It is fitting and proper that children should grow and find their way in the world and eventually strike out on their own.
But do they have to enjoy it quite so much?
My older son was home from college for much of December, following his first quarter at college.
At college, he is having the time of his life. He and his suitemates bonded instantly and have become fast friends who are already talking about sharing a house next year. They have movie night or game night just about every day (but only after an appropriate amount of studying, he assures us).
We tried to make the old home seem as welcoming as possible when he returned around the middle of the month, tricking out the house in Christmas gear with unusual determination since he loves holidays of all kinds. We had a bucket list of favorite restaurants he wanted to visit and we made a point of seeing “Star Wars” at the Cameo Cinema, even though he and his friends had attended opening night at college.
He was warm and funny throughout the holiday, but he kept a subtle eye on his phone. Eventually it emerged he was tracking the exploits of his suitemates from Southern California, who had met up and were having a tremendous time together, including going to a Lady Gaga concert together.
Even lunch at his beloved Sushi Mambo couldn’t measure up to that, apparently.
One weekend morning, as my wife and I were waking up, we heard him rustling around in the living room for a while. Then we heard the front door close.
“Did he just leave?” my wife asked incredulously.
“Sounds like it,” I said.
We thought about that for a while.
“He doesn’t have to tell us where he’s going anymore,” my wife concluded forlornly.
He arrived home a week or so ahead of his best friends from high school and once they were home, he spent a great deal of time going to movies and having fun with them.
It was great for us to have him home, even if his mind was half elsewhere. Even his little brother seemed happy to have someone to talk video games with, and the conflicts over space and living arrangements that we had feared turned out to be rather mild and ritualized.
About halfway through the break, I asked my older son, “Having fun or ready to back?”
He smiled and laughed gently. “I’m pretty much ready to go back,” he said, half apologetically.
On the last Thursday he was home, two days before I was to drop him off, I got home to find him in his favorite chair, deeply immersed in a new video game he had gotten for Christmas.
“Have a good day?” I asked him, just like I had done pretty much every day for the past few years. “Do anything interesting?”
“Not really,” he said. “I got all packed up.”
I knew he was ready to go.
As I have mentioned here before, I am usually quite aggressive in putting away Christmas decorations, often on the first or second of January. But this year my wife asked me to give them a reprieve for a week so they could stay up until our son headed back to college.
I dropped him off on Saturday, then on Sunday I began pulling out the boxes to stow the decorations. I didn’t attack the task with my usual enthusiasm, however.
As I carefully put away the delicate ornaments and other items, I felt like I wasn’t just putting away Christmas; I was putting away an era in all our lives.