This is how it begins: One night in early September, while
watching TV, you decide to pop some corn. So you go into your kitchen to dig out the old popcorn machine, but it's nowhere to be found.
Then, a week or so later, you feel a chill in the air and decide it's time to get out the portable space heater. But after an hour or two of searching, you turn up nothing. Nada. Zilch. Zero.
The pace begins to quicken.
Over the next fortnight you search for, and fail to find, such items as your hair dryer, Mr. Coffee machine, electric fan, teakettle, kitchen shears, assorted luggage, extra-large bath towels, hair mousse, Chinese wok, sewing kit, desk lamp, portable phone, electric blanket, transistor radio and electric blender.
As the mystery deepens -- and the list of missing items grows -- all kinds of scenarios run through your head. A cat burglar. Early senility. A friend borrowed your luggage. The blanket's at the cleaners. You left the phone at the beach.
Then, before you know it, it's the middle of October -- the time when parents of college freshmen traditionally visit their kids on campus -- and suddenly the Mystery of the Missing Household Items is solved: They are all residing in a room on a distant college campus -- the one occupied by your college-age son or daughter.
Why is it, I wonder, that nobody warns parents that when your kids go away to college, so do all your small household appliances?
And why is it that none of the child experts -- not even Dr. T. `` Berry Brazelton -- sees fit to include this developmental phase in their books on raising children:
"At approximately the age of 18, the average, college-bound teen-ager goes through period of relocating household appliances. A general rule of thumb is that after each visit home, student takes at least four additional appliances and/or household items back to college."
My own first encounter with this developmental phenomenon occurred while walking across a campus on freshmen parents' weekend. From a distance, I spotted my son. Recognized him, in fact, by the sweater he was wearing -- an intricately patterned ski sweater I purchased for him in Norway.
However, upon closer inspection I confirmed that while it was, indeed, the aforementioned sweater, it was not my son.
"He lent it to me," said the young man who was not my son. He then directed me to my son's dormitory.
And what a pleasant surprise it was, upon arriving at the entry to my son's room, to be greeted by an old familiar friend -- the "Welcome" mat that had disappeared from my very own front door just a month before.
Inside, I felt equally at home. There, reclining among the batik-covered pillows from my den, I sipped a pineapple frappe from my blender and marveled at how many interesting patterns could be formed just by stacking up assorted pieces of my luggage in an interesting way.
And the climate control in the room was excellent. My space heater going full blast in the bathroom produced, I thought, just the right temperature. Even on a day when it was 85 degrees outside. Another plus about the bathroom was I got to use my own towels again -- the monogrammed ones that had been given to me as a wedding gift.
I also enjoyed seeing my white, pearlized wastebasket and matching soap dish again. I'd forgotten how attractive they were.
To my surprise, I felt equally at home in the room across the hall. Invited there by my son's friend, I noted how attractive my desk lamp looked sitting next to my portable phone. And what good reception my radio got, even up here in the hills of the Berkshires.
From there it was a movable feast over to a room occupied by another of my son's friends. The popcorn made in my popper never tasted better and I must say that my old patchwork quilt looked mighty good thrown across the back of his friend's futon.
In fact, I was so impressed with this recycling of household goods that I scarcely minded at Thanksgiving when the sleds disappeared from the garage. Or the disappearance after Christmas break of an Edward Hopper poster, a small side table and a bedside reading lamp.
I minded even less at spring break when a number of sheets, pillowcases and pillows -- along with a small desk chair -- vanished. Actually, the house was beginning to look more spacious. Less cluttered, somehow.
What I did mind, however, was that awful day at the end of the school year when the son arrived home with a U-Haul trailer attached to his car. I think you know what was inside.