Do Not Try This At Home

September is such a bittersweet time, especially as collegians head back out of our lives.

The deed is done. The younger of two young’uns has been deposited on Boylston Street in Boston, ready for sophomore year. Last year, his first, we could see waves of uncertainty emanating from his body. He wanted us to help him make up his bed, complete with anti-bedbug mattress encasement that required all three of us to maneuver the twin extra-long into the plastic sheath. He wanted us to take him out to dinner “one last time.” His voice quavered when we said goodbye.

This year, he practically shoved us out the door. There were hugs but no tears, which, I guess, is how it should be. Hub and I made our way back home to a very quiet house where we will hold down the fort until the next invasion.

I usually wait several days before entering the bedroom of a recently departed son. There are several reasons for this. First and foremost, the odiferous molecules from Cheetos that have been festering under the bed all summer need time to lose their pungency. The door has been closed most of the summer, so as I walk down the long hallway to talk to my husband in his office, I throw open my son’s bedroom door without looking in. This is a joy I will save for another day. A mom can only take so many surprises.

Once the sacred door has been opened, I allow myself to glance in for several days, getting the lay of the land, making a mental map of how I’m going to tackle the incomprehensible mess. In one corner, there used to be a hamper where, logic dictates, a young man will throw his dirty clothes. Since I only allow myself to glance for several days, I don’t have a clear picture of where the hamper has gone—only that in its place is a mound of clothing, a boot and something from Taco Bell.

After four days, I am ready to begin. I start by getting a tetanus shot. That way, if I step on a rusty paper clip or a homemade shiv, I will not die. I have a moment of intense longing because his room still smells like him. This moment only lasts as long as it takes me to wade through the room to throw open a window. An assortment of stiff green gum parked on the windowsill impedes my action, so I go off in search of a putty knife in order to open the windows. Once in the garage, however, I decide that just walking into his room was strenuous enough for one day.

On the fifth day, I try again. I walk into the room and look at the carpet. There is change everywhere: pennies, dimes, quarters, and a silverfish or two. Scraping it all up, I realize I have enough money for a Mercedes. Abandoning my original intention, I gleefully head out to the nearest dealership and attempt to buy a car with six bucketfuls of change scraped from my son’s rug. As I wait for the salesmen to stop laughing, I find myself wondering why it is so difficult for my 19-year-old son to put his change in a jar, or his dirty clothes in the hamper. He has shown great skill at putting food remnants under his bed and a flask of some whiskey-ish substance behind his bureau. Why does his product placement stop there?

Day six and it is way too humid to clean. Instead, I sit and look at baby pictures. This is a good way to erase the sight and smell of yesterday’s flask o' bourbon from my mind. Instead, I am filled with the sights and smells of an adorable blonde toddler. As a parent, it is often helpful to take a trip down memory lane and revisit those times when your children, sweetly fresh from their baths, liked to snuggle with you and love on you. The older they get, the more necessary it becomes to linger in the past. Yes. I am pathetic.

Today, finally, I am ready. Thank goodness it is early September and the pop-up Halloween stores are already, well, popping up! (It’s never too soon to get a jump on the whole costume thing, especially if you’re jonesing for a popular costume like Chris Christie or Kim Kardashian. Incidentally, both come with extra padding.) The first store I visit has nothing but pimp and ho regalia. The next one has what I’m looking for: a nice neon-orange Hazmat suit. The gas mask is sold separately, so I will have to forgo authenticity and stick with a green Power Ranger mask, which was found under my son’s bed. 

This mask has been lurking under there since the '90s, making me either the worst housekeeper or the best mom. I choose the latter, get suited up, and haul in the cleaning supplies, which include, but are not limited, to the following items: bleach, Lysol, Pinesol, Lestoil, Brillo pads, Mr. Clean, the Zamboni and two vacuum cleaners. My two elderly assistants, Bean and Lulu, slump in the hallway, hoping I’ll find something edible and toss it out to them.

But here’s what happens, once I have finally worked myself up to the task at hand. I find the Beanie Baby he won when we hit the boards one summer in Ocean City. He was 8 years old. I remember the frenzy of the Beanie Baby hunt, then wistfully recall the many hours spent setting up elaborate kingdoms in the basement, complete with Lego towers and forts. I discover a CD—John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman—that I’ve been searching for all summer. This reminds me of one of our Chicago visits. He was running a fever and spent the entire evening curled up with me on cousin Pete’s couch, Johnny Hartman singing “Lush Life” while I held a cool washcloth on his hot little forehead.

I can’t clean today. Maybe I’ll do it tomorrow, maybe not. If we do our parenting job correctly, they leave us, which is why, today, I softly close the door and indulge in some chocolate. I’m just not ready for that.

Soccer Mom September 10, 2012 at 06:22 PM
I'm basically going to have to be institutionalized when my kids are grown and gone! I complain now that there's never a moment's peace in my home, but I know someday the silence will just be too hard! Great column.
margie gorman September 11, 2012 at 05:59 PM
Love this column! I sometimes think of it as an archeological dig, uncovering objects, photos and school work of the various 'ages of man.' Is that photo for real?!?


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