The three weeks with my 19-year-old back from his first term at university has been a joy. We missed him, of course, but also, as the only member of our family to have done anything novel over the past year, he seems thrillingly exotic. We badgered him with questions like medieval peasants welcoming a knight returned from the crusades. “You went bowling?” we whisper in wonder. “You sat in a library! With strangers!”
But his return has also revealed to me how worryingly far along the road of role reversal we have already gone. His is a sweetly sensible generation and I often feel grossly irresponsible around them. So far, he has told me off for not drinking enough (well, any) water, not taking weight-bearing exercise, and looking forward to The Apprentice (him: “It’s just trashy reality TV”; me: “That’s the point?”). As his father and I experimented with various festive alcohols and artery hardeners, he brewed his own herbal teas from whole spices, ground in the pestle and mortar he requested for Christmas, and bemoaned the lack of a tofu press in our house. Yesterday, he urged me, the person who views any meal that takes more than 15 minutes to prepare as a personal affront, to soak my own pulses.
Most evenings he works or reads something improving while we sit gormlessly in front of yet another iteration of MasterChef, picking biscuit crumbs from our cleavage (me) or sleeping (spouse). Last week things came to a head when he distributed copies of a paper he had read on the deleterious effect of “media multitasking” (basically, looking at our phones while watching TV) on memory.
It will never stop being delightful to see your child become an adult, but this is dangerous. If I can now relinquish responsibility for behaving like a grownup, where will this end? Will I blow the mortgage on 90s fashions on Depop, or get a mate to give me a septum piercing? When he comes back at Easter, I might have to download TikTok and finally find out what a “milk crate challenge” is.
Adrian Chiles is on holiday