The guest room is down the hall

For all those district kids who headed off to college or university for the first time this fall, the old song, “I’ll be home for Christmas,” suddenly has new meaning. Why, it may even bring a tear to the ’ol eye—even though they’d never admit it.
Yes, the excitement and anticipation of heading home for the holidays, which has been building up ever since Thanksgiving, will peak this week as the kiddies try to focus on their last exams while mentally counting down the hours.
Not an easy task, believe me.
Then again, judging by the atmosphere around the Times office these past few weeks, it may be the parents who are getting more anxious with each passing day. Jim, Linda, Debbie, and Susan all know exactly how many more sleeps it is (even going so far as to printing reminders on the “Birthday” page each week, as if their kids needed help keeping track).
No doubt they’ve also rehearsed over and over the first words they’ll say to their offspring returning to the roost after almost four months away.
Of course, the first words out of the kids’ mouths will be “I’m hungry. What’s for supper?” or “Can I have the keys to the car tonight?”
Well, don’t worry, mom and dad. They may put on a brave face (after all, they’re mature, sophisticated university students now) but deep down, they’re glad to be home to snack endlessly in the comfort of the kitchen, reclaim their favourite spot on the couch in front of the TV, and hit the sack in their old bedroom (unless, that is, you’ve already turned it into the hot tub room).
It was a little different for me, way back when. You see, I’m probably the only teen whose parents were the ones who moved away. They and my brother headed off to Washington, D.C., where my dad was posted to the Canadian Embassy, while I stayed behind in Ottawa after graduating from Grade 13 to attend Carleton University.
Which also meant that when my new friends from the first term at Carleton were enthusing about heading home for the holidays, I had to confess I was going to a place I had never laid eyes on before. So I spent most of that first Christmas getting used to where mom hid the snacks in the kitchen, deciding which spot on the couch offered the best view of the TV, and remembering where the guest bedroom was.
So much for nostalgia.
But really, while nostalgia is all fine and good sometimes, it isn’t reality. The harsh truth is once you’ve left home, you can never really go back. It’s no longer your house; it’s your parents’ house. And you’re a guest.
It just might take a few days, or even a week, for that to sink in (or sooner, if you walk into your bedroom and the bikini-clad posters have been replaced by a nice floral-patterned wallpaper, and the boom box has a Yanni CD in it).
Oh, sure, mom and dad will say you’re always welcome there no matter what—but only after they’ve already checked to make sure you have a return ticket back to university.
Now don’t get me wrong. Be sure to milk the “starving-overworked-student-routine” as long as possible. Sleep in until noon. Ask to have breakfast in bed. Remind your parents that household chores, shovelling snow, and other forms of manual labour are beneath educated university students.
It may not last long, but anything beats writing term papers and exams, right?
One other little piece of advice for all you kids out there coming home this week and next. Don’t celebrate the end of exams too zealously the night before. It’s a long flight when you’ve got that handy little paper bag glued to your face like the overhead oxygen mask.
You won’t be too popular with your fellow passengers. Moms, generally, aren’t too impressed, either, no matter how many months you’ve been gone—and certainly not likely to fall for the “starving-overworked-student-routine.”
Psst, and wait until the second night to respectfully request the car keys so you can go out with your old high school buddies. Asking for them on the first night really doesn’t go over too well with moms, or dads.

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