Thursday, December 27, 2012

Oh, there's no place like home for the holidays...

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING:  Twas the day after the day after Christmas(1), and all through the house, not a creature was stirring... certainly not the kids, who have decided the winter vacation means they get to sleep until one in the afternoon. 

Yes, parents, it's the most wonderful time of the year, when your collegiate offspring come home dragging giant duffle bags of dirty laundry and your high-schooler gets to revel in fun and friends, until December 29, when he will suddenly remember he has a twelve-page research paper due the day he gets back to school. Oh, and his teacher insists on references from books - can you drive him to the library?

How to survive the infestation visitation of your own little Magi? Here are a few tips:

1. Try to rein in the nocturnal lifestyle of your kids. Left to their own devices, teens and young adults will fall into a vampiric rhythm; rising close to sunset and staying up until the dawn. This means you'll only have a tiny slice of "family time," each twenty-four hours, as you are nestled all snug in your bed at 10:55, ready to watch the WHDH-TV 7 news(2) and then turn out the lights. 

Don't bother to demand your kids adhere to a bedtime - their laughter (or polite amusement) will only humiliate you. Instead, try the guerilla approach: wake everyone for snow shoveling detail at 8:00am. A couple days of dawn patrol will turn the creatures of the night into--well, not humans,  exactly, but at least they'll be more like the Cullens.(3)

2. Speaking of dragging them outside, your teens will tend to fall into one of two camps. The first will refuse to come out of her room except for meals, spending all her time instant messaging her friends on some social networking platform that you won't even know about until two years from now when the New York Times does an article namechecking it as the hot new trend.(4)

The other kid will only appear as a blur in the corner of your eye, as he slams out the door headed for the slopes/the gym/his friend's house/the dance club. 

If you are the parent of the shy woodland creature, try laying a trail of Cheetos and Diet Dr. Pepper from her doorway into the family room. You can then trap her into watching TV with the rest of the family.(5)  If your teen is Action Dude, it's even simpler to get him to participate in family fun: just withhold the money he needs for lift tickets/gas/snacks/admission. Offer him five bucks for every property he can accumulate in Monopoly, and watch board game night take off!

3. On the subject of money - and your teen or young adult will rarely stray off  the subject of money - prepare for the unexpected expenses of his or her stay at home. Your weekly shopping trip will turn to daily dashes to the store, as your high schooler consumes an entire loaf of bread, jar of peanut butter, and gallon of milk daily.(6) Your college kid, who has discovered ethical locovorism, will only eat guaranteed cruelty-free organic meats raised by farmers in your area code. 

Even if their exercise consists solely of walking from the table to the TV, both offspring will take daily half-hour long showers. Your electrical bill will not be spared, as your teens cannot be in a room without turning on the TV/radio/stereo/computer. Needless to say, turning off electrical devices and lights is not one of their skill sets. There is nothing, really, that you can do about these added expenses, except reflect that your child's room and board bill is perhaps not as unreasonable as you first thought.

4. After a few days wallowing in the detritus of crumpled wrapping paper and thrice-heated leftovers, everyone needs a break. I suggest the movies. There are some wonderful films out there right now that brilliantly illuminate family life:

     Les Miserables: What awaits you if you don't finish those college applications and get them in by January 2nd!
     The Hobbit: Will irresistibly remind you of your last family trip, complete with lousy food, unexpectedly bad accommodations, and that one person who really doesn't want to be there and lets everyone else know it.
     Jack Reacher. Did you know Jack Reacher is a West Point grad? It's true. Wouldn't you like to be like Jack Reacher? Get the damn application in, already. 

Good luck, my fellow parents. With patience, humor, a couple bottles of wine and a Zoloft or two, you can get through the vacation intact. If you have any other gems of wisdom, dear readers, please share it with the rest of us on the back blog. At the very least, when your kids come wandering through and ask what you're doing, you can tell them you're hanging with your online homies on some social media site they've never heard of.

(1)Yes, fellow liturgical fans, I  know it's really the Feast of St. John the Evangelist. I wasn't born in a barn.

(2)Help Me, Hank!

(3)Twilight reference, oldsters. Pale skin and deep circles under their eyes. If your teen actually glitters in sunlight, seek professional assistance.

(4)By that time, everyone under the age of thirty will have long abandoned it for something else you (and the New York Times) doesn't know about.

(5) Be ready to sacrifice Sixty Minutes and How I Met Your Mother for some obscure cable show about zombies or time-travelers. Feign enthusiasm: you may be able to entice your kid to show you her fanfiction on AO3. If she uses the word, slash, don't look. Take my word on this.

(6) How does he do that? I mean, really? Does he have reticulated jaws and an infinitely stretchable stomach, like a python? 


  1. My house is quiet for the first time in 5 days and I MISS THEM! Love your advice, Julia - but what I need to know is how to keep them wanting to come back. I hope it has something to do with homemade sticky buns, because I've got that nailed.

  2. We're all coming for the sticky buns Hallie, and I'm sure your family will be back soon too:).

    Love your advice Julia--with footnotes no less! Don't forget to add LINCOLN to list of movies. Though I wonder how appealing it will be to younger set. The first part I found a little slow...however, Daniel Day Lewis has to win an Oscar for this one. And I like Sally Fields too...

  3. This is SO clever - I'm exhausted just reading it and going back to bed!! Thelma in Mannhattan

  4. I am laughing so hard I can hardly type! What a great post --- and I love the advice . . . .

    The truth of the matter, though, is that I’ll take them any way I can get them . . . like Hallie, the door is always open and, even though they have their own lives, I still want them to come back . . . and back . . . and back.

  5. Hee! This was spot-on when the kids lived here...

  6. Julia--laughing! This is all so true. Our oldest granddaughter has just become a teen, but still lovely and social. We spent yesterday afternoon on my bed watching Pride and Prejudice for the zillionth time.

  7. Hallie, I'll come to your house for sticky buns!

    This reminds me of my college days. I'd come home with bags of laundry, eat homemade cookies until I wanted to explode, and sleep late every day. Funny, Mom was never sad to see me come and always sad to see me go.

    My two are not quite a teenager-hood yet, although The Girl turns 13 next summer. And yes, if I want to find her, she's generally on the computer surfing fashion sites or nose down with a book (digital or otherwise). And although The Boy is only 10, he already eats like a teenager, which makes me very nervous about what's coming!

  8. Julia–-love the footnotes! As soon as I stop laughing, I think of something else you said and start laughing all over again! Thank you.

    After ours were in college we learned how boring we were-–and how long they could sleep–-and how clock time was suddenly insignificant after a term away. We fought back by arranging vacations in interesting places and invited their love interest of the moment and friends. That usually worked. Not sure who one that one, though, now that I think of it!

  9. I have to confess that when I was a returning coed, I did almost every one of these things (except instant messaging. We used smoke signals when I was a teen.)

    I mocked my stodgy parents as I headed out with my friends at 10:30pm; I slept until the crack of noon; I devoured everything in my path like a one-woman locust horde.

    Truly, what goes around comes around. Sorry, Mom and Dad.

  10. Mine are grown now, and yes, I miss the times when they were young and coming back home for visits.....of course up until they were all gone I did not realize packages of Oreos actually contained cookies nor did I know that milk normally filled the jug and was not just a drop on the bottom to make me feel deprived. TV in the middle of the night, mornings on tiptoes in order to allow someone to sleep. Laundry that made the washer and dryer cry huge tears. Ah for the good ol' days. And Hallie, do you do sticky buns by mail?

  11. We just had our entire 12 person family together for five hours -- all we could scrape together this year, although we have had a few days of 8-togetherness.
    I love it soooo much!
    And yes, with my youngest 29, I do miss those college vacation days!!
    And the high school years!
    And middle school!
    And -- tears in my eyes -- elementary school!
    Weeping -- nursery school!
    On the floor in a heap -- BABIES!

    What a wonderful post!! Thank you.

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  13. Susan said...
    I currently have 19-year-old and a 20-year-old under my roof and it is as if you were secretly taping my life! I kept reading excerpts aloud to my husband. Mine are both male, so the extra food costs item may have been the most true of all. But honestly, none of them were off the mark.

    And like all the other commenters, I am doing everything in my power to keep my guys engaged with us for as much of the time as possible. Yesterday that involved IHOP and Les Miserables. This afternoon it is a trip out to the thrift stores. (Yes, my boys are gaga over thrift store shopping!) By the time they leave I'll be fat and broke....but I'll have some great memories!