5 things about college kids coming home

This is my sixth year of kids coming and going from out-of-state colleges. We are NOT the people whose kids come home at Thanksgiving, Christmas, and summer break. I mean yes, of course, they are home those times. But with Southwest miles on our side, we bring our kids home all the damn time. It’s how we do college, perhaps stemming from the fact that my husband and I both went to college within close driving distance of our hometown.

Some of their visits are super short — Friday night to Sunday. Our youngest was home this past weekend for 44 hours, a tight schedule for someone whose presence is requested by his parents, his brother, his grandma, multiple friends, and, of course, his dog. He can sleep at Thanksgiving.

Percentage-wise, I think the time spent, emotions, and truths of this 44-hour visit mirror any visit of any length. This is what I have learned about said visits since our oldest son first came home Thanksgiving of 2015.

1. I prepare for myself … and pretend I’m preparing for him.

At 3:30 pm last Friday, my husband called to say he was getting off work early (because traffic gets so bad here during Texas-OU weekend that bankers go home). He was heading to his mom’s to do a few things.

Me: “Can you come by first because we need to hang a few things.”

Clyde: “Now?”

Me: “Yes.”

Clyde: “In Sawyer’s room?”

Me: “No in your office. And also in the bathroom.”

It is nonsensical but I have deadlines and lists and just before something happens, the flurry of deadlines and lists get done. So it makes perfect sense to me that at 3:30 on Friday, I would need to hang pictures we’ve had since August before Sawyer’s flight lands at 10 pm. Oh, also a new shower curtain. URGENT.

Sawyer also had new linens and, of course, his room is has been organized and tidied up since he left it post-Hurricane Ida (I intentionally use the passive voice so as not to accept that yes, I did clean his room). The house looked fantastic.

Sawyer’s flight was late. We picked him up at the airport, he walked in the door, dropped his duffle bag in the entryway, fully embraced his dog, a friend picked him up, and he slept at his brother’s apartment. He spent 3 minutes the next morning in his lovely room and slept there the last night. He never stepped into Clyde’s office and likely didn’t notice the new shower curtain or bathroom art.

I wanted things organized because I want him to feel loved and I want to focus on him (and not the unhung art and ugly shower curtain of the past). Preparing for his arrival is how I show love. I don’t think that’s how he feels love, though, so I include hugs, grace, and his favorite pork buns with the new linens.

2. You are not their priority. But then, for a minute, you are.

I saw Sawyer on the 20-minute drive home on Friday (a friend picked him up within 10 minutes), during a 10-minute drive to the Texas-OU game on Saturday, during a 30-minute dinner on Sunday, and the 20-minute drive back to the airport after that dinner.

And for a one-hour trip Sawyer suggested to the Farmers Market Sunday morning.

He woke up in time for it after a late night. I was up and ready, and if he’d slept through it, all would be forgiven. But he didn’t.

Now, this was a 44-hour trip. But I would say this generally is how it goes. There is family time. If magic happens, there is one-on-one time with Clyde or me, there is grandparent time, there is brother time. And there is what he is mostly here for: Friend time.

I read once that the creators of Friends ended it when they did because the characters were moving on with their own families. The period “when friends are family” was coming to an end.

I lived that time. You lived that time. And now Sawyer and Noah are living that time. It is our job to be respectful of that.

And to smile and take pumpkin patch selfies when we are in their focus, for however long it lasts.

3. It our job to show delight, not guilt.

This is simple. Yet time with our adult kids can bring out my inner Jewish/Catholic mom guilt. And I am Methodist so there is no place for that.

Read #2.

4. It is still normal life.

You have work. You have responsibilities. You have non-offspring plans. And that’s all OK.

This trip was centered around the Texas-OU game because, again, Texas football. So fun was had. Memories were made. Not with me because I don’t do crowds and heat so I went to see Tabitha Brown with a friend. And that’s OK.

Every moment doesn’t have to be precious. Even at Thanksgiving. Even at Christmas. Even on summer vacation. This is just life. They still need to pick up their underwear off the bathroom floor. You can still handle your deadlines (again, see #2). I might want to spend four hours making Sawyer’s favorite dinner … or we might stop at the corner taco stand because they don’t have good tacos in New Orleans — AND HE WILL BE JUST AS HAPPY.

5. They will leave. And they will come back.

Whether it’s 44 hours or four weeks (Lord help us with that endless winter break), they will pull out of the driveway or you will drop them off at the airport.

Maybe you’ll tear up. Maybe you won’t. Maybe they were a pain in the ass while they were home. Maybe you were. Maybe it WAS precious. But as soon as they walk away, you miss them. You might not want them back immediately … but you miss them (add that to the list of crazy things that are the reality of parenting FOREVER).

And here’s the truth: You want them to want to leave. You want them to be happy to be home, too. And then you want them to be happy to walk back toward their current and future life.

And then next time, all of this will happen again. The coming and the going is the never-ending circle of parenting “adults.” Be delighted in it.


About Dawn McMullan

Dawn McMullan is a freelance writer/editor in Dallas, Texas. Her two sons are now 21 and 24, Sawyer in college and Noah starting his post-college career, and both interrupted empty nesting during the pandemic. Dawn helps run a non-profit in Eastern Congo and is senior editor at the International News Media Association.
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