12/31/2011 02:29 pm ET | Updated Mar 01, 2012

Why the Dirty Dishes and Stinky Socks of College Kids Home Don't Bother Me This Year

Every time I get into my car, I have to move the seat forward again. We are constantly running out of milk and orange juice. There is noise in the house in the middle of the night. And there are dirty dishes in every single room.

My college kids are home.

There is a whole shift in the energy and noise level of the house as we move from three kids, which gives you the possibility of occasional calm, to five -- which makes calm impossible. And their late-to-bed-late-to-wake schedules throw our predictable routines off completely.

This year, I don't mind.

The first few times they came home, I did mind. The whole point of the senior year of high school is to make parents and kids so sick of each other that college is a relief all around, and with Michaela and Zack just one year apart, the two senior years blended into each other. We were all extra glad when they were both in college. Re-entry was tough when they came home; not only did we pick up our fights where we left off, but having had a taste of independence they had no intention of giving it up. Especially to do chores or pick up their dirty socks (which, given how much money we were paying for tuition, was a little hard to take). By the end of each break, everyone was counting the days until they went back.

This time, it's different.

They are different, a little. They are a little more mature, a little more considerate, a little more willing to bend to the needs and routines of a big family. Zack won't be home for spring break (he is leading a service project) or this summer (he will be doing an internship in D.C.). And next fall he will be in China. We are all aware that this is the longest he's going to be home for a year, and it's made him -- and us -- a bit more patient and accommodating.

But it's more than that. Zack invited his girlfriend to visit, and has been talking about how he wants her to get to know us. A couple of years ago, he would have done everything he could to keep her out of the house and away from us.

And the fact that Michaela is staying for two weeks is unexpected. She has an apartment in Boston near school, just a short subway ride away. I assumed that she would come home for the actual holidays but then go back to her apartment. Granted, her roommates are gone, we help her take care of her kitten, and she is getting free food. But she wants to be here. She wants to be with us.

And that is not something to be taken for granted.

You never really know, in the midst of all the turmoil of adolescence, how it's going to turn out. We had our share of angst, our share of nasty fights and slammed doors and cold silences, our share of dealing with the ramifications of not-so-great choices. But now the dust is settling And as it does, not only are Michaela and Zack turning out to be competent, likeable adults, but our family is intact. Maybe, even, a bit stronger than before.

So I'll keep adjusting the seat forward, I'll make the extra runs to the store for milk and orange juice. I'll pick up the dishes, and ignore the noise in the middle of the night. My family is home and together and happy about it. I am hopeful for our future -- and deeply and completely grateful.