re not staying,” she explained.
As it was explained to me, Santa Monica did not accept our asylum application, only our daughter’s. So there she now resides, in seaside bliss with two pretty roommates and the crummy couch that I helped her slow-dance out of the basement to the minivan and across the city to the epicenter of post-college cool.
In Santa Monica, she has re-created her collegiate living experience. They have parties that I am not invited to, and she cooks – boy, does she cook, just like her mama, grand trays of finger foods that are healthful yet delicious. What a combo: healthful yet delicious. It’s like being swarthy yet fair, or furry yet bald, anti-tandems you thought previously impossible.
“When’s the next party?” I keep asking.
“Tuesday, Dad,” she says.
“OK, I’ll bring the Cheez Whiz.”
So one kid down, a mere three more to go.
I miss the lovely and patient older daughter. Much of her college debris still resides in the corner of the basement, undergoing exponential decay, like dinosaur bones. Fortunately, the half-life of leftover college carbon is only 5,730 years.
But as is her way, she left behind a little token of her love, a beagle she acquired in college but then couldn’t care for. He is a handsome beast, of such girth and proportion that he could serve as ballast in a Category 5 hurricane. He could stabilize the house, pin it to the Earth in a way that would defy 170 mph winds, or tsunamis or Japanese freighters pounding up the front porch.
Not sure where he falls in birth order, but the beagle thinks he runs things too.
The big dog’s only saving grace is that he’s a fully trained physician. In times of illness, he’ll slide in next to you on the couch and warm your leg or hip. Then he’ll scooch over the way dogs do and appropriate a little more … a little more … till he’s taking up way too much of the couch.
Soon he’s got most of it, and you’re fetal-curled into a corner, digging in all the cushions to find the remote, wondering if he might’ve snorted the darn thing. If you fall asleep, he will then stand on your chest like a drunk on a trampoline.
“He’s my legacy, Dad,” the older daughter explains with a smirk.
“I’m claiming him on my taxes,” I say.
Under the custody agreement, the older daughter still pays for all the beagle’s vet bills – Posh and I held out on that. We’re stuck with pretty much everything else (to the tune of about $300 a year), including the 5 a.m. wake-up calls to go out.
So while I lost a daughter, I gained this voracious pig-dog.
I felt scammed, then resigned to it, the way you come to accept a cable bill you’ll never fully decipher.
It’s also another reminder that being a parent is an endurance test. And that our children are forever with us. Sometimes even more so after they go.