A child's first visit home from college can be a bittersweet
time for parents, often marked by feelings of sentimentality,
nostalgia and, of course, terror.
"Dave, wake up!" whispered my wife. "I smell something
"Shhh! Something's burning."
"Why are you whispering? If it's a fire, you don't whisper. If
it's burglars, then you whisper."
"Go downstairs and check!"
"Me? What if it is burglars?"
"Then take the dogs."
"I hate to wake them. They look so comfortable."
Without the dogs, but armed with a glass of water to fight the
fire, I snuck down to the kitchen where I found my college-aged
son, Russell, scraping the burned remains of a pizza from an oven
"Hi Dad! Hey, thanks for the water. I just drank the last of the
"Russ, didn't you have dinner?"
"Yeah, a couple of times. Just thought I'd cook up a midnight
"It hasn't been midnight in this hemisphere for hours."
"Good one, Dad. Say, I didn't wake you, did I? I tried to keep
quiet. I didn't even set the oven timer."
"That would explain the smoking fossil fragments on your plate.
Do you eat like this at college?"
"Certainly not, Dad! I went to college to study!"
"Good one, Russ."
The poor quality of dormitory food often leads the list of
complaints voiced by college students on their first visits home.
Colleges, of course, staunchly defend their food programs,
explaining that tuition is carefully divided between providing
nutritious meals, comfortable student residences and superior
Good one, colleges.
A child's transition from college life to home life can be
stressful for parents who may begin noticing changes in their
child's behavior similar to those exhibited by the townspeople in
the movie "Invasion of the Body Snatchers." This is perfectly
normal. Remain calm. Return to your homes. Await further
College is a time of independence and responsibility for young
people. Thus it is not surprising to see a child who went off to
school an insecure, selfish and demanding teenager return home a
few months later as a secure, selfish and demanding adult lugging a
huge bag of laundry. A first semester at college exposes children
to new ideas that challenge and mold their opinions so that they
will mature into fully responsible citizens. The challenge for
parents then is to help kindle the flame of their children's
confidence while simultaneously forcing them to By God, Live by My
Rules Under My Roof, and Like It!
SENSITIVE TUITION-PAYING FATHER: "How are your political science
classes going, Honey? What are you studying?"
DAUGHTER: "The fall of the Soviet Union, Dad. You see the Soviet
economy had long-term problems because of its lack of integration
into the world economy."
SENSITIVE TUITION-PAYING FATHER: "Uh-huh, Uh-huh. Right!"
DAUGHTER: "In essence, a rigid command structure of economic
decision-making made the Soviet economy structurally weak and
SENSITIVE TUITION-PAYING FATHER: "And the Soviet daughters, when
they went out for the evening with their Soviet friends, did they
fill their Soviet dad's car with gas?"
DAUGHTER: "What do you mean?"
SENSITIVE TUITION-PAYING FATHER: "Did they fill the car, or did
they leave that chore for their poor Soviet Dad to do the next
morning on his way to the borscht factory? Because that's really
why Communism failed."
DAUGHTER: "Good one, Dad."
In establishing house rules by which you and your child can
coexist during their brief visits, it is important that he
understand that your home is not to be treated like a dorm. For
example, remind him not to damage the walls of his room when
mounting posters. If he doesn't comply, refuse to refund his damage
deposit. Also, resist bowing to his demands that his bedroom be
reclassified as an "open coed floor."
College students are usually of an age where legal curfews no
longer apply. However, parents still worry when their child stays
out too late. Try to reach a compromise with your child by having
him agree to always tell you where he is going, unless it's
someplace that you don't want to know.
When college students visit home they tend to become-and I say
this with the utmost respect for young adults everywhere-lazy,
conniving parasites incapable of lifting so much as a finger to
help with daily chores. That's why I became so irritated when I
found my wife loading Russell's dishes into the dishwasher.
"It's no big deal, Dave. Russell said he was busy."
"Busy doing what? We're out of chips."
"Go ask him. He's in the basement."
I stormed down the stairs and found Russell in the utility room
methodically folding a basket of family laundry like some
townsperson in "Invasion of the Body Snatchers."
"I'm almost done with these, Dad. Then I'll take care of the
towels and bed linens."
"Who are you?" I asked. "And what have you done with
"Good one, Dad."
Dave Jaffe, Chicago Parent's humor columnist, lives in Deerfield
with his wife, two sons, and one or two dogs.
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