MY life has suddenly undergone an abrupt change - my son is back from college. Since December, I have led the good life: late vegetarian dinners for my husband and me in front of the TV; one week's dirty laundry sitting patiently on the basement floor in front of the washing machine; its neighbor (the dryer), holding three days of dried, but wrinkled, clothes; and last but not least, that unkempt empty refrigerator that we try to avoid unless it is absolutely necessary. This year I thought I knew what to expect when Paul walked in the door. He entered on his 21st birthday, a new man. His hair was cut so I could see his eyes and ears. The only birthday present he requested was a new suit. He no longer demanded his summer quota of hot dogs, American cheese in individual wrappers, and chocolate chip cookies. ``Mom,'' said he, ``I am no longer into junk food, so don't buy that stuff anymore.''
``How about red meat?'' I asked.
``You can forget that,'' he replied proudly. ``Chicken will be fine and, boy, do I like fish.''
``Yeah, the food at school was so bad that I didn't eat much.''
Paul's room, for the last seven years, has been wallpapered from floor to ceiling with pictures torn out of motorcycle magazines - all flashily dressed adolescents doing wheelies in the sky on very expensive bikes. It happened so fast we couldn't stop it. It progressed to the actual purchase of a BMX and then an enormously powerful Kawasaki.
When he went away to college, I decided to leave his room alone, hoping that after one semester he would change, grow out of his motorcycle mania, and adopt another interest. That was three years ago. Recently, when I borrowed his bookcase for our den and boxed his trophies and memorabilia, I felt a little guilty for invading his privacy. He didn't mind at all. In fact, he wants to resurrect old shelving from the basement, put his trophies back up, and tear down all the pictures. ``What should I do,'' he asked, ``paint or wallpaper?''
``Either one would be just fine,'' we smiled.
Shortly after he returned, even before he unpacked, he was up in the loft of the garage, throwing down old motorcycle parts, stop signs (where did they come from?), wheelie ramps, and all sorts of other things I hadn't seen in years. ``Going to the dump,'' he stated matter-of-factly as he filled up the car. ``And by the way, Mom, I took down all the lawn furniture for you and set it up.''
``How about the umbrella?''
When we took him out on his birthday to the best seafood restaurant we could think of and sat overlooking the yachts, sea gulls, and rippling water, we talked about college life. He told us about his photography trip to Mexico, and how excited he was to be doing an internship in Manhattan next spring. His latest courses seemed more challenging - philosophy, sociology, sculpture, literature, and photography - consequently, his grades were better than ever. After struggling for two years with math and economics, he had decided to declare art as his major.
He talked about his girlfriend, whom I sensed he missed. She is a flutist, at college on a music scholarship. Recently she changed her major to art because she likes all areas of the arts, not just music.
We were pleased and happy for him to be sharing these thoughts with us. He was articulate and sincere. I don't think he was aware of his abrupt change from adolescence to manhood but we certainly were; it was glaringly obvious to us as we sat and listened.
All that mourning I was mentally going through preparing for the end of my ``good life'' was in vain. Paul was home. We were still living the good life, only now he was part of it.
More than just a birthday celebration, this was a momentous occasion.