by Jane Parent
Only a few days until Thanksgiving! Hey college freshmen – are you looking forward to your first trip back home since college life began? You’re probably thinking of how excited the dog will be to see you, the delicious meals your mom will prepare, the ecstatic welcome by your lonely and forlorn parents back into the family fold. Think your parents have been literally sitting there waiting for you to come home? You may be in for a surprise. While you’ve been gone, your family has spread out to absorb the space you vacated, literally and figuratively. Your parents have undergone some changes, too, that you may be surprised to see. What kind of parents will greet you when you return home for Thanksgiving?
Partiers. You remember your parents in their pajamas at seven o’clock at night, watching Netflix at home, puttering around in the yard on the weekends, and generally leading pretty boring lives. They’ve been let loose. Since when do they go out on Tuesday night, or go to Vegas with friends? Now there is a fully stocked bar in the living room, as if they’re not even trying to hide the booze anymore. They have new friends they met at social functions for grownups, not solely through carpooling or from sitting next to other parents on freezing bleachers watching their kids’ sports.
They swear. They’re not even trying to set a good example for you anymore. The burden of being responsible, mature, and prudent all the time is somehow gone. That’s right, freshman – that burden was YOU.
Health Nuts. Your first clue that something is very different will be opening up the cupboards in the kitchen that used to hold your favorite snacks – the Doritos, Poptarts, peanut butter Oreos. Now there’s nothing in there but dried apricots, kale chips, and a protein bar. That’s right, mom and dad don’t keep that crap in the house anymore. They have a new hobby, and it’s being healthy. And instead of spending two hours making home cooked dinner with vegetables every night, mom and dad go to the gym. They don’t miss cooking for you, not one little bit, so you’re on your own. It’s as if your childhood has ended because they no longer feel it is important to show they love you by having your favorite foods in the house. They talk a lot about carbs and protein. All those years when you said things like “Spaghetti again?” you actually had it pretty good.
Smotherers. They’ve missed you so much. These parents can’t wait for you to come home so they can lavish attention on you. They are parked outside your dorm before your last class even ends, waiting with hungry eyes to collect their precious child after two long months’ anxious separation.
They can’t wait to spend every minute of Thanksgiving break with you, touching your hair, smiling fondly at you while listening intently as you talk about each and every new experience you’re having in college. They want to know every detail. Don’t even think about going out with your high school friends over break – you will break their hearts. Mom will cry when you leave, even though you’ll be home again in three weeks.
Young Again. They are people with first names again, instead of just being “Mom and Dad.” They have interests and hobbies entirely unrelated to children, do fun things, go to concerts, take spontaneous trips. They seem to be a lot more relaxed. When they ask about your college classes, you get the distinct impression that they are merely being polite – they don’t care about your college midterms nearly as intensely as they did in high school. The weight of kicking your butt out of bed every morning, arguing with you about bedtime, imploring you to work on your college essay, nagging you to take out the trash – it’s been lifted from their shoulders. They look and act twenty years younger. They also seem to be a lot more chill parents to your younger brother or sister who’s still at home than they were with you – that’s gonna really annoy you. The freshman who comes home to discover these parents will be surprised and a little dismayed to learn that instead of sitting home sad and disconsolate that you are no longer home, they seem to be kinda enjoying your absence.
Your Roommate’s Parents. College is too far away to go home just for three days, so you will spend the holiday with your roommate or friend who generously invites you home with them. At first, spending Thanksgiving away from home for the first time ever will seem like such a sophisticated, adult thing to do. Other people’s parents are so much cooler than yours. But after a few hours, you will miss your mom’s crab dip and your own house filling with delicious familiar smells. Your roommate’s mom is a terrible cook. His dad doesn’t know anything about football. And other people’s weird aunts and uncles aren’t nearly as endearing. They forget to put the turkey in and dinner won’t be ready until ten at night. Spending a holiday with someone else’s parents will make you appreciate your own like you never have before. You’re so homesick, you actually call your mother.
What’s that saying – you can’t go home again? Sure you can. But while you’ve been gone, mom and dad have changed a little, too. And it’s okay. You’re going to like your new parents, too.
Jane Parent is senior editor of Your Teen.