You know all the articles you read about college graduates who move home once they receive their degrees? Well, it's happened to me.
My son graduated from the University of London and spent the summer as a teaching assistant in a northeastern prep school. He loved being in the classroom. His reviews were great. He felt at home there, even chafed a bit at not being given free rein to do what he wanted to do (though he did teach an innovative chapter of a Toni Morrison novel that involved the kids sitting around a pretend dinner table and re-enacting the dialogue).
He came back to North Carolina convinced he was intended to be a teacher, and eager to get some more experience under his belt while pondering graduate school next year (and incidentally saving up some money).
A month later, he is working part-time at a bookstore and slowly adjusting to some painful facts of life: he has a small savings account, and it's not enough for grad school quite yet. It's cheaper to grit his teeth and live at mom and stepdad's house, instead of moving into his fantasy apartment. He doesn't have a car (who needed one in the UK?), and so he's driving his stepsister's boxy old Toyota, on loan from that side of the family but certainly not his idea of sharp wheels. He's trying to decide whether to make friends in this town in which he didn't grow up -- therefore putting down those dread things, roots -- or hold himself aloof and focus on next year.
It's a change for all of us. I was lucky enough when I graduated to have a sputtering used Fiat, a damp basement apartment in Atlanta, and a job that paid $8,500 a year. I thought I was the ruler of my own destiny, and I guess I was.
He doesn't have quite that freedom here. Mom still wonders why he has to go out for coffee after midnight; stepdad wonders if he's really doing enough around the house to help out. He is on the phone and the Internet sending resumes and letters, but there are spurts of activity followed by a complete dearth of interest (or so he must feel).
I know something will come along, and I try to reassure him. Sometimes he hears me; sometimes I'm just a pain. Sometimes sitting down at dinner with the family seems like drudgery to him; other times he's winning and friendly and talkataive. Sometimes we sit around and talk about books we've read and laugh at past episodes of "The Office" together, and it's great. I haven't had my little boy around in a long time, so I hope he forgives me for hanging on to these moments when we are mother and son again.
Because just as people tell you to enjoy your children when they are small -- for the time will be gone before you know it -- so do I know that this phase too shall pass. He'll get the phone call, the job, the car or the ticket back to the UK for grad school. He'll probably make friends here, there and everywhere and be around less and less often. He'll make his own life -- maybe not the one he envisioned he'd have at 23, but an OK one just the same.
So, I don't apologize for having a college graduate living in my house. I'm happy to be part of this phase of his life. Even if I do nag him to hang up his towels.
Ellen is a 50-year-old mother of two, stepmother of two, who lives in North Carolina with her family.