When Your Home is the Teen's Gathering Place -- and You Actually Miss It When They're Gone

08/26/2016 03:00 pm ET
My daughter, and a dozen of her friends, at a dinner held (where else?) at our house before the high school prom in 2015.
Julie Halpert
My daughter, and a dozen of her friends, at a dinner held (where else?) at our house before the high school prom in 2015.

         The summer, as usual, has flown by. I adore this season as much as young children who welcome freedom from the daily grind of school. The heat never bothers me. I relish dining on our deck el fresco, heading outdoor morning runs, taking walks to get ice cream and baking in the sun at our neighborhood pool. I can never get enough of it ― and spend the next few months dreading the blistering winter that is to come. But what I have liked most about the past few summers is the role our house has played as the place to be for my adult children and their friends.

          Until she left for her freshman year of college last year, it wasn’t unusual for my daughter to host five to 10 friends on weeknights and weekends throughout the summer. While I didn’t always appreciate the racket they made that often kept my husband and I up later than we’d like, or the numerous snacks of ours they consumed and dishes that were sometimes left in the sink, I treasured the fact that many of them viewed this as their second home, that it felt like a comfortable place. They welcomed me into their kitchen chats as I emptied the dishwasher or fed the cat. It wasn’t unusual for me to make one of my daughter’s friends her favorite ice cream pie to celebrate her birthday here. 

          The silence was deafening beginning August of last year when my daughter, our youngest, left Michigan to start her freshman year of college in North Carolina. Unlike our older two children, whose colleges were closer, we would have to wait months to see her again. So I took comfort in knowing that she would return home for the following summer. When her school year ended in May, it was as if no time had elapsed. My daughter fell back into her comfortable rhythm as a boisterous member of our household, while her friends began populating the house on warm summer evenings.

          Now, with late August here once again, my daughter is headed back to school. Her gatherings grew smaller the past week, as each of her friends left for college, one by one. Last night, there were only two left. My daughter is hoping to get an internship elsewhere next year. So this could be the last summer of our house echoing with the animated voices of college students. I peeked into her room to see her unmade bed and scant few possessions she left on the floor. I’ll once again need to become accustomed to the silence. With our oldest daughter working on the East Coast, and our son ― who recently graduated from a college in our town ―  starting a job in Washington, D.C., our nest will be emptier than ever.

          I am an avid Facebook viewer (I permit myself frequent peeks as a reward for completing stages of writing projects) and see the self-described woes of so many parents of young children. They’re overwhelmed. They have no idea how they’ll get through a day of fighting siblings and screaming babies. They lament how they barely have time to take a shower, much less get to the gym. I was similarly preoccupied with these daily frustrations when my three were young. I want to say to these moms: cherish the period when your children need you more than anything else, when you are their world. Inhale their sweet baby smell. Embrace the toddler messes and the butterfly kisses they willingly accept. The time passes so quickly and those babies and children, then teens that you have agonized over for so many years, one day will pack their bags and be on their own journey far from home, giving you a quick hug before they’re on their way. You’ll see them to the door, and for a moment, will long for the chaos of their early years.    

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