Disclaimer: After redacting a huge portion of this essay, I received final approval from Girl to publish it tonight. Just kidding. Sort of.
I can’t believe Girl is home for the summer after completing her first year of college. Can you? I so clearly remember last summer, shopping for her college dorm crap, breaking into a cold sweat and having a semi-nervous breakdown right smack in the middle of Bed Bath and Beyond, unable to wrap my brain around our impending goodbye. But just look at us now. We did it. SHE DID IT. She spent the year in Massachusetts doing her own thing, discovering new passions, reaching beyond her comfort zone, making new friends, getting her work done and doing it well, taking care of herself in ways she never had. And she loved every minute of it, which made things significantly easier for me. I really appreciated that so much. Ha.
Don’t misunderstand, I missed her like crazy around here this year, but the joy and fulfillment she clearly experienced while living her life at school made waiting to have her home again bearable. In some ways, we talked more while she was gone than we did before she left because she texted me regularly, usually late at night, about her goings-ons. Some of our best conversations happened that way, long and winding epics, and I SAVED THEM ALL. I’m not kidding.
Interestingly enough, I quickly adjusted to NOT having to stay on top of her bazillion details. It freed up a good bit of my mental energy. I didn’t worry about her safety 24/7 like I thought I would either – ok, I did, but only for the first month or so – maybe because she was on a small campus without a car, maybe because she didn’t block me on social media and so I stalked her a little, but still. It’s true I was plenty busy with Boy, but mostly I think I came to accept that it was Girl’s turn to take the wheel and my turn to let go a little. And she did. I did. Except for the time she traveled via public transportation from downtown Boston back to school at night. Alone. I went batshit crazy about that one and made her promise never to do it again. I won’t bore you with the details of the *debate* we had about it, but just know I won. Is that wrong? I have no idea, but if its wrong, I DON’T WANT TO BE RIGHT.
And now she’s home. For the whole summer. Back under our roof. Which leads me to ask this very important question: can someone please explain to me why an “adult” child returning to her parents’ home instantly reverts back to the developmental stage formerly known as high school AND still insists on being considered an adult? And what exactly are we supposed to DO about it so our relationship is preserved in the process? Is she still a kid? Is she an adult? Or is she a hybrid of some sort and if so, how does she work? Where is the instruction manual? Perspiring minds want to know.
Our first few days all back together under the same roof were a tangled mess of happy reunion and WHO ARE YOU and how do we fit together? Family meals, our trademark intense conversations and a few spirited games of UNO helped us get our groove back, mostly.
Of course, the piles of crap Girl had at school came back into our house to be stored for the summer. She kept an immaculate dorm room at school, everything in its place. She got home and that sense of order she’d created for herself went right out the window. We successfully negotiated one pile of crap going up to her room and the other pile – crap she wouldn’t need until the fall – going to the guest room, but negotiations fell apart when I tried to get her to unpack the crap pile in her room. And so there it sat like a big fat screw you until I set a deadline for it to get done about two weeks later. I have no idea if I was justified in drawing that line in the sand but it was messing with my psychology, and closing her door so I couldn’t see the mess had ceased working for me.
She brought home a bunch of dirty laundry too and I told her I’d do it for her as a welcome home bonus, but after that she’d be on her own. I washed, dried, folded her clothes just like I did in the old days and then it sat there in the laundry room for a week until I made her take what was left of it upstairs, after she’d clearly been rummaging through it to take what she needed one item at a time. And now the clothes are in piles on her bedroom floor. Maybe that’s where her migraine PREVENTION medication was hiding, the one she didn’t take for a few days because she couldn’t find it. Who needs prevention anyway, because, like she said, her headaches are CURED.
After she caught up on some sleep, Girl was thrilled to begin catching up with her high school friends. Obviously, this involved driving her car. Actually it’s OUR car and we’re generous enough to provide it for her use. We’re very supportive of her social life, we want her to thoroughly enjoy this time in her life and we tell her so constantly. She’s a really responsible kid for the most part, we’re lucky. But she was pissed to learn we were imposing a 1am driving curfew, with some latitude in certain circumstances. We’re doing it because NO ONE needs to be driving later than that, am I right? It’s not because we don’t trust her, its because we don’t trust the increasing number of drunken crazies out on the road as the hour grows later and later and later. Is that too controlling? I have no idea.
Last week she stayed out until well past midnight most nights and on the others, she ended up staying over at friends’ houses to bypass the 1am driving guideline , I guess. I was delirious from exhaustion, waiting up for her to come in for the night or waiting to hear if she was coming home at all. Or if she was stranded OR WORSE on the side of the road. I hate when I don’t know the rules and even though we tried to set some reasonable rules – are they reasonable? – it feels like there are NO RULES. It’s fine for there to be no rules while she’s doing her own thing at school where she’s on campus without a car and when I don’t expect her to come home at night, but I need rules when she’s here. Is that wrong? I have no freaking idea.
She went into this whole spiel about kids not thinking the way I do, plans are fluid, she needs the freedom to go with the flow and don’t forget, SHE IS 18, she knows how to take care of herself. The mere suggestion of a curfew is offensive. And so limiting. Nobody else’s parents are giving out driving curfews to their college kids. Ah, and there it is. Ok, fine, well nobody else’s kid lets her cell phone die repeatedly, including during a severe thunderstorm and flash flood warning while she’s out on the road, her mother frantically trying to reach her to tell her of road closures.
Girl has obviously savored her first taste of real independence and she wants more, not less, freedom. I don’t blame her at all for being annoyed with us as we figure out how to parent a college hybrid, and for having us back in her business now that she’s home. But too bad. I found myself having to explain a few things to her about sharing a home as opposed to, you know, A FLOP HOUSE. I explained that when people live together, they inform one another of their plans, they keep in touch, it’s just common courtesy. Helps with dinner planning and knowing when to call the police too. Additionally, they clean the egg drippings off of the stove after they make their breakfast. She may be a legal adult, but she’s still our dependent child. Things will be different when she’s a little older and out on her own with a full time J-O-B, but for now, when she’s home with her family, this is just the way it is until we decide otherwise or until we get a grip, whichever comes first.
When it appeared she was not hearing my requests to keep us informed on a very basic level, I pulled THE CAR CARD. Is that wrong? I have no idea, I’ve never had an 18 year old college hybrid before, but I reminded her that the car and the insurance are MINE and so oh-yes-you-will let me know your plans and when to expect your return. And you will keep your phone on and charged. She finally heard me, she apologized and also asked to be extended some grace as she adjusts to her new summer reality. Fair enough.
And then she does stuff like sets her alarm for 7am so she can play Club Penguin with her brother before he goes to school and makes spending time with her grandparents a priority and I’m sitting here dazed and confused and grateful.
Anyway, I’m hoping some of this late night terror will ease up next week once she starts her summer job as a day camp counselor. She’ll be too tired to run the streets all hours of the night, right? God, I hope so because I’m exhausted.
When Girl was in high school, I became increasingly weary from yelling for her when she was locked away in her room. It represented the feelings I frequently have as a mother, so eloquently captured in the words of one of my Listen To Your Mother cast mates, “everybody talks to me and nobody listens.” So I finally did something about it this week as I continue to stumble my way through mothering a college girl home for the summer. I went out and purchased a righteous parenting tool called a BULL HORN that will put an end to all of this not listening bullshit once and for all. I took it out for a test run yesterday morning and used it to wake her up for her doctor’s appointment. Booyah.
Welcome home, kid. I’m thankful to be on this journey with you. Please be patient with me, ok? I’m still learning too.