College students returning home for the holidays are a little bit like Christmas decorations. When they first arrive, everything feels warm, lively and nostalgic.


But by mid-January, we're all starting to feel that it's time to get back to "normal" -- our new normal, which is independence for them and a calmer, less-chaotic household for us.

Our 21-year-old college senior has a fondness for going out at 11 and coming home at 3 or 4 a.m. No matter how quietly she tries to slip into the house, her arrival always wakes me up -- and leaves me awake for hours.

"Why do you have to go out so late?" I asked one evening. "Because I want to spend time with you guys," she said. "When you go to bed, I go out with my friends." Which is sort of sweet ... I guess ... but doesn't make it any easier to get a decent night's sleep.     

Our 19-year-old college freshman is less of a night owl. But he's reverted to carpet-bombing the floor of his bedroom with clothes. "How can you stand it like this?" I fumed, as he sat on his bed, staring at his laptop, seemingly oblivious to the debris all around him. "If it doesn't bother me, why does it bother you?" he replied. "Just close the door and don't look at it."

It seems like his entire wardrobe is on the bedroom floor. But then I look at the laundry room, which has turned into a small mountain range of cloth piles. The washer and dryer seem to run around the clock, but the mountains never diminish. How can two extra people increase laundry volume tenfold?

On the cultural front, I'm getting a little too much exposure to loud, obnoxious rappers. Every time one of the kids uses my car, they leave the radio or CD set to something that blows my eardrums when I turn the key in the ignition.

In just a few days, they'll both be back at school. I'll miss them -- a lot. But I'll also savor the peace and quiet of living in a household inhabited by two middle-aged grown-ups. 

Did you have college kids home for the holidays? How do you manage to cohabit with them?