I’m home! As in Milwaukee-home-where-I-live-now, and not in Detroit-home-where-I-grew-up.
A week and a half away and my kids didn’t change that much. See?
(They’re all wearing the bee shirts my mom made for them, which they weren’t able to open on Christmas.) Cute as proverbial buttons. Or even literal buttons, assuming said buttons are darned cute.
Returning home is always an interesting experience to me. Either direction, actually. This was the longest period of time I’ve spent in the home where I grew up since having kids without my kids along. It was roughly the same amount of time I spent apart from my kids when I was in Alaska a couple of years ago. When I think about how hard a week and a half away from my children was, I’m struck anew at how big a sacrifice it was for my husband to be away from them for a year or more. I don’t think I could stand it.
Being in my childhood home with my mom and my brother was nice. The hospital wore me out, but dad got stronger every day so the experience was a hopeful one overall. I forgot just how noisy the house is in the winter when the radiators ping and bang, and my mom has finally had enough of our complaints about the shower and is getting that improved. I fixed the toilet myself. Arno helped my mom set up her new computer and even got wireless internet working in the house after a long drawn out phone saga with all kinds of tech people around the world. I introduced my mom to the joys of Project Runway on Hulu. I wish I’d had more time with my niece and my other brother and his girlfriend, but our visits overlapped just long enough to say hello. My shift was done.
I love my family so much and they are so interesting that I always think of myself as the lucky one for getting to be in their lives. I never think of anyone as being lucky to be with me, particularly. But my dad was so happy in the hospital every time he woke up and saw me sitting next to him. Just being there made a difference. My mom made sure I knew how much she loved having me home. And Arno said, “Apart from the hospital, hasn’t this been fun?” I never think of Arno as missing me, really. I know he lovers me, but his life is busy and filled with colorful and brilliant characters and I’m just me. But when I left after breakfast I said goodbye to mom and Krisite in the kitchen, and Barrett and Ellora outside as they went to walk the dog, and Arno put on his coat just to come give me one more hug. Then he stood on the sidewalk and watched me drive away. When I looked in the mirror before turning the corner at the end of the block and saw him still there I burst into tears. How strange life is, that dark circumstances can offer up some of the greatest light. Who knows the next time I’ll have the opportunity to spend that much time with my brother again? What a rare and lovely thing.
The drive home was snowy and long and grey and dull, but I didn’t hit traffic jams in Chicago or construction in Indiana or need to call Triple-A for anything, so that was great. And then I got to be home. The new home at the other end of the drive from the old home. I love being home. I missed my husband and my kids and my bed and my regular shampoo.
Ian said the kids did fine without me. Quinn wouldn’t speak to me on the phone when I called because he was mad, but otherwise he went about life as usual. When I came in the back door last night he was all smiles and hugs and seems to have forgiven me. Considering this was how he looked when I told him I was leaving I’m relieved.
I was braced for some kind of cold-shoulder, tantrum-like punishment, but he’d rather just draw me pictures and hug my legs while I try to walk, so I’m not complaining. Aden was cheerful on the phone when I would check in and didn’t seem to have a problem with my being away, but when I returned she spent a few hours being rather tearful and clingy. Mona, who I would have expected to weather things the best, cried a little every night about missing me, and wept on the phone. She asked if she could please sleep in my bed last night, so Ian graciously agreed to sleep in Quinn’s lower bunk so I could get some snuggle time in with my little girl. She said she’d be fine with going back to her own bed tonight. I sometimes think experience with deployment may have left my children more skittish than average when it comes to a parent being absent for any extended period. Or not. I may never know.
The funny thing to me about travel is how fast the experience can seem to close up behind you when you return home. I remember after spending a month in India (before we had kids) getting into the bathtub soon after we walked in the door and lying there past the point where the water was warm because I knew if I got out and walked into my old routine that India would start to fade, and I wasn’t ready for that. I wanted to keep India and the new things I’d learned a little longer. But there is no haggling with auto-rickshaw drivers in Milwaukee or eating off banana leaves or leaping on or off of moving trains. It all receded into a distinct place known as the past with astonishing speed.
Same thing with my time in Detroit. It felt very long while I was there. I created a new rhythm for my days from hospital hours and my parents’ needs and my brother’s availability. It’s odd to have that time shrink in my memory as I get back to life with Ian and the kids and the violin store. It was difficult to see my dad in pain, but inspiring to see him improve. I have complete confidence that he’s in good hands with the help he has currently, so it’s not as nerve wracking for me now that I’m back in Milwaukee. I need to return to the life I’ve created here, and I don’t feel guilty anymore for leading it, which I did before the trip.
It’s nice to feel helpful, needed, welcomed and loved, at either end of my journey.
(Arno, Barrett, Kristie and Ellora–some of the best company for breakfast ever.)