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When freshmen come home for the holidays

Returning home from college for my first Christmas break, I stepped off the plane with two suitcases in tow. One held gifts and thick wool sweaters. The other was filled - seam to seam - with dirty laundry. Hours spent prepping for finals and crafting papers had channeled socks and shirts into heaps that crested higher than my dorm-room desk.

I'll never forget the satisfying hum of my parents' dryer that break - and the freedom I felt not having to worry about dropping quarters in every 20 minutes. But along with cleaner socks, I gained a deeper appreciation for having a nice home and family.

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Three months after getting a first taste of freedom, thousands of freshmen are walking back into their old rooms. They will likely revel in having personal space again, towels washed with fabric softener, and home-cooked meals that outstrip Easy Macs whirled around in dorm microwaves.

Many enjoy winding down. They discover new deference from adults, siblings that peer admiringly up at them - and staying out past midnight with no reprimand. Students say they feel stronger ties to parents as mutual recognition and respect for independence grows. One co-worker said people treated him like an adult for the first time on his freshman break.

There's also a higher premium put on time spent together. Parents see kids heading off to school as leaving home for good. Kids feel it's a passing adventure. Partly for that reason, some students feel a knee-jerk eagerness to return to independence and a 90-mile-an-hour campus pace.

The homecoming can have its tricky moments as well. As one Boston freshman heads home, he admits, "I got my tongue pierced - and my parents don't know yet."

E-mail cooks@csps.com.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society