I spent a week at the beach doing next to nothing. I would have done absolutely nothing had I not had an antsy teenager that occasionally insisted we leave the beach to do something like go shopping or out to lunch. Otherwise I swam in the pool when I got hot, stared at the waves rolling into shore, listened to the call of seagulls and watched pelicans glide in long lines overhead. Every now and then, one would take a headlong dive into the sea in a fishing expedition.
I read. I lazily conversed with sisters, my mom, aunts, uncles, cousins. I swam in the ocean, diving under waves and floating over big rollers as they swelled up. I went to yoga. I ate steamed shrimp and hushpuppies. I spent hours standing in the shallow end or treading water in the deep while my tiny cousin swam back and forth between me and the side of the pool.
My mind became a vast blank. Whether the blankness was out of avoidance or pure relief to be away from it all—or both—I’m not quite sure. I never put pen to page despite vague intentions, I did not meditate. I did not take long thoughtful walks on the beach. I didn’t even ponder the situation at home while staring at the horizon. I just sat, hoping to see dolphins, watching the sandpipers skitter across the sand.
I had thought I would, at some point, either magically or purposefully, come up with a plan for life when I returned home. The last year has been stressful with a variety of crises, both acute and seemingly unending, revolving around the teenagers in my household. Things had just started to settle when I left home for a week to go to the beach, leaving my husband home to hold down the fort with one of them. I took the other one with me.
It was with a big sense of chagrin that I realized, the night before I was to board a plane and fly home, I had seemingly made no headway. Though perhaps the headway was in blotting it all out of my mind.
I woke up on Monday morning back in my life. My nineteen-year old had dyed his hair bright red while I was gone. So red I could hardly look at him. I called my husband at work mid-morning. “Do you know who he looks like?” I asked.
“Bozo the Clown?” he replied. I was thinking Ronald McDonald, but Bozo was spot on too.
This older son is the one who has caused the most angst recently. The details exhaust me so I’ll just say he’s been within an inch of being asked to no longer live in our house. He said to my husband while I was gone, “I hope Mom comes back in a better mood.” I spit my water when my husband told me this. “Did you tell him he was the reason for my ‘MOOD?'” I asked.
I wandered around the house on my first day home. My husband said he had vacuumed but besides the vacuum cleaner being in the living room, the evidence was hard to see. Partly due to the fact, probably, that the vacuum was set on bare floors and he had had a go at the carpets. I vacuumed—the whole house, and not just the few rugs in the living room—and swept and mopped the sticky, crumb covered kitchen floor.
I emptied the cat box in the basement that had clearly been ignored for a week. I cleaned out the food from the fridge which had been languishing there since before I left—week old tuna salad, lentil salad growing mold, liquified lettuce and squishy cucumbers in the vegetable drawer.
I threw out the two bed pillows a dog had thrown up on and which had been sitting in the laundry room for a week.
To give my husband credit, he had tried to vacuum, he fixed the chimney and replaced the sink disposal someone put pistachio shells into resulting in a broken disposal and water blasting everywhere from under the sink.
I’ve found going away and leaving my family home has a distinct problem: the change of location fantasy.
Though I should know better, I think the fairies will come while I am gone, work their magic, and leave my life forever changed for the better. Something inside of me believes that in my absence, things will change. Or more specifically, the people left at home will change. They’ll see it my way. They will think to themselves, “Hmmm, Mom will be home tomorrow and she loves a clean house. Let’s vacuum the whole house as a way to welcome her home. Let’s clean the smelly, moldy leftovers out of the fridge. Let’s put clean sheets on her bed. Oh—and let’s make sure we have milk and eggs and something for dinner for tonight when she gets home.”
Additionally, whatever domestic issues were at hand will have evaporated. Nineteen year old sons will have jobs, will be motivated to return to community college, will have started cleaning the cat box and bathroom with glee and without nagging.
My husband will no longer floss his teeth in bed and leave the floss in little balls on his bedside table, or put his dirty dishes in the sink instead of the dishwasher. The dog will no longer bark at the UPS man and everyone else who walks by. The weeds will have stopped growing rampantly through the spaces between the flagstones on the patio.
I came back from a long weekend trip a few months ago and was furious to find no one had honored my request to vacuum before I returned home. My fury apparently resulted in the current vacuuming attempt. Which I do appreciate. But I have learned something.
Successful post-vacation re-entry has a lot to do with managing my own expectations and hopes. It means reminding myself that despite my desperate wishes, the cleaning fairies will not have been at my house. It means knowing my next day will be spent putting my house to rights—grocery shopping, house tidying and laundry. And accepting that what I left behind—the flailing young adult, the barking (and puking) dog, the flossing husband, and the stinky cat box will still be there just like I left them.
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