Janet Lombardi lives in Merrick.

By the time we'd finished moving our son Max into a freshman dorm room at his Maryland college two years ago, his quarters were a sty. Still, I was proud of him. He'd come a long way that summer.

Just before the Fourth of July weekend in 2008, my 18-year-old son and I stood on the platform in Rockville Centre, waiting for the 8:02 a.m. train. It was my ritual as an editor at a nonprofit organization.

"This is hell," Max said.

A new high school graduate, he had snagged a summer job at an information technology firm. It was our first day commuting together to Manhattan. Unshaven, he slouched against a post, eyes barely open.

"Sit in the direction the train is going to avoid sun in your eyes," I told Max when the train came.

"You are so annoying," he replied, plugging in earbuds.

Since my older son had landed an internship at a Los Angeles recording studio, I looked to Max for signs that he, too, was heading down the right path. Now as Max slipped his $211 monthly ticket into his wallet, I worried. Since he was young, he'd been careless with belongings.

Like many in this economy, our family was having financial trouble. We nearly had to sell our home to cover some unforeseen family debts.

So when Max wouldn't get out of bed on the third morning of his summer job, I worried he had dumped his responsibilities.

"Suck it up!" I shrieked when he claimed illness. By evening, however, he felt better and was going out. "Don't wait up," he sang. I fumed.

The next week, a text arrived at my office.

"Going hm. don't feel well."

I called and lectured him about commitment. He grunted, left work, and at 10:30 p.m. declared he was going out. I balked. He left anyway.

When he tiptoed in past curfew at 1 a.m., I was at the door. "Next time you're late, I'm locking you out," I threatened.

"You're making a big deal about nothing!" he screamed.

The next day, my husband and I negotiated a looser curfew in exchange for Max's agreement to get to work and stay there.

He came around. At work, his boss regaled his work ethic and described the smile he reserved every day for the staff. "We're going to miss him when summer's over," she said. At home, he even folded the laundry one day, unasked, and put each person's garments in a stack.

On our last morning, Max and I hustled for the train. "Think we'll make it?" he asked as he slowed down to wait for me. "Yes," I replied. "We're on the right track."