This is a column I wrote in January 2005. Two kids were still at home and enjoying an extended Christmas vacation brought about by extreme winter weather.
I really don’t mind having the kids around. But after three days off school and a two-hour delay this morning, I have to admit to a small sigh of relief when they finally left. It’s not like they just came off a nice long Christmas vacation and I just got the house back in order or anything . . . Like an amusement park ride, it’s fun, but it feels as if things are slightly out of kilter, a little out of control.
By the time it is determined that, indeed, school is canceled for the day; my most productive hours have flitted by. First the school closure announcement vigil is somehow left to me while the girls stagger back to bed. Much later they arise and indulge in a leisurely brunch that uses every dish in the house and requires at least three televisions blaring at once. About that time, telephone calls from all the friends start to come in. Then complaints of boredom begin. My boredom busting list of odd jobs is met with moans, groans and sudden recollections of unfinished homework.
When school is called off, I feel like a dictator about to be toppled, as there is an uneasy sense of anarchy in the house. Everywhere I turn, evidence of lurking children pops up like mushrooms after a rain. Why it’s more fun to watch squabbling, dysfunctional family shows on the dinky television in the master bedroom – also dinky – will always be a mystery to me. Because it is, when I attempt to make my bed a 17-year-old, two cats, a dog and toast crumbs have to be thrown out of it first.
The day wears on . . . and on . . . Like an unwanted insect invasion in the garden, the kids and their debris continue to creep over the house. My heart skips a beat and blood beats in my temples when a bottle of fingernail polish remover is discovered next to my computer keyboard. Pop Tart wrappers litter the kitchen counters. I have to take a number to get to the computer. A half-drunk can of pop sits on the coffee table without a coaster. Meanwhile, Corky the cat with an odd affectation for carbonated beverages is honing in on it, with only one purpose in mind – to knock it over. Hearing an odd crunching sound, I get down on my hands and knees to investigate and find Dill the dog under the sofa gnawing on an abandoned pizza crust. The clothes washer is chugging away with a load that consists entirely of three socks and a pair of tattered boxer shorts. Someone tiptoes out to the mailbox in her sock feet, and when she gets back in the house, scatters the mail all over the dining room table and trails soggy toe prints across the floor. When I finally catch up with one of them and strong arm her into emptying the dishwasher, I’m not sure I’ve really won when she puts on the screeching, thumping music chosen to accompany the task.
Then, despite road conditions that remain slicker than a sled run, like drops of freezing rain, hints about going to the mall begin to fall faster and faster and harder and harder. My resistance is high and the pleas are ignored, no matter how urgent the proposed need. How one can develop a critical lack of jeans, hair care products or makeup in a matter of a few hours is a wonder.
Eventually, I slip into my boots, grab a coat and the dogs and head outside. The air is crisp with the clean smell of snow. I usually put my camera in my pocket and try to capture and hold the small wonders of nature – an ice encrusted branch, a birdhouse strung with miniature icicles, birds busy at the feeders.
It takes a little doing to break winter’s hold on the barn doors, but eventually I get them open. Chase, eager for his afternoon hay, neighs and the rest of the barn critters chime in with a variety of clucks, crows, honks, quacks and ma-a-a-as.
From outside, I still hear the CD player rumbling, but it doesn’t bother me from this distance. Instead it’s a signal that the girls are safe at home. For a few minutes I don’t have to worry about them.
On this school morning, as I type, I find myself listening for feet clumping on the stairs and realize that even after almost of week of unexpected close confinement, I miss them.