Disclaimer: I am going to speak for everyone with grown children in the post which follows. I shouldn't. But I had to choose between being a know-it-all or starting every paragraph with the passive, more sensitive "It's been my experience" and that will just make you tired. Herewith...
It's been about nine months since many of us dropped off a college freshman, then went home to store seasonal clothes, books, and extra linen in their rooms. By now, many of us are meeting the people they became in this near year apart.
Few things change a young adult like the first year in college.
You catch glimpses of it during the holidays, when they're home for the first time since the drop off. Something's different. You're not quite sure what "it" is but you know it wasn't there before. They're a little wistful. They hug you more. They smile easily. They seem peaceful. They keep you company when you're cooking and come into the living room where you're reading and say, "So, what's up?"
Eventually you realize that the "it" is not a passing mood, but maturity. Not maturity in the wash-their-own-clothes and make-their-own-meals sense. Maturity in that, by now they have chosen to perform beyond their own expectations, or screw up magnificently, but have lived with the outcomes. Some that were affirming, others that led to consequences that you will learn about over some Thanksgiving dinner many years from now.
It can be an awkward little dance we do at the start of this first summer back at home. We don't want to enforce curfews or nag them to eat better or tell them when to get up. We're not those parents anymore. We're more like the aunt and uncle they were always particularly fond of. Encouraging, supportive and special like parents, but no longer the factor in their decision making that we used to be.
They don't need rules but they may want advice. They look at us when we're speaking. They disagree with tact, even humor. They respect our space and our changed lives. And, they answer to themselves; not to flaunt their new authority over their choices, but because they know more about the cause and effect of choice.
There was always a unique and fleeting moment in the reorientation to our children, after they traveled away, grew up and came back and it was in observing them as others might. The ones who didn't actually raise them.
You know them well, you love them like you always did, you're still as proud of what they've achieved. But in that moment, you realize who they have chosen to become, and what they expect to achieve - under their own influence.
There is a certain equality that we approach with our children after they leave for college, and all of us have had a chance to stretch our lives, broaden our roles, pursue new projects. We see what they've accomplished ,with nobody clicking on the lights, opening the shade and saying "time to get up." They begin to notice what we do that has nothing to do with parenting.
"Update your blog," said my daughter recently.
"Where are you on the novel?" asked my son a month ago.
It's lovely, surprising, and a little poetic the way our children come into our lives a new person, for the second time, after only nine months.
It's kind of magical.
Welcome back, kids.