If you had squinted a little and imagined a row of jumbo jets outside on the tarmac, rather than passing cars, the scene might have been the early-hours departure lounge of a small airport rather than a kitchen.

Here was a weary voyager, apparently just off a red-eye, standing stupefied in the middle of the room. There slumped another wayfarer, lizard-eyed and yawning. Outside, teenage travelers trudged past, each carrying a piece of what looked (if you didn't look too carefully) like luggage.

As in any airport, of course, not everyone seemed tired. Several other travelers were downright frisky; they had obviously slept well on the flight (maybe in first class) and were ready for whatever the day held. These zestful few were, however, in the minority.

"I'm exhausted," said one torpid individual. "I've been up since 3."

"I'm exhausted," groaned another. "I couldn't get to sleep until 12:15."

"I'm wide awake!" announced a perkster. "I was wide awake before Daddy woke me up!"

"Yes, I too feel strangely well-rested," said another.

No one in the room seemed to have synchronized his or her circadian clock with anyone else. Even the dog was confused. It was pretty funny, really, considering that no one was actually jet-lagged. No one had even been near a jet. The family had spent the long weekend in the normal time zone, if a few hours' drive away, living the life of Riley.

In the 1940s, the expression connoted living comfortably thanks to someone else's time, money or effort. On the cusp of 2013, in one particular household, it meant entire families staying up as late they liked before crashing out in the delicious oblivion of sleep and staying in that suspended state until as late as lunchtime the next day. New Year's Eve marked the culmination of this glorious irresponsibility, with 7-year-olds going to bed after midnight, grown-ups and teenagers at 2:30 a.m. and 11-to-14-year-olds staying up past 3.

What a life! What a vacation! But ugh, what a grueling return it makes, for some, when they must resume normal life with all its terrible predawn alarm bells.

"I can't believe you woke me up," said a new voice, as a stunned-looking teenager entered the room and came to a stop, swaying gently.

"But you went to bed at, like, 8:30."

"Yeah, but I didn't get to sleep until, like, after midnight."

"If it's any consolation," said one of the livelier persons, "people all over the country are suffering the exact same way this week. Everybody sleeps late during Christmas vacation, and no one wants to get up early again when school starts, or work. But everybody has to."

Strangely enough, this was no consolation.

Meghan Cox Gurdon's column appears on Sunday and Thursday. She can be contacted at mgurdon@washingtonexaminer.com.