Friday, October 04, 2013

Living In 2 Places: I Always Forget About Re-Entry

Luggage in the kitchen. My mom gifted me
with a sewing machine. It's in one of these bags. I came
home with two more suitcases than I took with me. Five minutes
after this photo, the bags were opened and the chaos of unpacking began.
I have written about living in two places. My husband and I have split up our household more than once to finish obligations or to start new adventures. We are apparently fairly good at it, given that we do it occasionally. This summer, I packed up my children and took them with me to Texas for the summer. We lived in a temporary condo, but I never thought of it as "living apart." It seemed more like an extended vacation.

When we returned, we went through something very, very familiar, but it took me two weeks to recognize it. We go through this every time we bring the household back together again. I call it “re-entry,” but I was not prepared for it this time.

The truth is that we’re good at living together and we’re good at living apart, but what we’re not so good at is this sliver of time when the unpacking occurs.

First, I arrived home to all good stuff: My car had a new side mirror and no longer sported the duct-taped one I’d knocked off by backing into the side of the garage door. The car was clean and waxed.

Did I mention no more duct tape??!

My husband picked us up at the airport at midnight on a weeknight, and we were exhausted. The kids and I had been on the road since July 4, and we were so tired of each other, tired of eating the now-crushed and battered snacks I’d been carrying around in my mom bag all summer. We were done.

The next morning, my husband took the day off and I took a nap. Taking the day off was so thoughtful and something I needed him to do right at that moment. He also had a great assortment of food in the house. Besides the five suitcases I piled in the living room floor, things were great. I should have been able to hit the ground running, but I could not.

My body ached. I have bad hips. And I’d developed a soreness in my neck that kept me from being able to turn it all the way to the side. I couldn't sit down and I couldn't walk around. I couldn't sleep and I couldn't stay awake. I finished off a bottle of Advil and decided I needed medical intervention. The worst part was that I just wasn't fun-happy-mom and I certainly wasn't calm-happy-wife.

We needed to get ready for school to start (two kids! I’m a professor! It’s my husband’s busiest time at work!) We had 2.5 weeks to get it all together, and what do my kids want to do? They want to OD on play dates with the friends they hadn't seen all summer. And I knew I needed to let them. They had been away all summer.

My daughter turned five this summer, and it was time to remove the toddler bed and put in a twin bed (she’s really short, so this wasn't a physical need so much as a psychological need). But, before that, a lot of stuff had to go. So far, everything has been organized "my" way, and I knew where things belonged, but she did not, so when she and her play dates just kept pulling out more stuff until no one could walk into her room, I knew it was time to organize things "her" way. I took one full day and cleared out the outgrown preschool stuff, cleaned it up, and organized it using right-brain strategies so that clean-up would be easier. And then I took a week to get our daughter and her friends used to cleaning up as they played. We discovered one friend is quite good at getting everyone to clean up. I call her the task master.

My daughter might have had a messy room, but I had small piles everywhere. My spring semester was extremely busy, and I still had the remnants of projects everywhere, waiting to be put away or organized or finally finished. I am sure these remnants drove my husband crazy all summer, but he never complained about my piles. It was time to deal with them.

The most frustrating part was trying to work amid all this chaos, and my little office nook was crammed with stuff stored temporarily while some other work is going on. I so badly wanted one space that didn't need straightening or unpacking so I could sit and think and work, and there was none.

And then I helped out at my son’s camp. And my daughter had gym camp. And when I got invited to a work meeting unexpectedly, my first thought was, Do I have any pants? Everyone in our house, it turned out, needed pants.

And so it went, for several weeks. We just kept checking things off the list, and I kept moving my work around the house, trying to find a comfortable spot to work until my office space was finally cleared and I could move back into it.

We made it through reentry, but the point I want to make is that this sliver of time isn't easy. Schedules need to be re-established. Things need to be put away and organized. This time, we had four sets of needs to meet, and the to-do lists were so long I’m really not sure how we got everything finished by the start of school. The adults still need some date nights but the kids are settled, the house is in order, and the suitcases are put away. We have a tiny bit of breathing room. But not much.

What I've learned is to never underestimate the work of re-entry. Next time we live apart (we do this so often that I assume a next time will come), I will think about re-entry before leaving.
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