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 burning."
"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 rack.
"Hi Dad! Hey, thanks for the water. I just drank the last of the pop."
"Russ, didn't you have dinner?"
"Yeah, a couple of times. Just thought I'd cook up a midnight snack."
"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 educational instruction.
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 instructions.
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 uncompetitive."
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 Russell?"
"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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