BOSTON -- Lo, it is winter vacation and the fledglings have come home to roost. These are not just anybody's fledglings. They are ours, the very same ones who emptied the nest, not to mention the nest egg, on their way to college last September.
How we felt their absence! How we now feel their presence!
Parents who had months of total access to their own cars (including the dial on the radio) are now struggling to readjust to the wonders of time-sharing. Parents who had control over the contents of their refrigerators are being led on a daily magical mystery tour of leftovers. Will the milk disappear? Will the cheese stand alone?
It is not that we don't deeply love our children and welcome them eagerly into the bosom of family. But in their months at college they have developed the life style of a roommate rather than a family member.
Locked into the college youth ghetto, most have lost the knack of living with anyone over 24.
For this reason, to facilitate a smooth winter break, a family vacation that leaves no broken ties or limbs in its wake, I feel compelled to offer a vacation tip sheet. The following answers the age-old questions facing college students who come home for the holidays: What is the difference between a parent and a roommate?
1. Biorhythms. For reasons that are inexplicable, the biorhythm of a student undergoes a radical change upon entering college. The average college day begins at roughly 11 a.m. and runs until at least 2 a.m. This is not always understood by your parents, who may be misled by the appearance of a 9 o'clock morning class on your registration card.
Parents, you should remember, stopped sleeping at the birth of their first child. By now, due to such mundane considerations as work and late-night anxiety attacks about your future, they have entirely lost the trick. They tend to go to bed at the shank of the evening, which is to say midnight.
Remember: Roommates can engage in deep conversations about the meaning of life at 1 a.m. Parents cannot. On the other hand, parents think you look sweet when you are sleeping. Unless it's noon.
2. Music. The high-rise dorm you left behind, Babel East, undoubtedly contained more sound equipment than people. Roommates appear to function best in stereophonic sound, their every conversation and action, even reading, comes with its own sound track. By now, quiet may make you nervous.
Parents on the other hand grew up somewhere between Chuck Berry and John Lennon, but decidedly before Sony. They regard music as something to listen to. They actually turn off the radio when they leave a room. They do not accept it as the permanent accompaniment. Do not try to discuss your incomplete in physics or your desire to spend the summer in Tibet to a hard rock beat.
3. Telephone usage. The telephone company has made its greatest inroads with your generation. Roommates regard Alexander Graham Bell as the one truly significant founding father, far surpassing Thomas Jefferson. Roommates do not consider it unusual if you direct-dial cross country in order to get the telephone number of a friend across the street.
Parents on the other hand tend to get nostalgic about letter-writing, especially when they get telephone bills. One of the very first genes lost in the aging process is the one that understands how urgent it is to call the friends you just left at the airport in another area code.
4. Miscellaneous manners and matters: Roommates don't care if you sit through a whole dinner. Roommates do not care if you come home when you said you would. Roommates do not call the police with your license number if you decide on the spur of the moment to stay over at a friend's. Roommates do not assume that you are lying on the side of the road. Parents do.
Finally, remember to be kind to your elders. After all, you are going through a stage of life together. You are learning how to be a part-time family.
P.S. There's one other difference between roommates and parents. You can always get another roommate.