Back-to-back Family Weekend and Fall Break - poor planning but promising possibilities.
As parents poured onto campus last weekend, our residences became a little cleaner, our stomachs and refrigerators a little fuller and our self-esteem a little higher. Now, as many of us prepare to go home this weekend, we should try to return the favors. But our parents should also understand that our independence can't disappear just because we're home.
The cars started rolling in Friday morning for Family Weekend. Tours crawled across campus, bookstore sales soared back to August numbers, and white signs and tents were erected to mark specially added events.
Gracious parents took their sons/daughters and groups of grateful friends out to the best meals they've had since, well, probably the last time parents were here. The number at the table formed an inverse relationship with class year - awkward freshman dinners with every person on your hall were replaced by intimate ones as friendships fastened with time.
Parents organized better parties than we ever do - turns out serving food, as Residence Life suggests, isn't so ridiculous after all. They videotaped a capella performances with a zoom that would let anyone in the rows behind them know who their children were. They did work alongside their children, making even the library on a Saturday seem adorable. Well, as adorable as doing work on a Saturday could be.
They bought 30 drink tickets at $5 each at the Senior Cheers event "to buy drinks for all your friends" with a charm that smoothed over the fiscal futility - "You do know these can't be used after 11 p.m., right?" They let us fill whole shopping carts at Ukrop's, and, if we were lucky, a basket at CVS, too ("They sell alcohol here? I thought you just needed hair-ties").
This weekend on Fall Break, we come home and give them ... hell. Or as my friend's mom clarified, "We love having you home -- until 10 p.m."
I went home a few weekends ago, and after years of training to achieve the proper balance of independence and respect, family and friends, I thought that by senior year I'd finally mastered it.
I was upbeat, appreciative and inquisitive. I made sure to keep my belongings in a contained area, have dinner with each of my family members, see one of my little sister's field hockey games and unstack the dishwasher when it needed it. I even let my mom's friends use me as their guinea pig at their Friday night make-up party and didn't put up a fight when I learned I couldn't take my car back to school because my sister needed it.
Yet I still failed to escape from the weekend unscathed. An attempt to sleep out on my last night sans permission was swiftly blocked by a 5 a.m. phone call that made my getting a ride back to school contingent upon my immediate return home. Hester Prynne shined like a saint in "The Scarlet Letter" compared with the "selfish," "disgusting" and "disappointing" daughter I'd apparently become.
My oral arguments - that I hadn't slept at home for 325 of the past 365 days of each of the past three years; that I'd been sleeping on other continents and in other states; and that I didn't even have a bed at home anymore - were not accepted. After going out to lunch the next day and arriving home at 3:15 p.m. instead of 3 p.m., next semester's tuition payments were revoked.
Despite my familiarity with the last threat, and knowledge that those quoted adjectives were more amusing than true, I returned to school dumbfounded.
After finally waving the white flag, I discovered that my arguments didn't completely hold because it wasn't that one night that was the issue. It was a lifestyle, an attitude, a generation. Although for me it was just another night of not sleeping at home, for my mom that made it more of a reason to sleep at home because the opportunity seemed to come less and less every year.
And it wasn't just me. It was all of my friends who had been reared with the attitude that we were entitled to go away to school, to study abroad and to intern in different cities during the summer, that we no longer needed to pay our dues at home anymore. It was all young people who thought that life would conform to their every preference, like the young nurses at her work who ran their mouths that they, and not a higher power, would decide how many children they'd have - "one and I'm done."
These little snapshots created for my mom a collage of a generation in which it was all about us, in which a sad selfishness was slowly replacing our human obligation to others. We've been raised and businesses have been created to help us answer the questions of: "What do I want? What will make me happy?" instead of: "What should I do? What will make others happy?"
Although I think Fall "Break" would need to be longer than two class days to get a good jump on world peace, some wise friends have counseled me on little ways to keep domestic peace. After the good will displayed by parents during Family Weekend, the university's poor planning presents the chance for us to return the favor.
Especially the thoughtful junior who answered last week's Question of the Week that his plan with his parents for Family Weekend was: "Nothing. Just call them blacked-out."
Instead of giving our parents a chance to revoke our independence two hours after we walk in the door, we should wield it in a way that they can appreciate - not that will give them heart attacks.
Take the initiative. Call home after reading this to arrange at least one explicit plan to spend time with your family. Take your parents out to dinner instead of the usual other way around. Or, if you're not domestically challenged like me ("Oh, this is Lysol? Strange, canola oil comes in the same container ..."), cook for the fam.
Find out how each person in your family is really doing, the little details about what you've missed by being away. Only then may you remove the restraints from your antsy fingers to text your friends about plans for tomorrow. Delay your all-day, not-leaving-the-couch "Dexter" marathon until day three.
At the same time, loving parents, please understand that we already have so many spinning plates to keep in the air at school that stacking on more by making sure we perfectly balance our time at home is the antithesis of Fall "Break." Remember how you let loose during Family Weekend to clinch the Flip Cup victory for the team and everyone was still alive the next morning after you left us to keep playing. Concede that times are changing, and that new opportunities and freedoms have raised us to think and live more untraditionally.
We all mean well and want to spend time together. We just need to get better at expressing it. With more open, calm and elastic communication, a blend of lifestyles can be attained. Think before you speak, speak before you act and be quiet before you yell. Parents should speak and we should listen when our "selfish," "disgusting" and "disappointing" ways worry them, but please, dear parents, at least wait until the sun comes up.
Contact opinion editor Maura Bogue at email@example.com