I know what’s waiting for me when I get home. I know that the fridge is going to smell funny, and disorder and chaos will reign, and that Joe and Sam will have a bunch of strange takeaway leftovers but will be perilously close to being out of toilet paper, and that my family will be so glad to see me, but that the cat will not look me in the eye.
I know that even though there’s been frost and a sprinkle of snow, and nobody minds raking up the leaves, nobody will have raked them up, because it’s me that says "Shouldn’t one of us rake up the leaves?"
I know that we’ll need groceries. I know there will be a big pile of mail I have to sort out, and ninety-two errands to run, and a largish pile of bobby pins will have migrated from Sam’s room to the coffee table, where they’ll be nesting with the elastic from every newspaper that’s arrived in the last month. (The newspapers will be scattered round the house, in every room Joe has read them in, and Joe being Joe, that will be all the rooms.)
I know Sam will have her homework scrambled, although there will be a homework station in the dining room, where Joe likes her to do it. They’ll have caught up on going to the movies, because they like that more than I do. The two of them will have nine new inside jokes that I don’t get, and the whole family will be talking about the dinner they all had fun at the other night when I wasn’t there. (It will have been the most fun EVER.) There will be lots of vegetables in the fridge – waiting for me to make something mum-ish, and the kitchen floor will be clean. Joe always washes it right before I get home. He know’s I like it, and he knows it’s better not to see what they’ve done to it while I was gone. Exactly half the carpets will be vacuumed, and the other half will have more cat hair than some cats. (Joe was born with a genetic defect that doesn’t allow him to see cat hair, even when it roams the hardwood like great furry tumbleweed.)
I know that one of my kids will have ripped off at least two articles of my clothing, and will now not recollect it ever having belonged to me. Even if said tee-shirt reads "best mum ever" I will have to fight to get it back. Possession is nine tenths of the law when it comes to teenaged girls and your things – and I didn’t possess much over the last month as I’ve gone from hotel to hotel. My mittens will have wandered into another coat’s pockets, and I’m pretty sure all my shampoo will be used up.
It’s going to be days and days before my feet are under me there, before I’m in the right time zone, before I have the house sorted and nice, before the cat will look me in the eye. There are consequences to being gone this long, and losing your grip on a place is one of them.
I know too, that when I walk through the door, my nice husband will hand me a glass of wine, and ask me if I’m hungry and offer me some of the strange takeaway leftovers. I’ll go upstairs and settle into my big clawfoot tub, and that will be a clean bathtub, because Joe knows that I can overlook cat hair, but a dirty bathtub makes me crazy. I’ll have a soak, I’ll drink my wine, I’ll eat some leftovers, and then I’ll go upstairs to bed, and that bed won’t just be my bed, which would really be enough at this point – but it will have fresh, clean sheets on it, and Joe will have turned down the corner of the duvet and I’ll have a good, solid sleep, and tomorrow I’ll start trying to get back on top of my world. I’ll try to remember it might take a few days, and not rush myself, and I’m even going to try and not be pissed off about the funny smell I know is coming from the fridge because nobody threw out that broccoli that was going off the last time I visited the kitchen eight days ago. I’m going to go slow, and remember that I’m super tired, and super out of sorts, and super behind, and that I don’t have to fix all this in one morning – or one day.
I’m going to spend the rest of the trip home thinking about all those things that I know about arriving home and how things are there, and I’m going to focus on the clean sheets and not on the way the washer smells strange because Sam forgot to leave the door open and it’s moldy in there now. I’m going to remember that part of supporting my family this way just means that re-entry is often, and it’s nasty, and that my family is both grateful that I do this, and a little secretly hostile that I do this, and that getting back into the swing of a family that limps without you? It’s a lot like getting mauled by a bear or having a newborn.
It goes a lot easier if you don’t fight back.