Thanksgiving break: two words that make most parents sit up and look alert for the first time in months. A long weekend (or if you’re lucky, a full week) for your heart to once again feel whole. A moment—or twenty—to grab your baby girl or boy and give them the never-ending hug you’ve been feeling and planning in your mind since you dropped them off, all those giant red X-ed calendar squares ago.
You see, this isn’t my first time to this rodeo. My daughter is a sophomore. I’ve lived the whole “cram as much as you can into the time you are given” mentality of her breaks now for over a year. And while it doesn’t get easier, there is something I’ve learned.
Cramming as much as you can into the time you are given isn’t a mentality that only applies to her breaks, it’s one that I’ve come to realize applies to every day, no matter if she’s home from college or not. And perhaps most importantly, the “as much as you can” part doesn’t need to be anything more than a conscious effort to be present and to appreciate the moment, whatever it is. I know it’s not a revolutionary idea by any means, but it is one that is easy to forget, and is something that college has helped me to remember. (Guess that tuition money is getting spread further than originally thought.)
And with my daughter’s break a mere days away, I’m in full-on panic mode—and by “panic” I mean out-of-my-mind excited.
I’ve been making lists for weeks. I have lists of things I need to do before she arrives (get out
find the Christmas decorations; wash the sheets on her bed that my snoring husband has been kicked to most nights since she left; put all the clothes her sister has worn without her knowledge back in her closet), lists of her favorite snacks to buy (who cares if strawberries cost the same as a side of beef?), and lists with menus for meals I know I won’t have time to make, which I don’t really care about anyway.
Because, you see, there’s a list I’ve made that is far more important than the others. A list of the things I plan to do with my daughter while she’s home. A list of things that will begin as soon as she steps off that bus.
• Cry. Obviously.
• Offer her food.
• Decorate the Christmas tree.
• Take the Christmas card picture.
• Try not to yell when taking the Christmas card picture.
• Go to dinner at her favorite restaurant.
• Go Christmas shopping.
• Make her favorite meal.
• Buy her lunch.
• Buy her socks. She always needs socks.
• Offer her more food.
• Spend a lazy morning at home drinking coffee and catching up.
• Watch Elf.
• Stare at her.
• Try not to freak her out by staring at her.
• Ditto for smelling her.
• Make cookies together.
• Eat cookies together.
• Go to Target and wander the holiday aisles with a bag of popcorn.
• Stay up late bingeing on Gilmore Girls.
• Offer food. Again.
• Watch her pet her cat.
• Remember to share her with her sister.
• And her high school friends.
• And her father.
• Hold every hug an extra second … or ten.
Sure, this list might sound aggressive for only having three full days together, but after three months apart from their child, I’m not sure anyone should challenge the fortitude of a mother. And while some of the items may seem frivolous, it’s their very trivialness that I will devour like a subway rat. Washing and folding the 37 random socks that will spill out of her suitcase and picking up the 15 empty glasses that she’ll manage to leave on every surface in the house in her three short days home will be tasks I’ll uncharacteristically welcome. (Remind me about this again in December when she’s home for a month, will you?)
But other than the shopping, the constant eating, and the hours of staring, there’s another, unwritten item on my list that goes along with all the others: Be present.
[Related: Enlist the help of the family dog and other ways to stay connected while your family grows apart.]
While it’s true we’ve spent the past 12 weeks texting, talking, and FaceTiming on a regular basis, having her in front of me—in the flesh—isn’t something I’ll take for granted, and is something I will remember to soak in and appreciate, regardless of where we are or what we’re doing. Because suddenly I will blink and the long weekend will be over. She’ll be getting back on that bus and I’ll once again be in Countdown Mode—which is the title I’ve given our new normal around here.
So go to Target, bake some cookies, watch a favorite movie, or simply breathe in your child’s aura while they’re home on break; do whatever you need to do to truly enjoy the few days of real, pre-Apple face time you have together before you’re relegated back to screens. And don’t worry, if you get up in the middle of the night to stare at your sleeping child just like you used to do when he or she was an infant, I won’t tell.
Michelle Newman is a reformed stay-at-home mom of two teenage girls and lives in Minnesota, where she spends four months a year in hibernation and denial. Her work has been included in the New York Times bestseller “I Just Want To Pee Alone” as well as other humor anthologies and websites. She writes about her favorite television shows as a Community Contributor at EW.com, and about life and other distractions at youremyfavoritetoday.com. Follow along on Facebook.