A small drama played itself out when I walked in the door yesterday. And I'm sure the same thing is happening all over the country. Our Adult Children are graduating, and returning home, with all the detritus, er, belongings they have collected over years of dormitory living. We are, of course, delighted to be able to provide them a safe berth for however long it takes to find a job, make enough money, move on.
But I don't mind saying: It is a bit of a shock.
When they left for school, those Almost Adults, we wept (some of us did, anyway). We wandered around their empty rooms for a few months, gazing distractedly at walls, picking up their small animal scent in the air. Then we shuffled out, shut the door. Then we remembered that extra closet space we needed. Or that gym we wanted to install. Or the guest room we needed. Or that Zen minimalist move we had been fantasizing about--empty the room, paint the walls a rich color, put in a massage table, a candle, and that's that.
We got used to living alone, or living with diminished company. We got used to putting something down, and knowing where it would be next time we needed it. Knowing, in fact, that it would still be in the same house.
We suffered the outrage of the beloveds when they came home on school break to find they had lost a bit of real estate. But we always made room for them--if, perhaps, a different room. And then everyone settled down.
Until they returned for a much longer, rather indefinite, break. With stuff.
I was traveling last week, and after hours of trains, planes, automobiles, finally got home in the middle of the day. Everyone was out, the place was quiet--and it looked like a bomb scene. A moving day that was lasting a week. I thought I was going to blow a gasket. I mean, doesn't anyone else in this family need serene, orderly spaces? Doesn't anyone else like to get to their bed without breaking a toe? Do we create sticky spots on the table to hold our computers in place?
But I did not pick up the phone. I did not want to yell. I did not want to choke on anger. I did not want to become The Harridan. I did not want the Young Adults to feel unwelcome, because they are so welcomed that part of me wishes they would never leave.
So I picked up my camera. And as I began to snap away, the whole mess began to seem very, very funny. And the joke was on me.
I began to feel like the health inspector. Those overflowing garbage bins! Those unsanitary food preparation surfaces! Those ants!
Yes, the ants. I had gotten a warning call about the ants a week earlier. They were in the house. They were on the counters. They were swarming the sugar bowl. The sons just wanted to let me know they were there when they arrived, it wasn't their fault. Throw the sugar away, I advised. And buy ant bait before we have an entire ant farm living under the floor. Please.
No problem. But suddenly I noticed that the box of ant bait was sitting on the table, unopened. The poison was, as the note Theo had pasted on the back--with a large arrow pointing to the directions-- advised me: "Kind of Upsetting."
I began to laugh so hard that I was crying. Because yes, yes, yes, the ant poison was upsetting. I had always taken care of the ants, and the spiders, and the mice, and the birds in the chimney and the raccoons in the cellar. I had never afflicted my sons with the terrible knowledge of the secret killing field that is a house.
Yes, the ants enter and eat the bait, they take the bait back to the nest, and they pass the bait on to the queen and destroy the entire colony. A bit of marketing overshare. And profoundly upsetting. Particularly when you think about how Mom goes out, buys food, takes the food back to the nest, and passes the food onto her sons. And feeds and nourishes and loves the entire colony. What this box of bait described was a travesty; an upending of the entire natural order on which our world thrives.
I began to see the whole damn mess from the Young Adult's point of view. It is so hard to move. So hard to have your first nest away from home disrupted. So hard not to know what the next nest will look like. So hard to put all your gear in boxes, not be able to find a clean shirt for work tomorrow. One certainly doesn't need a maniac of a mother to make it even harder.
Admittedly, it is not so hard to wash the dishes. But it is kind of boring.
And it is not so hard to throw out the trash. But that, too, is boring. Anyway, I later learned, it's my fault it spills over. The bin is too small.
And why is the garbage pail so small? It is to keep us mindful of how much we throw away, how much we waste.
I had not, however, considered the floor as part of the garbage system.
Anyway, I began to see that I had started living in ways that made it harder for other people to share my space. A person living alone develops lots of creature habits. After all, where can you put down four mugs of tea if most of the table is covered with shells and sticks and stones? Why is it necessary to put the toaster away, if there will be toast every morning?
It was time for me to make some changes. Time to clear counters, and stash my own stuff, and make room for my company.
Before too long, I had carved out my own corner of serenity. I cleaned a space for my computer on the kitchen table. I sat down to wait for the sons to come home, because I knew they would take care of their mess. But that was boring. So I made their beds, and did a few loads of laundry, and cleaned the sink. Was that enabling?
You bet. It enabled me to keep house for them. It enabled me to stoke the fantasy that they notice that their sheets are crisp and smooth, when they climb in at the end of a long day. And that they care about it. Those guys sure know how to make me feel needed.
And while I cleaned--just a tiny part, I swear, there's a lot left to do--I realized how much I was going to miss the mess when the mess left with them at the end of the summer. So I'm going to cherish every bit of a life well-lived, in all its messy togetherness.
The ants, however, will have to go.