Back to the Nest
Reilly comes home from his first year away at postsecondary school this week. More precisely, we pick him up from the New York Institute of Technology's Vocational Independence Program.
By all accounts, it has been a great year, full of growth and achievement. As previously reported, I was looking for a residential summer program for him when he did an end run around me and got himself a summer job at our neighborhood pool. I applaud him for this on several levels. He knew what he wanted, and he found a way to make it happen. But it means he's living at home for three months. For the last two summers, he was away at NYIT's Long Island campus for seven weeks, and that gave us both a much needed break from each other.
When Reilly went away to school in the fall, it didn't take me long to embrace my empty nest, with more free time and less stress than I've experienced in, well, a long, long time. Winter break was long and Reilly regressed to an oppositional teen with limited self-care skills much of the time. I have been dreading the summer.
But I'm committed to making it productive. It's not going to be easy, and it means breaking some entrenched family patterns. But it needs to be done. His dad and I have been thinking and talking about how we're going to make this summer work for all of us. We've talked to Reilly, briefly, about the need to have new rules and responsibilities in place if he's going to live at home successfully. The three of us will need to negotiate the terms, maybe on the long drive home.
I'm hoping to take a very limited role in his work life, for example. The pool is only a little more than a mile from our house, and I'm thinking Reilly can walk or bike to work. I will expect him to keep track of his schedule and get himself to bed at a reasonable hour and get up in time to get ready and get himself to the job.
I want him to take responsibility for many of his own meals and to do his own laundry. I want him to own his personal hygiene, with no nagging on my part. I'm looking for a cooking class he can take, and hoping he will get his driving learner's permit. A household chore or two each week would be good, too.
It will take work on my part, too, to uphold my expectations. That's harder than it sounds. He was the baby in our busy household for the last 19 years. It's been easier to do things for him than to get him to do them for himself. As the youngest of four children myself, I tend to identify with and abet his baby-of-the-family behaviors, attributing too many things to his “disability.” Intellectually, I know that doesn't serve him well and that I need to encourage his ability. It's a pattern I have to break.
That's my summer manifesto. It's an ambitious agenda. And maybe I'm setting us all up for failure. But as I think about my expectations and worries, I realize that this all can apply to any college student coming home for the summer. And that gives me some comfort. I remember that the situation was not much different when Reilly's two older siblings came home from their first year away at college. The difference, I think, was that we negotiated those transitions less formally. With Reilly, more things need to be articulated, spelled out. Expectations are not as easily understood, or picked up on with minimal verbal cues.
We can do this. Stay tuned for progress reports on our summer break.