Bill Kirby

Online news editor for The Augusta Chronicle.

College student tends to grow up despite our discouragement

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You can never plan the future by the past.

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Edmund Burke

Our son has returned from his first year of college. Everything went well away at school. Grades were excellent. Education was achieved. Friends were made. His future’s focus is somewhat more clear.

But now he’s back, and we’re not sure what to do with him.

The once-empty nest is crowded again. Shoulders bump in the hallway. The washer and dryer have been operating overtime, the refrigerator seems more empty. The shower’s hot water doesn’t last as long.

Other parents have told us about this odd phenomenon of a child who returns from time away.

You have a young adult who has been navigating unprecedented independence for the past nine months back in his old bedroom, sleeping in his old bed and looking at the old walls still displaying middle school team pictures and high school posters.

OK, he probably doesn’t look at the walls that much because he’s not exactly hanging around.

He’s spent much of the past few days revisiting his old friends – a late-night bunch.

This has meant that his aging parents are getting ready for bed just as he’s heading out for the evening. The parents, who have spent most of the past year not directly worrying before they fall asleep each night are back on Anxiety Watch. A new Worry Threshold is negotiated:

“Be home by 11:30?” one will ask him.

“I was thinking 1,” he answers.

“What about midnight?”

“12:30?”

“OK.”

“But I’ll call if I’m going to be later.”

“Text us,” another parent adds.

We know he’ll be OK, because he always has been careful, and despite his months of absence he’s basically still the same.

But he’s also different.

He’s physically bigger. He has facial hair. He consumes coffee at a staggering pace.

There’s something else.

He seems more aware of what’s going on in the world. He’s more likely to question opinions or suggestions or directions of the two older people who still live in the house in which he grew up.

It is the same house to which they brought him home from the hospital almost two decades ago.

The same house in which he’s spent every Christmas and held every birthday party.

The same house whose walls still bear the occasional mark of a 5-year-old’s carelessness or a 17-year-old’s errant golf swing.

The same parents still live there.

They are the ones who stick a head in a bedroom door for a moment each morning just to watch him sleep, wishing he’d never go away again but knowing that he will.


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