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The Sound of a Happy House: When Your Kids Come Home for the Holidays

There’s something about the barely discernible hush of a house when your family is under one roof, asleep in their beds. It’s somewhere between a whisper and a sigh, and it’s just this side of silence — that ever-so-soft sound a home makes late at night when the kids are tucked in and everyone’s asleep but you. You can’t hear it, exactly, but it’s there. More of a feeling, maybe.

This past Thanksgiving, after our family of four shared meals, lively conversations and a movie, my husband headed to bed and I dozed on the couch, mumbling something to our sons — one a senior in college and the other a recent graduate — about being happy just to be near them. It had been 10 long months since we were all together last, and the day had passed far too quickly, as good days often do. Eventually, I bid the guys goodnight and left to join my husband, our 16-year-old dog slowly following behind.

When I left the room, my millennials kicked it up a notch. This included them indulging in a second round of dinner, which I identified by the clattering of pots and dishes in the kitchen that we’d just finished cleaning; watching reruns of TV shows I was sure had long since disappeared; and doing several loads of laundry. It wasn’t until the next morning that the latter part of their evening became clear — all of the laundry baskets in the house had migrated to their bedrooms, where they’d become semi-permanent drawers overflowing with clean but unfolded clothes, just as they had throughout much of their teenage years.

By 2 a.m., the sounds had trickled off and in my sleepy and somewhat disoriented state, time became elusive. My grown children were toddlers again, gazing outside on a hot summer’s day hoping to go out and play; I was at the ballet bar, stretching my limbs without fear, my neck elastic and unlined; and our dog was a puppy, held tightly by our oldest after being christened “Benjamin” only moments before.

Somewhere in the tangle of memories I woke briefly and became aware of the peaceful silence — the richness of our full house — before drifting happily back to sleep.

It’s no longer a given that we’ll be able to celebrate the holidays together. They are establishing their own lives, apart from ours — as we are in our newly empty nest. I remind myself of this when I follow a trail of crumbs in the kitchen from the late-night food fest or when I’m on call again, like old times, giving rides to and from friends and events, and especially when I’m the chief cook of well-balanced meals and all I really want for dinner is scrambled eggs and ketchup.

The philosopher Francis Bacon wrote that when you have children you “have given hostages to fortune.” It’s true. Our overwhelming need to protect and comfort them never goes away, even when they drive us crazy and even when they are in college and beyond.

My sons will be back for Christmas. When they’re here, and asleep in their beds, I’ll look forward to the hush our house makes, and knowing that our babies, regardless of how often they return and how big they’ve grown, are safe and sound.

Even if it’s occasionally broken by a gentle snore.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Melissa T. Shultz is the author of From Mom to Me Again: How I Survived My First Empty-Nest Year and Reinvented the Rest of My Life. She’s written about health and parenting for The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Dallas Morning News, Newsweek, Readers’ Digest, The Huffington Post, Grown and Flown, Parade, Next Avenue, Scary Mommy, Babble, and many other publications and blogs. She’s also the acquisitions editor for Jim Donovan Literary.