Where did my kids come from?

Renee James Contributor
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Last night, I thought about Cynthia Kaplan’s wonderful book, “Why I’m Like This,” while I helped two of my sons move home again, after a year away at college. I know everyone thinks about, talks about, writes about (I have) and dissects the “moving out” experience when young people head off to college. We spend almost no time examining their “moving back” experience. Now I know why.

Sure, parents talk about the challenges of trying to resurrect the curfew idea and hearing a few verses of the “I’ve been away for nine months; you’re not the boss of me” chorus, with the earliest versions starting around the Thanksgiving break. Okay, your kids don’t exactly say ‘the boss of me’ but that’s what they mean.

Our moving back experience provoked something different in me tonight. I talked with my sons while we folded, packed away, and examined the flotsam that somehow escaped the trash and found its way back home. As we waded through the debris, with great love and in the kindest way possible, I couldn’t help but think: Why are you like this? You’re so disorganized!

True story: Last summer, my sons and I shopped for bed and bath necessities. Each of them asked me why they needed so many sets of sheets. I pretended not to hear them but begged them to put reminders on their iTouch calendars to strip their beds and change their sheets. Last night, as we unpacked, I felt fairly confident at least one set of those sheets—maybe more than that, but I admit I’m in denial—had never left its storage bin.

Again: Why are you like this? You’re so clueless! Don’t you remember sleeping on clean sheets on a regular basis? Did we never make clear the joys of fresh bed linens? While they assured me they had definitely used all their sheets, I’m dubious; but willing to suspend my disbelief for the sake of my well-being. One of my sons did admit to sleeping twice on his mattress pad because he was just too tired to make the bed. What? On the mattress pad? Oh for…

The towels, on the other hand, were another story. They freely admitted that most of them went untouched. So much for fluffy, clean, fresh towels.

I bought boxes of tissues during our shopping trip and—I’m not kidding—each of them asked me why. I’ve always been a fan of direct answers to direct questions so I told them. They looked at me like I was delusional and informed me that using a tissue wasn’t something either of them imagined doing in the months ahead. I don’t really want to know what young men do instead of using tissues. I don’t. I bought them anyway and I’m thrilled to report I didn’t unpack them. Maybe they gave them to the girls on their floors.

Not every moment was disconcerting. As we hung up some clothes and tucked away others, as we stored the items they wouldn’t need again until the fall, we had other kinds of interactions, too. From one son, I heard about a friend who was heading overseas to college, looking for a fresh start. Naturally, my first question sounded worried: “Why does she need a fresh start? From what?” The good news is: she’s fine. After a bit of a rough time, and with the details of life remaining undisclosed, she’s moving on in a positive way.

With my other son, I unearthed a CD with one of my favorite songs on it and asked him to play it and listen with me. He politely did just that as I remarked on the gorgeous harmonies and moving lyrics. Then he offered a song in return by a band called Less Than Jake, so I could get a sense of the sounds he finds fascinating and satisfying.

To close out the night, I picked up 74 guitar picks, put hundreds of unpaired socks into drawers, and smoothed out a dozen shirts that had been washed but not folded. The boys wrapped a thousand feet of cable and wires then set up a mini-Best Buy in the house. They ran loads of laundry and stored fans, lamps, and blankets, all while we chatted and connected and laughed and began to settle into each other in a ‘home for the summer’ kind of way.

Their rooms are pristine or nearly so. The containers are stored. The boys are home. As I left their rooms, I thought: Why are you like this? You’re amazing.

Renee James writes social commentary and keeps track of the things that mystify her on her blog: It’s not me, it’s you, found at reneeaj.blogspot.com. Her email address is raaj3@msn.com.