With our three kids finishing up summer jobs or out with friends, the house was unusually silent last week, except for the whirr of the ceiling fan and the soft tap of Moby’s dog nails on the tile kitchen floor.
One afternoon, I was going over the planner I’d been neglecting all summer. I threw out expired coupons and “To Do” lists I’d never gotten to, and ran a finger across the hole-punched calendar. The upcoming weekend squares read, “Take Anna and Hayden back to college.”
Moby’s stout yellow frame clunked down at my feet, seeking a cool spot to beat the afternoon heat. He stretched out his webbed toes as I scratched his belly. In a couple of days, Hayden and Anna would be back at college, Lilly would be in high school, and Moby would be my daytime companion again.
As a military spouse and work-from-home mom, I was used to being alone. As much as I missed my peaceful, organized solitude during the school year, I wanted to savor the crazy, cluttered, sticky, sandy, loud, fun inconvenience of having a house full of kids.
I remembered that the kids would need clean clothes for school, so I stepped over Moby in search of dirty laundry.
Passing through the foyer, I spied Lilly’s tennis bag where she’d thrown it after working at the local recreation center. As I pulled her dirty uniform out of the bag, gritty clay sprinkled onto my hardwood floors.
All summer, I’d been trying to get Lilly to leave her equipment on the porch. But after working on the hot tennis courts, she’d burst into the house with so much enthusiasm for whatever was next — inviting friends over, snuggling with Moby, lunch — all she could do was drop her bag and bound into the kitchen seeking chocolate milk. I smiled thinking of how Lilly’s optimistic nature had brightened my summer days.
On my way upstairs, I nearly tripped over Anna’s shoes — fringed denim mules this time. A fashion design major, Anna left clothing and accessories all over the house, each piece specifically chosen for her unique daily ensembles, then summarily discarded.
This summer, I had told Anna to pick up her things too many to count. Despite her chronic disorganization, she had a uniquely creative mind. I grabbed her shoes, and her purple tasseled handbag draped over the banister, and continued to the bedrooms, thinking about how much I would miss Anna’s quirky sense of style.
I paused at Hayden’s room, instinctively inhaling before opening the door. Entering his lair was like embarking on a dangerous wilderness expedition. The air was thick the sharp aroma of stagnant soda, dirty socks and dead skin cells. The treacherous path around the furniture was tangled with electronics wires, discarded clothing, and pretzel bags. The bed was a jumble of twisted sheets and video game equipment.
When he wasn’t at his full-time summer internship, Hayden was usually in this room playing video games, talking to friends, or sleeping. Sounds would emanate — laughter, bling-bling, bloop-bloop, silence. He’d emerge for dinner, and on rare occasions, he’d plop down on the couch to watch TV with me. Despite his gruff nature, he never complained when I snuggled a little, holding his hand or letting my foot rest on his lap. As I pinched his smelly laundry between my thumb and forefinger, I giggled at the paradox that our sweet, accomplished, intelligent son was such a hopeless slob.
In the laundry room, I stuffed the clothes and a few sandy beach towels I found over the porch rail into the washing machine and punched the buttons. The water rose in the round door’s glass window — preparing to wash away the remnants of summertime adventures, sticky ice cream cones, smokey fire pits, dusty bike rides, and saucy spaghetti dinners — and I felt the water in my eyes rising too.
Watching the socks and t-shirts slosh to and fro, I reminded myself that this is the cycle of life. After nine months of peace and quiet, the kids will come rushing back again, crowding our house with noise, sand, laughter, crumbs, laundry, and — as always — love.