By Ana Veciana-Suarez

I believe in miracles, in sobering transformations and life-changing experiences. But maybe I've been reading too much fiction.

Consider my latest encounter with reality: A few months ago I sent off an 18-year-old who needed some -- how can I best put this? -- real world experience. Now he has returned, for the holidays, a 19-year-old with "college dorm" experience. Which is to say he has acquired some interesting habits -- gratitude, helpfulness and maturity not necessarily among them.

How do I know this? Let me give you a recent example, one I suspect will sound familiar to parents of college-age children who have returned to their old bedrooms and old ways.

"It's Sunday night, Benno," I said. "Take out the trash, will you?"

"That's not my chore anymore," he whined. "It's Nick's now."

"Not when you're home."

A scowl. A smirk. A look of genuine shock.

"That's not fair."

Which, of course, elicited my favorite bon mot for such occasions: "Life, Benno, is not fair."

We love having our children home, don't we? We love the boisterous chaos they bring, the reconnection with their childhood friends, the baking and cooking of favorite foods that even the best meal plan can't duplicate. But ... but ...

How can they sleep away the entire morning?

Do they expect to be served meals at all hours of the day?

Do they still think I'm their maid?

And, really, shouldn't they be spending more time with us instead of their crew?

Experience with my older children has taught me that compromise and a few firm rules are the best approach to the transition from no-curfew, let-it-all-hang-out, coed college living to the old strictures of home. In other words, I don't expect them to hang around every night, but I do demand they call if they're not going to be home for dinner.

Still, it's a tricky transition, exacerbated by the length of stay. At Thanksgiving, it seemed they were in and out in a flash. But Christmas break lasts weeks.

In better economic times, my older kids were able to land seasonal jobs that imposed a modicum of structure on their days. This year, the only important events on my college student's holiday calendar are the impromptu parties friends throw practically every night. (I am amazed at how quickly they can organize themselves when they want something.)

"What do you do all day while I'm at work?" a friend demanded of her college-freshman daughter.

I know what she does: sleep, eat, text, talk on the phone, watch reruns. I have heard that some returning young adults start dinner and even dust and vacuum, but I am not personally acquainted with any.

I've given my son and his younger brother a holiday project: clean out their closets and sort through the drawers. Simple and straightforward, right? But it seems that young men who can master dense mathematical theories are flummoxed by the idea of separating clothing items into piles.

Not all is lost, though. A semester of college has seasoned my son in some ways. Not only has he graduated from baking frozen pizza to cooking pasta for a snack but has learned when dress shoes, not sneakers, are required. In a pinch, he can also iron.

I think, I hope, that means he's headed in the right direction.


Parenting - Chaos Reigns When Your Kids Come Home from College