At the end of last summer when my college son, Jake, pulled out of our driveway to go back to school, I thought I would be fine. After all, he had a year of college behind him. The hard part was over. But as he waved a causal goodbye, I was suddenly and unexpectedly overwhelmed with a heavy sadness, a renewed sense of loss.
Had we just spent our last summer together? Would he ever spend that much time with us again? Was that the last time he would ever live with us and be a day-to-day part of our family? The thought of never again having him with us for more than a few days was crushing…
On the other hand, the summer hadn’t exactly been a cake walk.
It had only taken two semesters away from home for Jake to get very used to living on his own. And he clearly liked it. Living under our roof again and following (at least some of) our rules had been an adjustment – for all of us.
Apparently sharing space with two parents and three siblings is somehow way more invasive and decidedly more frustrating than living in a fraternity house with a hundred other guys. In two short semesters our family had become too noisy, too nosey, and too accustomed to sitting on the couch that Jake liked having all to himself. No, last summer wasn’t always easy, but I loved having Jake home. After all, he’s my little boy.
And as it turns out all my worries about never having him live under our roof again were unfounded. He recently found out that for the coming summer he has an internship with a local company. So he will be coming home. For the whole summer. To live with us.
Yaaaaayyyy! (I think.)
[More about the theory of “my house, my rules” here.]
If last summer was an adjustment, this summer will surely prove to be an even bigger challenge. This school year Jake moved out of his fraternity house and has been living alone in an apartment – with his new dog, Duke.
Can he make the transition from solitary living to living with a large family again? Can we?
This is the question I’ve been asking myself since my parents offered to let Jake live in one of their empty rental properties for the summer. When my father first suggested Jake take up residence in one of their newly vacated houses, I was horrified. Why would he want to do that? He’ll be all alone? Won’t that be lonely? And why would we want him across town when he could be here with us?
But the more I’ve thought about it (and it pains me to say this), the more appealing the idea is. Sure I’ll miss having coffee with him every morning. But I won’t miss him yelling at the younger kids to hurry up in the bathroom. Yes, I’ll miss seeing him when he comes in at night. But I won’t miss waiting up for him – something I still can’t seem to stop doing. I also won’t miss having him around all the time because I know from experience that he won’t be. I won’t miss always knowing where he’s going and what he’s doing because I know from experience that he won’t always tell me. In other words, having Jake live across town and having him live under our roof might not be all that different. Either way, I won’t see that much of him. Either way I won’t always know what he’s up too.
[More about college kids coming home for a school break or a summer here.]
Still, it’s one thing for him not to come home for the summer. It’s another for him to come home and to choose not to live with us. Even worse, he doesn’t know about his grandparents’ offer yet. He won’t know unless I tell him. He won’t live across town this summer unless I choose for him to live across town. And I might.
I might decide to let my younger son keep sleeping in his big brother’s much bigger room. I might decide not to worry and wonder and fret because it’s 2:00 a.m., and Jake isn’t home. I might decide I like doing less laundry and picking up fewer wet towels off the floor and not always running out of salsa. And although I love Duke like one of my own, I might decide I don’t want a fourth dog.
But no, I don’t want Jake to live someplace else because for all the adjusting and readjusting we have to do when he’s home, we love having him here. We love hanging out and lingering over dinner and talking and laughing and being a whole family again.
But the thing is, Jake already does live someplace else. He has lived in his own apartment for the last nine months. He’s already gone. Insisting he stay under our roof this summer, when I know he would be happier in his own place, won’t change that. Sure it will give me a few extra weeks with him – weeks that despite the fighting and the laundry and the extra groceries, I would dearly love. But it won’t turn back the clock. It won’t take away the two years he has spent learning to do things his own way and learning to be independent. Living with us this summer won’t make Jake my little boy again, but living on his own might make for a more pleasant summer for all of us. And besides, I’m pretty sure he’ll still be coming by for dinner.
Dear Parent of Newly Admitted College Student
Photo credit: Jesper Yu