There is a room in our creaky old base house that we try to avoid. It’s a dangerous hazard, a treacherous obstacle, a toxic wasteland. Those who enter are well-advised to wear eye protection, use a gas mask, and wield a knife, just in case.
You see, buried deep in debris and dirty gym socks lies the creature who is responsible for turning that room into a veritable landfill: our 20-year-old son, Hayden, who has been home from college for three weeks.
Every time Hayden goes back to college, it takes a month to turn his bedroom into an acceptable guest room. It’s not just a matter of cleaning – more like the disaster restoration services that are performed after fires, floods, or lethal mold infestations.
The room stays clean until Hayden comes home from college on break, and the cycle repeats itself all over again.
Now, although I provided my son with clean sheets, the mattress is, once again, bare of linens, which were presumably thrown off in the middle of the night and lay crumpled in a dusty corner. The bed is instead strewn with gum wrappers, cords, empty soda cans, and wrinkled clothing. The floor is covered with piles of neglected books, empty boxes, tangled electronics, crusty dishes, and stiffened gym clothes. Every flat surface holds teetering stacks of college boy cast-offs, all coated in an unhealthy sprinkling of dust and toenail clippings.
Interestingly, none of this seems to interfere with our son’s daily routine while home on break. He is perfectly happy to wake up at noon on his litter-strewn mattress, wearing the same pizza sauce stained t-shirt he had on yesterday, and stumble like a zombie with crazed hair down to the kitchen for his daily roast beef sandwich, which he likes to consume on the couch while watching old episodes of “Judge Judy” and wiping his hands on the upholstery.
After a sufficient number of crumbs have been deposited on the carpet, Hayden finds his way back to his bedroom, somehow negotiating the familiar piles of debris without so much as a scratch, to spend a few hours on one of several electronic devices before getting serious about his day.
Sometime in the mid afternoon, he emerges once again from his personal cess pool, ready to face the day, or what’s left of it, with vim and vigor. He has not shaved, combed his hair, or changed his clothes, but he does manage to grab his coat (which doubles as a blanket while his bedding is in that forgotten corner) and his shoes (both of which remain untied.)
He spends the rest of his day walking the dog, going to the gym, and visiting friends. I wonder if Hayden’s buddies are alarmed by his disheveled state, but I realize that young men his age are too caught up in youthful exuberance to care.
He returns home in time for dinner, during which he consumes his meal in a manner normally associated with rabid wolverines. To his credit, Hayden courteously drops his fork and plate into the dishwasher before retiring to his putrid quarters for the night. We remind him to take a shower, which he always does, even if that occurs at 1:00 am, after various phone calls to friends, old movies, and rounds of Pokemon Super Mystery Dungeon.
We’ll take him back to college next week, after which I will excavate, fumigate and disinfect his room so guests can sleep there without breaking an ankle, contracting a fungal infection, being strangled by electrical cords, or catching Legionnaire’s Disease.
Why do we enable our son to live in such a primitive and unsanitary way when he’s home from college? Shouldn’t we, a military family, require him to wake with morning revelry, and spend his day with productive, ship-shape pursuits?
Perhaps. But seeing as Hayden tackles Differential Equations, Algorithms, and Software Design while at school; we figure he deserves a break. Besides, someday when our kids are through with college and on their own, our house will be perpetually clean and ready for guests – with hospital corners, gleaming surfaces, and Febreezed freshness.
And then, we’ll long for the days when our home was dirtier, because that was when it was when it was their home too.