(Editor’s Note: Margaret is beginning a several week visit to India, and has elected to print some of her favorite columns from the past. We hope you enjoy them.)           

    Christmas will never be the same in the Dickson household.
    I have known this at some level for a good while, of course, but this truth rocketed inward on me with the force of a body blow shortly after Dec. 25, 2004, while all three children were still home from their various schools. This stunning and somewhat numbing realization exploded when I chanced upon a photograph from not-so-many-years ago of my younger son, now just shy of 6-feet tall and clearly still growing. In the picture, though, he is standing in an elementary school classroom beside his extraordinary fifth-grade teacher, the renowned Katie McFadyen of VanStory Hills Elementary School. Not a tall woman, she nevertheless stands nearly a head taller than the brown-haired boy beside her and upon whose shoulders she fondly rests her hands. Both teacher and pupil are smiling, she in the warm way teachers do and he with braces gleaming. I remember snapping the photograph myself one spring afternoon, along with similar ones of Mrs. McFadyen and several of her other students. 
    And what made this Christmas so different from the ones which have preceded it? 
    No longer do the Dickson parents enforce the previously ironclad rule that no one and that means NO ONE, goes downstairs before 7 a.m. No longer do the Dickson parents have to beg, cajole and threaten the Dickson children to go back to sleep until at least daylight. Nowadays, Santa Claus hits our house in the bright light of Christmas morning amid heavy breathing, perhaps even snores, from the still-sleeping “youngsters.”
    {mosimage}No longer does Santa deliver presents with thousands of tiny parts which torture bare feet, and the only “wheels” they yearn for are equipped with much horsepower and are sold by dealerships.
    The final proof, if I really needed it, was confirmed in church on Christmas Eve when only one minor maternal behavioral correction was required. This was in marked contrast to the same service 17 years ago when one child crawled under pews and between other congregates’ legs and another stuck crayons in her nostrils. These Christmas Eve performances were capped that very evening by the older child falling head first into a semi-frozen pool presided over by a statue of St. Francis of Assisi.
    Neither Christmas nor any other aspect of our family life will ever be the same again, because we are no longer a family with young children. We are a family of young adults.
    Every parent comes to this realization, I imagine. While it feels bittersweet in some ways and is accompanied by memories of family life, some wonderful and some horrendous, family evolution is both inevitable and positive.  It means all of us — both parents and children — have survived and developed. I am a bit anxious but also tremendously excited and maybe even a tad jealous of the futures staring at my own precious young adults. Number one graduates from college this spring. Number two is right behind him, and number three has begun to think about college. I do not know what any of them may wind up doing, but each will probably have several careers, if what sociologists now tell us is correct. I do know that having grown up in a mass culture and a global economy, they are much more experienced and sophisticated than I was at their ages. But I also know they will experience the same “birthing” pains all human beings do as we move into our adult lives and that there is very little even the most loving and caring parent can do to ease them through this phase of their own maturation.
    I confess that I have teared several times during the holiday season over the changes in my own little family. 
    The boys have returned to their respective schools, and our daughter is visiting a friend in another state before her classes resume. It surprises me only a little that the “children” seem to feel the evolution as well. Just before they scattered back to their own lives, all five of us rode together, two in the front seat and three in the back, in one car to the same destination. Number one, a strapping young man, laughed at the memory of family trips together over the years, of the family once again “rolling along.” He wondered how we actually did that for so long. Of course, we were all smaller then, he noted quite accurately and — did I only imagine this part? —  perhaps a bit wistfully. We returned from our destination in the same cozy fashion.
    And what do maturing families do when they get home from such an outing? This one sat down and watched dogs competing to see which one could jump the longest distance into a pool of water and talked about a terrific dog we had for many years not so long ago.
    Maybe nature builds us this way, but I really do like this better than Sesame Street.

Contact Margaret Dickson at [email protected]
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