I slept in my parents’ bed until I left for college.
I didn’t sleep there every night, and it’s not as though I wandered in, jolted awake by nightmares, wearing extra-large footie pajamas. I just often found myself still there in the morning with hazy recollection of the “48 Hours” that my mom and I had been watching before we drifted off to sleep. I sleep in my own bed now that I’m a wife and a mother of three children, but I miss lying in theirs, chatting and flipping through the channels. To this day their visits to my home trigger that impulse to behave like the kid I was. Each day of their stay is met with manic swings between setting the table with matching flatware and whining with a mouthful of cake about my clothes and lack of time to watch television.
I left my parents’ home after high school and only ever returned for brief reunions at holidays. I was caught up with life in a big city in an apartment so small that even the mice were begging me to get a fold-away bed to free up some floor space. Whenever my folks flew across the country to visit, it was so easy to get my act together. I buffed all 40 square feet of my place to a high gloss. I filled my barren refrigerator with foods that seemed sophisticated, like cilantro and jars of things imported from Portugal. I put out hand soap and fresh towels in the bathroom. I asked my neighbor to bring his histrionic sexual partners to a hotel for the next few days. And for extra effect, I would request my doorman answer only to the name Vladimir instead of Mike whenever he saw me flanked by two older people who resembled me. And if anything was overlooked, any need of theirs unattended, I would wave a hand dismissively and hiss, “I worked 75 hours last week. In my office.” The word “office” silences every parent because they immediately imagine you as Hillary Clinton briefing the president on the political instability of Libya in a red pantsuit with sewn-in shoulder pads.
I imagined that their trips would go even smoother when I had a full-fledged home with more than one bedroom and had children for them to marvel at. I certainly did not visualize them arriving at my door, after eight hours of air travel, at the exact moment I submerged three kids in a full bathtub. Aware of the kids’ proclivities to attempt to kill themselves the instant they are in a bathroom, I was forced to yell, “Just give me 10 minutes! Maybe you could jimmy a window open!”
The door was at last pulled open by a brigade of wriggling and naked bodies while I frantically yanked sheets over the corners of the bed my parents would sleep in, a bed that was not located in a private guest room but one that sat across the room from a crib that would be occupied by a toddler. If Martha Stewart could make a citizen’s arrest, I would be in jail for this, I grumbled. There is no ambient lighting, no thoughtfully chosen magazines, no tray bearing nuts and dried fruits, no blackboard with tonight’s menu chalked on it.
My roiling thoughts stalled when I stepped in a puddle that was equally as likely to be urine as it was water.
Meal times were no better. The kids orchestrated violent coup d’etats at every restaurant we frequented. Rebel chanting, toppled objects, crayon graffiti. When we’re at home, I never seemed to have the right accoutrements in my kitchen. No tinfoil. No lemon zest. No wok. I spent an inordinate amount of time thumbing through recipe books, struggling to convince everyone, most of all myself, that Chicken Piccata was in my culinary wheelhouse. Once I had laid out all of the ingredients, or at least the ones I deemed important, my folks would scurry in behind me, whisking it all away while reassuringly whispering, “Honey, we already ate while we were out earlier.”
It was like hosting teenagers who were getting all their needs met at the mall. Teenagers who don’t ask for money and can’t figure out how to accept an incoming cellphone call.
Driving around was the worst part. Unable to fit the congressional hearing of humans in our car, we had to take two cars to traverse any distance. Any motive I’d had to act collected and poised in front of my parents was blown the instant I saw their passenger door swing open, revealing clean leather upholstery and uncluttered floor space. I would make a fast break for their car, overtaking my mother and deftly nabbing the front seat. The first time it happened, I looked up to see my husband staring at me as though I’d just sent a 60-year-old woman to the ground and stolen her seat, which is exactly what I’d done. He shot me one of those exasperated looks.
“What do you need me for?” I yelled. “There’s a full continental breakfast under those car seats! You’ll last longer than that Chilean soccer team did in the Andes.”
At night, I would pass by my daughter’s room, pausing at the doorway to listen to my mom read stories aloud to the kids. The familiar timbre of her voice reeled me in closer. The sight of my own children nestled against my parents ushered in feelings of satisfaction and nostalgia. The many books we had read while laying together. The countless conversations we’d had.
My hovering frame caught my mom’s periphery and she peeped above the edge of the book and smiled. And then she said, “Do you really not have any half and half in this house?”
Erin Donovan moved with her family to the midcoast where she constantly is told she says the word “scallops” incorrectly. She performs live and produces Web sketches derived from her popular humor blog I’m Gonna Kill Him. Follow her misadventures at imgonnakillhim.bangordailynews.com and on Twitter @gonnakillhim.