When the kids are little, you can’t wait for the day when they won’t distract you with demands for meals, rides, and errands. Then bad-da-boom, they graduate and head off to college and onto careers and you long for an interruption – a call, a letter or an email – from that wayward daughter or son.
As they do their best to squeeze you into their busy lives, you find yourself crossing off days until their homecoming. You bake childhood favorites and stock the pantry with the treats your child used to love when he or she was 6 or 12 or 20. Suddenly the volume picks up. The screen door bangs; the refrigerator squeaks and the phone rings with their childhood friends wanting to reconnect.
In a flurry of joy, you attack the chores you hate with renewed vigor, you wash bedding, clean under furniture, and air out rooms filled with memories. Some people remodel, changing bedrooms into bureaus when the kids move on, but I am unable to discard anything. Their rooms remain the same as the day they left, like shrines to their childhood. Sport medals hang from bedposts, favorite books perch on shelves, stuffed animals sit on bedcovers, posters of athletes and pop artists cover walls and closets remain full of Beanie Babies, Little Ponies, and PlayMobile figures. OMG! Am I the only mom that cannot part with my children’s keepsakes decades after they grow up? Each time I step into their rooms, memorabilia lets me stop time to relive that stage in their lives, which, in retrospect, blew past the first time around.
My parents, edging toward eighty, still spoil their adult children. Mom fixes my brother’s favorite meal, “Swiss” steak, a cheap cut of meat slow cooked in tomato sauce that has nothing to do with Switzerland. (No one is really sure it ever was his favorite, but it has become part of our family lore.) They stock up on veggies for me, which makes them laugh, because as a kid I hightailed out of the kitchen when anything green showed up. They tidy up before one sister visits; or add an extra bit of disorder for me, more comfortable in chaos. They indulge in the same rituals for grandchildren, fixing favorite meals and stocking up on favorite brands: Yoplait Strawberry (only) Custard Yogurt, Kraft macaroni and cheese, and Wisconsin Colby.
Homecoming is a universal ritual everywhere in the world. When we go to Normandy, my in-laws, nearing their nineties, will lay out the finest fare the land and the sea can offer. My mother-in –law still slings a basket over her arm to shop at the open market, preparing to serve five course meals with my husband’s favorites, from coquilles
St Jacques to strawberries in cream, while my father in law uncorks a bottle of his best burgundy.
My youngest sister recently returned home and said, “It was great. I never cooked a meal! Got to talk as much as I wanted. I was the Babe again!”
Whatever your age you will always be somebody’s kid. You are never too old to come home.