So, now it is time for the next confession—Scrooge is based on the true story of a hapless parent with almost college-aged children; the circumstances were changed to protect the guilty. Why else would the ghosts of Christmas past, present and future visit me in a 24-hour period this season? Being the end of the year, we spent a few days reminiscing about Christmas past. While enjoying Christmas present, which consisted of much baking and sampling said baking, far too much Dr. Who and classic ‘80s movies, I saw the foreshadowing of Christmas future, one I am not sure I like. Showing me unsettling images of my upcoming reality did not work well with my manic mom live-in-the-moment holiday cheer.
First we were visited by the ghost of Christmas past. Every school photo was located for each child, except for the inexplicably missing set from the year I was diagnosed with arthritis … we will be checking grandma’s scrapbook albums when next we visit. Ornament decorating turned into 20 questions concerning the past: Why does she have my ornament in her box (who knew Barbie was still popular in my house)?; Who gave “us” the Daddy-to-be ornament from 1994?; Do I get to keep all of my ornaments when I leave home?; And are you going to split up the ornaments Great Granny made when we all leave home? You know, the ones she gave you and Dad when you were married (a question I answered with another question… Why would I give you our ornaments?). College essays were verified for accuracy with, “What grade were you in when Mom banished cable television?’ Arguments ensued over whose baby picture that actually was. The past was overwhelming this season—even photographs from my childhood surfaced briefly before thankfully disappearing.
Christmas presents involved far too much sugar and chocolate. Luckily, the goodies were intended for distribution to family friends, so three tanks of gas later, we are left with seven cookies and three brownies to fight over for breakfast. Jolly holiday deliveries aside, we stayed home and hibernated together. It was our last year with all three girls living at home for the holidays. Roles were reversed; our youngest maintained the true poise of a teenager while our oldest morphed into a cuddle bug kid. The gifting was fun and funny—Santa still rules our home and so I am the sole recipient of coal in my stocking. Eight years running and coal for only me. Perhaps one year I will merit only candy canes. The aftermath was almost as much fun. Giant teddy bears covered the floor, serving as impromptu chairs; fashion shows ensued with all the new items; photographs of literally everything; and the surprise hit of the season, a red mannequin for making clothes, was the must swap “gift,” trading hands as each daughter created something fabulous from her imagination.
Then the ghost of Christmas future intruded full force. My oldest had a friend over to visit, one who just returned to San Diego from her first semester of college. Watching the awkward transition back from almost adult, responsible for feeding and clothing and taking care of oneself, to dependent apple of mom and dad’s eye in the space of the few seconds it took to disembark from the plane, I relived that same transition in my mind. The first blow was the most shattering; I remember coming home fall break and my room was no longer my room. My two brothers, who had shared a room in our tiny three-bedroom, one-bath house, had been granted a reprieve from their constant battles when I went to college and so I came home to sleep on the couch, no idea where any of my stuff was. It just wasn’t in my room that was no more. Dealing with a curfew, chores, phone restrictions, having to keep working parent hours when my body was used to staying up very late at night working on papers and talking to friends, eating regular meals, having to visit everyone in the family, all conspired to make me crazy every college break. It was a time of no rhythm or routine of my own, the measure of independence obtained in college checked in the coat closet the minute I walked into the door.
While I felt a great deal of empathy for her initially, I felt more empathy for her parents. From the outside, it looked like their daughter had come home but from the inside, it felt like a simulacrum had invaded. It looked like her, talked like her, but obviously didn’t quite fit into the family as when she left. I saw the future, my future next winter and beyond, and it twisted me in a knot. Then, to add to my potential misery, the New York Times had an article on the transition parents and their children face when they return home from college for that first long winter break, complete with links to parent support groups and blogs to help you survive. Really, it is so bad I need support groups and blogs? My first thought was enforce “my house, my rules” and all will be fine. It sounds great, but I remember the resentment it engendered in me every time I came home from college to this mantra, so I think it might end badly. Not to mention surviving 10 consecutive years of college breaks; I will probably break before my time is up. Which is probably the evolutionary theory behind long college winter breaks, to soften me up for the time when my children are adults with their own families and their own lives. So, how about you?
Valerie Brown is a PUSD volunteer and the mother of three girls.