Many of you will soon be parents of freshman in college and, at some point not too far off, you may be picking up your son or daughter at the airport, train station or appointed car-pooling spot as he or she returns from school for the Thanksgiving holiday.

You probably will be feeling excited and a bit apprehensive. Excited, because you may not have seen your child for three months and a lot has happened since then. Apprehensive, because. . .see sentence above.

A lot will have happened since that late August or early September drop-off. Not only will the leaves have changed (in most parts of the country), but probably so will your child.

In fact, it may take some getting used to, yet the truth is that your son or daughter is no longer a child, but a young adult. This is true not only in a legal sense, but in many more ways than you probably care to count.

Let’s start at a very basic level: food. After all, your young adult is returning for a holiday that involves no gifts, no fireworks, no presidential tributes carried on a cable news channel at some Washington memorial. He or she is returning for a Thanksgiving feast.

Yet just like it was a surprise to the turkey when it was “prepared” to go through the steps that placed it on your dining-room table, so might it be a surprise to you if your formerly carnivorous son or daughter takes a pass on the platter of meat and makes a plate of side-dishes only. He or she may have gone vegetarian at college, or even “vegan,” which means no dairy products either.

HINT: Do not tease your young adult about this dietary choice, or you may end up being the Thanksgiving turkey yourself.

SUGGESTION: Do offer encouraging comments, sprinkled with diplomatic questions, about not only a new diet, but a new hairdo, a new vocational interest, a new friend and even a new political belief.

After all, part of the reason you have supported your son or daughter’s decision to go off to college was for him or her to learn about different points of view, different lifestyles, different everything. Remember that he or she is at a stage of life, just as you were once, where it is extremely “normal” behavior to challenge what have been, until now, “norms” of behavior.

Also, let’s face it, Thanksgiving Weekend is a short timeframe, and your son or daughter will be about to go back to a stressful period of fall final exams. He or she doesn’t need the added stress of you questioning “why the purple hair?” or “when did you suddenly decide that Dick Cheney is the devil incarnate?”

As much as you are eager to spend time with your young adult, he or she is probably just as anxious to see some high-school friends, catch a movie, go to the mall or maybe even visit a former teacher or coach. Tell him or her upfront: “We’d love to see you tonight, but we totally understand if you want to see (fill-in-the-blank).”

At the same time, do set some expectations for attendance at tomorrow’s Thanksgiving dinner, whether it is at your house or dear old Aunt Millie’s. But show you are reasonable by suggesting a timeframe of togetherness. It is the rare returning college student who wants to watch the Macy’s Parade, the Detroit Lions lose again, have a five-hour supper, and then see the video of you and your spouse’s fall getaway vacation.

In short, if you are cool in your attitude about the way Thanksgiving is spent as a family, then you may build up some much-needed chits when it comes time for your young adult to visit again – for a much longer stretch – during the year-end holidays. Going easy on the chores – and the rip-roaring chortles – this weekend will pay dividends when you are all back together for the two or three (or even more) week-break that many schools provide in the period between end of exams and the start of the winter semester.

That’s when there will be plenty of time. Time for your son or daughter to fix the blinking 12:00 on the new DVD player, time to install the anti-spam software, time to clean the garage, time to get the oil change and, most important, time to talk.

And when he or she does talk, be sure to listen. It will be the best holiday gift you can provide.

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