My niece is home from college for the very first time this weekend and it’s got me thinking about transitions.
I remember that first time home from Oneonta.
I remember the intense relief of seeing my loved ones as much as the awkwardness of sensing that things had changed in my scant month away without being able to put a finger on just what those changes were.
I remember being disappointed in the way we were together without having any idea of how to be any different.
I had a similar problem with a close friend of mine who had moved away.
What finally cleared the air was the two of us sitting together in circle with our candles and the practices we had used to come together before she moved. What finally bridged the gap of awkwardness was ritual.
I recognize that a full blown ritual with a calling of the four corners and setting an intention isn’t really a workable solution for every time your kid comes home for college. Something much more simple and a little more “portable” is in order.
I look to old traditions when I’m looking for something out of the ordinary like this particular need. Our ancestors often had reasonable solutions to everyday problems that we still face. Often these solutions transmuted, changed, became flavored by the politics and history of the time.
But if you look behind all of that, the core practices were often sound and relevant.
For example, the ancient practice of hospitality dictated that when visitors arrived at your door they were immediately offered drink (wine or water) and a snack, (usually bread or their version of cookies.)
Both host and visitor would eat, demonstrating the food was good (and not poisoned.) No business could be covered – just the welcome which bound the two together.
And after that, the laws of hospitality allowed the guest to settle in, often bathing, spending time alone (or with their party) without the host’s presence.
Energetically speaking, everybody could get used to everybody else being there without having to jump on in to anything.
There’s a wisdom in that.
Carrying that through to the modern-day problem of college homecoming transitions opens up a good deal of breathing room.
I remember that first time home, sitting in the back seat behind my parents and filling the awkward silence with the declaration that I was planning on taking five years instead of the usual four to graduate.
Jumping right in to that kind of announcement exacerbated an already tense situation.
Ritualizing the reentry to the home – either with a meal or just a simple glass of something to drink – together – formalizes the process.
It gives everyone something to expect each time, when other, more subtle things are constantly changing. How this might translate for each family would be different but a general rule of no-business-right-off-the-bat seems like a good start for everyone.
And then downtime, even if it’s just 15 minutes to unpack. It’s important for all parties to settle in and take a few moments to deal with their own feelings, positive and negative, that crop up during these charged transitions. Agree to this ahead of time, too. Decide if you’re taking 15 minutes or if you’ll talk and reconnect at the next meal.
It’s something to think about.
It’s a conversation to have; springing it on your family could cause the whole thing to be a crushing disaster, adding to an already uncomfortable situation. Still, it could be fun:
What would your family choose to drink? (Fancy glasses or cans of Coke?)
What do the various family members hope for at each reunion? (Gushing warmth or a little space?)
Where do your hopes and other’s collide? What are each person’s expectations? Needs?
Where’s the happy medium?
There is a need for something to hold onto at times like these when everything is in flux and huge changes are underway within a family and within each family member.
A Ritual of Homecoming can be that something, easing the transition for all involved.