"Home for the holidays" is a theme celebrated through the centuries by artists, writers and singers -- none of whom I bet had any kids in college.

When my first-born (and only) son went off to college last year I waved a limp goodbye and tried to remain as unemotional as possible. I only weakened at the last moment when he got into the car, peeled down the driveway and screeched away in the firmament. I'lll never hear that sound again, I thought, and at that moment a small chorthle of happiness erupted, followed by uncontrollable ha-ha's of joy.

Adieu to track shoes on the diningroom table, ciao to countless moldgrowing dishes under his bed, aloha to stereo, tape-deck, transistor constantly playing at brain-washing level, a bientot kayak in the living room (don't ask). Hello, telephone whose bell can now toll for me. It was here at last. The longed-for, media-promised EMPTY NEST.

Sure, I loved the kid. Sure, I would miss him, but the EMPTY NEST is the EMPTY NEST and I would just have to suffer through the sense of uselessness and abandonment that would hit me any day now. But -- in the meantime -- a little traveling music please.

The truth, in the form of a vindictive neighbor, arrived dressed in basic black. "Just wait," Truth said, "this tooty high you're experiencing is a club-soda bubble, not Perrier. Remember, what goes down come round. You haven't allowed for the breaks."

"Huh?" I supposed tying the laces on my disco skates. "Breaks?"

Okay. There's Thanksgiving break -- one week. Christmas break -- four weeks. Almost-Mid-Semester break -- two weeks. And Summer break -- 3 1/2 months." She took a breath and went on. "Those are your basic breaks. Then there's Founder's Day Fortnight break -- a couple of fortnights, and everyone-home-the-heating-bill's-too-high break. That one's a toughie -- could mean an indefinite stay."

"But what about the EMPTY NEST? I'm supposed to have one now. You know, kid leaves, mother sits and stares out window a lot wondering where her life has gone, and is everything lost or merely misplaced. I'm countin on this EMPTY NEST thing. I've even picked out where I'll sit and do my wondering. The British Virgin Islands."

"Forget the islands; you ain't going nowhere," she said smugly, if ungrammatcially. "The EMPTY NEST only applies if you're a bird."

She was right. My son was in and out like the tide that year. I survived, barely, by developing a strong steely-eyed persona and a few credos:

I'm sorry this is not possible . Useful for every occasion. Say it evenly, without rancor and repeat at three-second intervals. "Hey Mom. I'm bringing a few friends home this break. They'll be dressed like Greeks and Romans. You know, Polonius, Plato and junk. I might be wearing a sheet, bedspread, or shower curtain myself."

Get rid of your phone. Extreme you say? Wait. Think of the many inflated dollars you'll save when student cannot call collect to Nicole Grand Prix -- who's going to good old Amazon U. located on the banks of the you-know-what. . . Or, Sandy Backgammon at Golden Arches Training School in Mozambique. . . Or, Mt. Everest for report on skiing conditions.

Learn to smile benignly, tune out and hum. "So I said, 'Jeepers, Sydelle, I'm SURE my parents would LOVE for you to stay with them while I'm at school.'"

Hum. "I'm thinking of moving off-campus. There's this abandoned truck on the tundra that I could fix up and live in. Only costs six, seven hundred -- tops."

Watch out for professional munchers. A professional muncher looks very much the same as you or I. Only more so. Usually happens to the best of kids after a year of college food. Give-away behavior: Whizzes at eating huge quantities of food immediately after eating huge quantities of food.

bonne chance and take heart. Last week my son told me he wouldn't be home for Bacchus Appreciation Month break.

"The gang's been invited to observe the magic of February at Faisal Ahmad Jr.'s hogan in Aspen. His mom wants him to make friends."

I smiled benignly, offered up a prayer for Mrs. Faisal Ahmad Sr. and hummed my best hum.

Finally, the EMPTY NEST, at least until the next break.