"Ughhh," said the middle daughter, when we woke her up for school.
"Yughhh," groaned the teenage boy a few minutes later. It was a deeper, more mournful "yugh" than his usual.
At breakfast, the children's heads were drooping into their cereal bowls.
"Wow, what's the matter with you guys?"
"The light kept going on and off in the laundry room all night," said one of the girls. "It kept waking me up. I think it was -- " and she tipped her head toward the stairs.
Their eldest sister had come home on spring break the previous day and had, indeed, commandeered the laundry room. Apparently, it gave her a thrill to be able to wash and dry her things without plugging coins into the machines, so she'd been sluicing and tumbling with abandon. Now, while everyone else was at breakfast, she was fast asleep.
"She kept talking," said the boy. "I heard her at, like, 3 in the morning. Talking."
"I think she was on Skype," said another girl. "I could hear it all the way up the stairs in my room."
"Even with your door closed?"
"Yah," she said, nodding. "It was loud."
"Well," I sighed, "I guess college students live in a different time zone from the rest of us."
I thought: This is what it is to have an almost-grown-up daughter.
When she got up, I'd have to ask her to suspend dorm hours and practices while she was at home. To be honest, I wasn't relishing the exchange. Not that she would mind, exactly, and not that she wouldn't oblige -- but when your child has only just come home and when she is only going to be there a short time, you do not necessarily want to begin by chastising her.
The zombies finished breakfast and staggered out to the car, and, carrying my coffee, I followed. After I'd dropped them at school, I turned the car around and headed back home to clean up the spilled cereal and sticky dishes we'd left behind in the kitchen.
The moment I pushed open the front door, I could tell that something had changed in the house. The front hallway was emptier, somehow. Lovely strains of Massenet floated in from the kitchen.
"Oh, hi!" said the eldest daughter, getting up from her books at the dining room table.
"Darling!" I said, by way of greeting. Then casually: "Did you ... tidy up the hallway?"
"I just put the coats and shoes away," she said.
"And ... " I walked cautiously into the kitchen, scarcely daring to draw attention to what my senses perceived.
"Did you ... tidy up the kitchen?"
I turned to gaze at her and tried to hide the wonder that I felt.
"Well, Mummy, it's the least I could do," she said carelessly, as if teenagers always went around cleaning up kitchens from gratitude, which I believe is not actually the case.
Still a little thunderstruck, I carried my empty coffee cup over to the dishwasher, swung open the door -- and gasped.
It had been emptied! The clean stuff had been put away!
"It has been emptied!" I announced. "The clean stuff has been put away!"
"Well, duh," the eldest daughter said kindly, "Otherwise I would not have had any place to put the dirty dishes."
"Right," I laughed. "That makes sense."
And I thought: This is what it is to have an almost-grown-up daughter.
Meghan Cox Gurdon's column appears on Sunday and Thursday. She can be contacted at email@example.com.