Homeward Softly

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. 

97 thoughts on “Homeward Softly

  1. I am enjoying this post while not fighting the laundry, the kitchen floor (where are my kitchen fairies?), and the overly processed food I’m allowing my kids to consume tonight. Some days just have to be easy for everyone. Welcome home. Be gentle.

  2. This is a perfect expression of coming home from a business trip– except that your family esp. Joe welcomes you better than most. Extra points for clean sheets.

  3. Welcome home! My husband is a merchant marine and will be at work for months at a time. His homecoming is always joyous and always an adjustment because you get used to not having someone around. Be happy that your home and enjoy your clean sheets! Everything will still be there tomorrow (unfortunately) but you can totally take naps.

  4. Welcome home! The science projects in the fridge can keep another day or two. Enjoy your wine-n-soak.

  5. What a beautifully written and thoughtful piece. Enjoy your lovely sheets and the wine. The yukky bits will still be there later!

  6. I highly recommend dealing with the long-gone-off broccoli as you walk through the kitchen before the wine and soak. Those kind of aromas follow a woman upstairs into the tub. Otherwise you sound like you’ve got a handle on reentry. Joe gets megapoints for clean kitchen floor, wine, and clean sheet, the rest is just irritation. You can deal with it tomorrow.

  7. This is the type of situation where being basically lazy is an advantage.
    I was not traveling but did something that to me is torture: had company for two weeks. Just trying to be civil and cooking takes up all my energy so not much cleaning was done. By the time the company left my home was a shambles.
    But being lazy I do not even try to fix it all in one day. First there is one day that all I do is sleep round the clock. Then the cleaning takes days. Sometimes I do a room a day, other times a chore a day (i.e. vacuuming and moping one day, laundry the next, and so on.)
    My guests left last Sunday and today (Friday) is when finally my apartment is back to normal.

  8. Remember. In future they will not remember that the fridge smelt funny. They will remember that you took quality time for them. Be kind and gentle to yourself.

  9. Welcome home! Clean bathtub and clean sheets? That’s enough to make me overlook the broccoli and moldy washer…at least for a few hours.

  10. This could not be more relevant to my life right now, in a sort of nebulous way. Have I been away? Have I been traveling, you ask?
    In a manner. I am immersed in the hell that is 16 weeks of chemotherapy. Do you want to know a secret? It isn’t that bad. I mean, physically, of course, it is rough. But I know it will pass, like labor passed both times and like a hurricane passes. It is doable. And the meds help.
    But what is exquisitely painful? Not being the mum that is making the class cupcakes or is on top of new knitwear for all the teachers or is competent in 101 different ways that to me meant BEING a mother. In a very real way, I am gone from my family even as I am here.
    Thank you for a reminder that reentry, while painful, while awkward, while uncomfortable, DOES happen. For me it will be in March. I will work hard to be gentle with myself then. Thank you.

  11. Very similar to returning to my home after two varying-degress-of-emergency trips to Arizona to deal with my mom’s health crisis. So good to come home to familiar-though-slightly-skewed surroundings… and loving husband and ticked-off kitty. Enjoy!!!

  12. Clean sheets, clean bathtub, a glass of wine….and complete and unfettered access to your stash, your needles, your projects. Heaven!

  13. I have never been able to figure out whether to leave the washer lid open or closed between loads. Thanks for clearing that up! (Perhaps because I live in a desert it has never grabbed my attention?)

  14. There are very few feelings as good as sliding between clean sheets on your own bed after having been away.
    Welcome home.

  15. yes, do concentrate on the clean tub, the clean kitchen floor and the 1/2 of the carpets that are clean
    it sounds like you have a wonderful husband

  16. I think this the first post that contrasts some of the nice things your family does for you with the thoughtless things. I’m glad they understand some of what you go through and try to get at least some things lined up to aid the re-entry.
    Enjoy being home and in your own bed and try to pace yourself as you right the ship.

  17. You have the right attitude. “Some days you’re the dog, some days you’re the hydrant”. Be the dog.

  18. Sounds like you have re-entry under control. Clean sheets, a clean tub AND a glass of wine? Good man you have. As always, all of life is a wee bit easier when you pick your battles…clearly you have made peace with your choices…carry on.

  19. Your piece was a wonderful portrait of that feeling of homecoming when you’ve traveled enough to know exactly what to expect there… I recently came home from three days in the hospital and had to work very hard to concentrate on the very clean bathroom and the lack of dirty dishes in the sink (courtesy of my overworked and stressed-out husband) and ignore everything else. I am usually the stay-at-home one and could hardly bear being away, knowing what was spinning out of control in my absence. But the good is there – and the rest will wait for another day. And to ChristieinVT, hang in there!

  20. I think re-entry is hard for everyone. Those who’ve travelled, and those who’ve been stationary. Sometimes I’m more successful with the ‘being gentle’ than at other times. Good for you for framing it all before you arrive home. Enjoy your weekend!

  21. I spent a long, hard year away from my family while working at a hospital in Virginia and remember often wishing only to go to sleep in a house where someone was there who loved me. Enjoy the wine, the clean sheets, and the footsteps of Sam and Joe during those moments where you resurface before snuggling down again. Welcome home

  22. Such a sweet post. I used to travel for work, the kind that took you on the road for weeks at a time, and you captured it. The one thing you didn’t mention is the feeling of gratitude when the wheels of the airplane on the last leg home leave the tarmack and you are on your way, truly, on your way back to your own – your own bed, your own house, your own family most of all.
    I’m happy just thinking of you coming home. Sleep well!

  23. I’ve “trained” my husband to do many things over the years, but he never really grasped the clean sheets trick! You really are a lucky woman!

  24. Thank you, Stephanie! I am on the brink of another trip that will take me away from home and family for a few days, and your post helped me remember why I do the traveling: to come home again. Home to spouse, home to dog, home to comforts only found at home….and, of course, the stash….bliss!

  25. But what we really want to know is… what direction are the mugs?? Open up or open down? ;^) WELCOME HOME, it’s missed you!

  26. I have a better half who is fantastic about doing dishes, but can walk by a dirty counter without seeing all the crumbs and food crud… for three weeks… but there’s no place I’d rather be than with him.
    Enjoy those sheets!

  27. I used to say that my imaginary family, the one that I thought about on the way home, was so much nicer than my real family that greeted me at the door. Now I realize that the problem was me. I was in denial and delusional. The knider, saner way is to know what to expect and to appreciate the small kindnesses and the realities of my real family; and to do it generously. Welcome home.

  28. ChristieinVT- best wishes for your recovery and ultimate re-entry. Best wishes for the holiday season.

  29. Thanks for this. I also just arrived home from a week long work trip (to the Pacific Coast of Nicaragua – poor me), and I know that my family has gone feral. But I need to appreciate them, just the same.

  30. It could be much, much worse. My mom has Alzheimer’s and has been in a memory care unit for a year and a month. My dad (late 70’s) and my brother (early 40’s) have been living in my parents’ house for that time.
    Mom didn’t allow anyone to do any housework (because it was HER HOUSE and they would do it WRONG), so these guys have no idea how to keep a house in a livable state while still living in it. I live 1500 miles away, so this is the first time I’ve been back since mom went into the care center. For 2 days I walked around like Higgins on Magnum PI…”Oh. My. GOD!!”
    I had no idea her house could get this dirty. I assumed after decades of obsessive cleaning the surfaces would just reject dust. Let them try and fail and figure out how to manage. Nobody should be this incapable of keeping their living quarters in a decent state.

  31. Welcome home!
    After getting the most pressing chores out of the way, take a moment tomorrow to sit back, wiggle your toes, stretch long and revel in being home.

  32. If I were you, I would have way more fun being gone than they would having me being gone. I am the least neccessary person in my house.

  33. Clean sheets, clean kitchen floor, AND clean bathtub.
    Girl, you just hit the trifecta. Nothing is worth complaining about after that.

  34. Clean sheets on your own bed, a clean tub and a glass of wine – that’s something to absolutely look forward to. Take the rest in small amounts, sprinkled liberally with time spinning and knitting. In your own home. With your own wonderful stash. For those of us about to celebrate Thanksgiving next week, that’s a whole lot to be thankful for.

  35. so I’ve just worked the last 12 days straight and feel just the way you do… it’s a wonderful job I do and I love it
    But no one can do what a mom does for a family.

  36. There is an easy way to get the cat to look you in the eye. Put her all-time favorite people food (cheese, chicken, ice cream, whatever), cat treat, or a fresh leaf of catnip on your nose. She will look you in the eye while claiming her prize. Let’s just hope she doesn’t bite your nose.
    And did Joe really leave old newspapers in your stash room? The nerve!!

  37. Yep. Ain’t it grand? Welcome home, Stephenie. All of this is good stuff to remember in the upcoming week for Thanksgiving in the U.S. — which, as an American, I offer to you our wholehearted embrace. It’s the small stuff, the routine, that we crave and appreciate…the stuff of which our lives are made. Nice to be back, eh?

  38. To ChristieinVt up there whose post my scrolling just happened to land on, best wishes and heal gently and well. To Steph, happy landings and thank you, Joe for taking such good care of her.

  39. Wow, Joe is great, and you’re great for looking forward to how much he puts into your homecoming. I hope it’s an unexpectedly relaxed and calm reentry.
    And that second to last line just knocked my socks off. My daughter is 4 months, my son is three, and I feel like I’ve been an absent parent for him far too often. I hadn’t generalized some of the way I’m feeling about that as typical for this stage/post newborn adjustment until I read that sentence. I mean, I knew I had a baby and our family was adjusting, etc, but to see you compare it to all of your travel and hectic schedules recently just put it in perspective for me. Re-entry indeed. Thank you!

  40. I love your way of putting it all into perspective. I need to do a better job of that with my own people. Thank you, and welcome home.

  41. Welcome home! Hot bath and a glass of wine is perfect — followed by a new project at your next opportunity of consciousness. “Secretly hostile” –love it! — living it! — it would be less funny if it weren’t so true!

  42. You could be describing me and my house, only I have 2 teen-aged boys, 2 dogs and 3 cats. The furry tumble weeds, extra-large smelly shoes, and dirty dishes throughout the house can overwhelm the most laidback mum. I try to rise above it all on a daily basis. Sometimes I’m more successful than other times! Glad you have the tub and floor to come home to!

  43. I’m pretty sure not being able to see cat hair is not a DEFECT. THis is probably something you should wish for.
    Glad he does the important stuff like mop th ekitchen floor, clean the tub and put clean sheets on the bed.ENjoy your hot bath

  44. You have a real family, a real marriage. Young people have no way of getting the way you all are so in tune. I love it.

  45. So true, it is easier if you don’t fight back. If you just say, this is what I have to do, and don’t feel like you could or should be doing something more important or fun, then you can get into the zen of the work, and it gets done.

  46. I, like you, have a spouse who knows what I like and is willing to provide it whether it be a clean tub & sheets or a drive to Rhinebeck. Sounds like you’re as lucky as I am in so far as that’s concerned!

  47. Welcome home……….One step at a time, I always say.Dont forget to cast on something fabulous too.

  48. Christine in VT: Hang in there! Spring is coming! Here’s hoping you have support in all the places you need it over the coming months.

  49. Oh,Stephanie. After a week in San Diego I came home to clean sheets, clean windows(my absolute favorite clean)and a hug. We are blessed, you and I. Welcome home.

  50. Clean Sheets?????? Wow! I am impressed. My hubby just found the washing machine recently and was quite mystified by the technology.

  51. Enjoy that charming, lovely predictability of sharing a space with wonderful, flawed human beings whom we love without reservation!

  52. Love this post. So much realness to it. Ahh, teenage daughters thinking what is in their mom’s closet or makeup drawer is as much theirs as anyones. Love to read what you write. Thank you.

  53. Sounds good to me 🙂 Whenever I get home, I come home to an empty house that’s just as messy as when I left it, I have to collect cranky kids from their cranky father’s house (they work best in small doses together… two days or less), and two cranky cats who are guaranteed to have pooped in at least one place they shouldn’t have (that’s mainly the younger one…) and the same mountain of dirty laundry that existed before I left.
    Maybe I should start cleaning the house before I leave for a trip to surprise myself! 😀

  54. This is one of my favorite of your posts; you write so well. I love that your family focuses on what’s most important to you–that they even know what is most important to you is wonderful.

  55. To ChristieinVT…thank you for recalibrating my ideas of what is important…sending healing and loving thoughts your way…

  56. Clean sheets, clean tub, clean floor and wine? You’re a very lucky woman. I get home to the fridge smell, the dirty floor and if left to my husband, we would only have clean sheets on the bed when someone throws up on them.

  57. Since you haven’t mentioned the furnace wars this year what I want to know is whether or not the heat was on when you got home.

  58. I especially appreciate the clean sheets. We were just gone the afternoon and evening, but my cats left me a present on the sheet and I have to do laundry before we can sleep.

  59. So encouraging things are provided here,I really happy to read your post,I was just imagine about it and you provided me,I really bookmark it,for further reading,So thanks for sharing Pretty information.

  60. It’s nice to know that families nearly run out of toilet paper…in fact, I’ve run out of TP and it takes me a full day to get a new supply. At least the dustmites don’t steal my t-shirts…but this story reminds me of life growing up in a big family and sometimes, what I’m missing out on (?!!!?!) as a single gal (for the moment). Bring on the knitting before I think about that last sentence too much.

  61. ChristieinVT, I started chemo in May and today is my FINAL radiation treatment. It does get better. March seems so far away to you but it will be here before you know it. Stay strong!

  62. Well, I am in the opposite position. My husband just returned from a trip bringing with him 4 loads of dirty laundry that has filled my empty dirty clothed basket and littered the utility room floor. There are shoes at the breakfast table and “important” bits of paper scattered on all the once cleared counters. Bags fill the chairs. I love my husband of 37 years and miss him when he is gone on a trip. But I do love the cleanliness and organization that rule while he is gone. He has so many redeeming qualities and I realize his messes are just a small irritation.

  63. If someone handed me a glass of wine as I walked in the door from a trip . . . well, he could leave anything in the fridge he liked as long as he wanted!
    Sometime I’d love to see a book that collects just the Harlot’s essays on family. Sure, knitting would sneak in there, but Stephanie, you are the poet of family life.

  64. I can now say, if for nothing else but the last line of your essay along – Amen Sister! (Because I have a 3.5-month old and it truly is better not to fight his needs, his schedule, his way of life…much better to adjust and go slowly and flow along with him. At least he doesn’t smell like old broccoli!) = )

  65. I don’t even go away and reentry is surprisingly nasty just for getting home from work. It is amazing how little cleaning gets done unless I do it, and I don’t even like housecleaning.

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