I remember the parable of the prodigal son from Sunday school. So when our son told us that he was moving back to Chicago with our figlia-in-law, I immediately recalled the jubilant father who directed his servant to kill the fatted calf in celebration. We don’t have a fatted calf or a servant (no room for either in our condo), but I thought we could at least open an expensive bottle of wine, and put part of a fatted calf on the grill to celebrate the return of our prodigal son.
Then I looked up “prodigal son” in the dictionary.
Turns out, “prodigal” doesn’t describe my son at all. According to my dictionary app, a prodigal son is one who leaves his parents in order to do bad things – debauchery, wasteful spending, hedonistic lifestyle – but then repents for his sins, and returns home.
That’s not my kid. Granted, living in New York City for 13 years assumes some proximity to debauchery. I’m sure he walked by it on the street once or twice going to work (his office was in Times Square) or to classes at NYU. But I know he couldn’t afford much lascivious living, even if he were so inclined. And I know for a fact, he hasn’t repented for anything.
But he has returned home. So even though he’s not really a prodigal son, my wife and I are celebrating his return.
The first time I remember being truly excited by someone coming home was when I was 10. My big brother had gone away to college his freshman year, and he came home for Thanksgiving. I went with my parents to pick him up at the Greyhound bus station in downtown St. Louis. He stepped off that bus, and instead of looking around for us, he coolly stood by the bus, getting his suitcase. Unable to wait any longer, I ran up to him and literally jumped on his back. It didn’t take long, of course, to regain my manly-10-year-old demeanor (which I’ve tried hard to maintain the past 64 years).
The kids – we call them M&M – have been back a month now. Their apartment is 5 minutes away from us, and the house they’re buying is even closer. They’ve gotten together with their old friends, many of whom have kids. They’re practicing social distancing and wearing masks. They carefully go to the same stores we do. They seem to have survived their painful divorce from the Big Apple, and are settling into normalcy here… where they belong.
My wife hasn’t stopped beaming in a month. And were it not for my aforementioned manly-10-year-old demeanor, I would be displaying a giddy excitement as well.
But here’s the thing. A big part of the reason they decided to come to Chicago right now, besides wanting to live near family and friends, was to get away from the covid-19 hotbed. They’ve been very careful during the whole pandemic. They had groceries delivered, and then wiped them down. They didn’t go to friends’ apartments for dinner, nor did they have people over. They wore their masks religiously. She walked to her classes all the way across Manhattan, rather than take the subway or a cab.
In other words, they take the pandemic very seriously. And this means we don’t have much normal hang-out time with them. When we have meals together, it’s outdoors and at separate tables. We don’t spend evenings together watching movies on TV. We don’t go to restaurants. The four of us haven’t been in the same car together.
They’re very determined to stay safe – and keep their elderly parents safe – from this dangerous virus.
Herein lies the big difference between that 18-year-old kid who went away to college 13 years ago, and the one who finally came back last month. Back then, we knew what was best for him. We made the rules. He either followed them, or found a way to get around them without our knowledge. Now, they know what’s best for us. They are making their own rules about their and our safety.
M&M and their friends realize that the pandemic rules are something they are taking much more seriously than their parents are. These 30-something kids all feel the same frustration when the old guys in their life get so tired of social distancing and wearing masks that they end up taking undue risk, sometimes jeopardizing three generations of their own family. And that gets our attention.
I don’t think I was quite ready for these kids, the ones who are making their own rules. They’re right, of course. Many of us aren’t taking the pandemic seriously enough, and we’re tired of these damn masks! But so are they. And they are letting us know that if we can’t abide by their rules, then… we could be grounded from seeing them as often as we – and they – would like.
It was easier when I was 10. I just ran up and welcomed my brother home, in my exuberant 10-year-old way.
Now, thanks to my son, I have to be more mature.