Part of the shock of being a part-time empty nester is when the kids come back to visit and I have to watch my house transform overnight from a pristine haven of OCD goodness to a place that looks like an explosion happened at Forever 21.
After my kids moved mostly out, I put away whatever tchotchkes they chose to leave behind and then I put on a hazmat suit and cleaned their rooms until they shone like the top of the Chrysler Building. Years ago, when they would go to sleepaway camp for a few weeks each summer, I would do the same thing, although to a much lesser degree because I knew they’d be back and looking for some ancient Happy Meal toy that they hadn’t played with in 10 years. This was also a good way to find things that had been borrowed and never returned, as well as whatever hidden stashes of old Halloween candy from the turn of the century they still had that had morphed in the back of their closet into one giant, rancid SweeTART.
I always wondered where they got their DNA because I am uber clean and organized and my husband is mostly, too, with the exception of his shoes, which often go MIA until I redirect him to the last place he took them off.
Recalling those magical days when the kids were away and the house was clean, once the kids were grown and mostly out, I decided the time had come for a really, really deep clean. With their permission, I finally tossed the old Happy Meal toys, busted Beyblades and headless Barbies. I shredded the old sheets for scraps and treated each room to a makeover that would make Martha Stewart proud. Several times a day I would walk by the rooms and grin with guest-room giddiness.
And then the kids came home.
There’s a saying: bigger kids, bigger problems. But there’s also the lesser known: bigger kids, bigger clothes piles.
Within hours of their arrivals, their rooms had become whirling black holes of galactic clutter. Things went in there never to be seen again...or at least not until the kids left. Trying to shield my eyes from the mess, I ordered their doors closed until the end of the vacation. But the chaos spread like a stomach flu, making its way downstairs, across the house and into the family room and kitchen. In the midst of the craziness, the dog was declared missing, only to be found later buried under a heap of discarded blue jeans and sweatshirts.
Desperate to regain some order in the house, I swept into their rooms, gathered everything off the floors and dumped it on their beds. I optimistically hoped the kids would fold the clothes and put them away so they could get into bed that night. But when I got up the next morning and peeked into their rooms, the clothes were still on the beds and neither of the kids was there.
“I didn’t know the kids were staying out last night,” I said to my husband.
“They didn’t,” he replied.
“But they’re not in their rooms,” I said.
“Yes, they are,” he said.
“No, they’re not,” I insisted. “I dumped all their clothes on their beds and the piles are still there.”
“You didn’t look close enough,” he replied.
“What do you mean?”
He pointed to a lump in one of the beds.
“The kids are under the clothes.”
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