THE PARENTING of adult children becomes particularly difficult when neither party is willing to play the part of the child.
We are halfway through the summer, and my college-aged children still refuse to accept their place in the natural order of things. They pretended to be grown-ups for nine months at school, and they think they can come home for the summer and fool me.
Me, who has successfully pretended to be a grown-up for more than 30 years.
My son, who attends a military academy, points out that there are no stripes or bars or stars or anything else but dandruff on my shoulders, and he is, therefore, not obligated to take orders from me.
My daughter seems to think that she can throw herself on my neck every couple of days with protestations of love, and I will not give her any trouble when she blows her curfew the way she blew her last paycheck.
Speaking of which...
If this child thinks a four-hour shift seating diners at a restaurant is work, she is going to need drug therapy to make it through a 40-hour week in corporate America. She must realize that on some level, because she casually mentioned one day that she might skip the whole career thing and go straight to having children.
"Could you make a stop at 'getting married' first?" I asked.
Faithful readers must be laughing up their sleeves at me because this time last year I was publicly weeping over the departure of my children and the end of my calling as their mother.
That was before everything stayed where I put it for nine months. And before the only dishes in the sink were a couple of coffee cups. And before sleeping through the night.
Now, the first floor of my home is filled with packing boxes, and it looks like the people who live there can't decide whether to move or not.
And the second floor, especially the bathroom, looks like the too-small dressing room for too many Las Vegas showgirls.
And the only answer to the continuing mess in the kitchen is to buy more dishes.
My husband is blithely happy to have all his chickens under the same roof. But when they are not under that roof at 4 a.m., it is cause to wake me and demand answers. Apparently, cell phones stop working after midnight.
When they are under my roof at 4 a.m., they are often with friends and making something to eat. I came downstairs to register my displeasure and my daughter treated me like, well, like a child. She shushed me gently and sent me back upstairs to bed.
Do you see what I mean? Somebody switched the scripts in this summertime domestic comedy.
We had the conversation that begins "my house, my rules," but that didn't take. Somebody has to actually believe you are in charge for that to mean anything.
We also had the "common courtesy" conversation, but my children seem to think courtesy is "optional," like the "optional reading" that they were assigned in college and never did.
They think that courtesy is something you trot out for guests and relatives and something for which you get bonus points. But, like a sleep sofa, it is not something you drag out every day.
Those of you who are now inspired to write and tell me what a terrible job I have done raising my children can save the stamp. I have heard it all before and, frankly, that isn't going to get the dishes into the dishwasher or the towels up off the hall floor, metaphorically speaking.
Time is the only answer.
In a matter of weeks, everything will stay where I put it, there will only be two cups in the sink and I will sleep through the night again.
And there will be no doubt as to who the adults are in my house, because they will be the only ones left.