A week ago, I was sitting down to dinner in the midst of more than 300 of the most amazing and funny women I had ever met.
But my head wasn’t really with them. It was at home.
For four days in April, every other year, more than 350 women and a few men gather together at the University of Dayton for the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop. And for more than six years, it was a dream to attend. This time around, I decided to go.
It was a huge sacrifice for everyone involved. I wouldn’t be there for my son’s last concert. The boys would have to get up and take the bus instead of having me drive them to school. Someone would have to cook dinner. There would be no one to remind people to take out the dishes, clean the bathroom, close the refrigerator door and empty out the cat litter box.
I imagined that they probably wouldn’t even notice that I wasn’t there until it was time for dinner to magically appear on the table.
I couldn’t have been more worried or more overjoyed.
Four days with complete control of the television remote, no dishes or laundry, a bed all to myself and no bickering over who got to listen to the iPod. I could go to the bathroom without some form of human or animal coming into the room. I could sit down to dinner without having to pop back up every time my butt hit the chair to get something for someone.
And as I live in South Carolina, it is only a 1,784,329 mile drive which takes roughly nine hours with the occasional pit stops… eight and a half if you wear those astronaut diapers. So, the plan was to leave on Wednesday afternoon and cover half the trip, then drive the rest of the way the next day. After four days of enlightenment, I would leisurely drive home, reveling in the experience and letting the knowledge and tutelage I had received absorb into my brain.
It didn’t take long after I left for my head to return home.
On Wednesday, things were fine. My son had had the courtesy of waiting until the night before to tell me that he had given his good suit pants away to Goodwill and had nothing to wear to his concert, so my husband was spared the last minute trip to KMart – one which I dutifully made at 8 p.m. instead of packing. On Wednesday night though I drove through the darkness and talked to them and my mother on the phone periodically, so I didn’t feel quite so alone.
The boys had refused to let me load all of my favorite songs on to a CD (“Mom, that is SO old school”) and had instead loaded them onto the iPod, which served the dual purpose of entertaining me, and preventing my husband from killing them for arguing over it for one more time. I cranked the tunes, sang at the top of my lungs through Tennessee and Kentucky and arrived Thursday afternoon, safe if not exhausted.
I got to the hotel just in time for the phone report on how the dinner preparations were going. I called later to find that the concert had been good, even if the drive in Dad’s Jeep had been a little cold. I imagined them getting pneumonia from riding with the top down, but I was assured all was well.
It wasn’t until Friday that I began to worry. While I was saying “Yes, I think I will have another glass of wine” to the waitress, the first call came in.
“Honey, where’s the duct tape?”
This is never a good thing.
No amount of distance can overcome the fear of what could possibly need to be fixed with duct tape.
According to my husband, everyone was in their rooms, innocently watching television, when they all heard the sound of glass breaking.
“I went into our bedroom, and there was a hole the size of a softball in the window.”
The duct tape was to hold the glass together until he had a chance to replace it. And he will. But still. The window was broken. I was in Dayton. He couldn’t find the duct tape.
They needed me.
We decided that it was probably a bird that overshot the roses that grow outside of our bedroom windows. With no evidence of a rock or baseball or brick, it was the most logical conclusion. The duct tape was found, the hole was covered and all was well with the world again.
The next day, my son called during lunch to ask me if I knew where any of his high school teachers lived.
This in and of itself is not the oddest question he may have ever asked me, but rightfully so, probably one of the more worrisome. It was all innocent, he protested. According to him, a restricted drivers license needs the signature of a person who works at his school.
“Honey, you don’t have a restricted license.”
No, but his friend was getting one, and they figured if they could get one of their teachers to sign the paperwork, they’d be able to take a quick trip to the DMV, get the license and go for a ride.
Clearly, they had never actually been to the DMV if they felt accomplish something through a “quick trip” there.
“As this is the weekend and the first day of Spring Break, I am pretty sure that showing up on the porch of one of your teachers would not endear them to you or resolve your issue,” I said.
Begrudgingly, he relented, although I’m pretty sure they resorted to the next best thing to Mom – Google. If only Google knew where their new shoes were.
Later that night, another call let me know that things weren’t going well. It was 7 o’clock and Dad was just starting the burgers on the grill. A warning to the boys that they needed to close their windows since they didn’t have screens in had been ignored and two other birds, apparently looking for revenge for their fallen brethren, flew into the house through my older son’s window while their Dad was at work. My son, his brother and his friend chased the two birds around the house in an attempt to catch them and get rid of them, and finally caught one of them with an old T-shirt.
As a mom, several things went through my head at this news:
A) did no one open the doors?
B) where were our four cats during this? and
C) what happened to the other bird?
All of this was relayed by phone. Naturally, I thought about running home and taking care of everything.
My husband said to stay.
“I’ve got this. We can survive without you. I’ve got everything under control.”
So, maybe they didn’t need me.
I went back to talking to my new friends, trading stories of motherhood and drinking more wine. While my head was there and I was enjoying my time, my heart was with my family.
The next day, I drove home quickly. I stopped, as I had planned, at an art museum to be free and artsy once again, but there was no one there to share it with, no one there to talk about it with, no one there to say “Mom, can we go now?”
I should have been happy to have had the time to myself, but all I could think about was getting home.
I drove straight through to get home before everyone went to bed. My arm and shoulder hurt from leaning on them in the car and my legs were cramping from the driving. But I made it home – to hugs and stories and kisses and a plate of dinner.
Instead of a mess of a house, I found a mopped kitchen, laundry thumping away in the dryer and a sink conspicuously clear of dishes.
They wanted me to be happy when I came home. And I was.
They may not have needed me, but they missed me, even through tribulations and an apparent bird invasion. And even though I wasn’t there to handle it for them, they managed… not because I had trained them, or they had learned from me, but because they were smart, capable men who could do for themselves.
I’ll remember that next time I don’t want to do dishes.
© Liz Carey 2014