We are on the mainland this summer, and so far I have fallen face-first on the subway, dragged my enormous suitcase up countless flights of stairs, and spent several days cleaning and moving. I have also driven over 1000 miles. I'll get to that in a minute.
Summer in New England is my favorite. I love sitting on the beach, reconnecting with friends and family, sleeping in my childhood bedroom, eating fresh fruit and lobster 3 times a day. It's another version of paradise, and I am constantly reminded that I am blessed to live an amazing life - 10 months in Maui, and summers in Connecticut. It's a good deal.
Each summer we stay in my family home, which now belongs to my aunt. Friends and family consider that our "home base" and everyone knows where to find me. I love to be there in familiar surroundings, close to my girlfriends and the beach. I constantly worry about being an imposition or overstaying my welcome, but I want my kids to know their relatives and have the same summer experiences I had growing up - which is to say, pretty idyllic. At least, as far as the surroundings go. Family can be another story altogether, but because they are growing up 6,000 miles away Max and Lucy don't have much experience with family dynamics, so I feel like that part is good for them too.
After our long trip East, I was still adjusting - to the time zone, to the close proximity of family, to driving a smaller car (that my brother lent me for the summer because he is rad, and also not a huge fan of driving) and to being in someone else's home and trying to contribute in a helpful and positive way. But the morning I woke up to my aunt climbing into bed with me clutching a chocolate chip cookie and her cellphone - upon which she was having a very animated conversation about a conflict between relatives that I appeared to have instigated - well. That's when I began to reassess.
Which is how it came to be that I started writing this at 2am at a rest area off the New Jersey Turnpike.
The kids are asleep. The supermoon is bright overhead, and I am listening to music and sipping a cup of coffee. It is actually incredibly peaceful. Which begs the question: "Why am I more at peace on the side of the highway, than I was in my bed this morning?"
We are driving to my uncle's house in Virginia. I decided to drive over night to avoid the traffic.
Did you know that the people who drive overnight drive like total assholes? I had no idea. They drive incredibly fast, the weave in and out of lanes, and I just got passed - simultaneous on both sides - by a group of motorcyclists traveling north of 100 miles an hour. I am terrified.
I also decided to drive at night so the kids - who are not used to road tripping due to living on a small island most of the year - can sleep through it. And somehow - even with the roving gangs of motorcyclists and those two assholes who were racing their Audi's down I-95 - they are sound asleep just as I had hoped. Lucy is sprawled out on the back seat, and Max has reclined the front passenger seat and wrapped himself in a quilt where he is snoring quietly. I am fired up with caffeine and adrenaline, excited to get us to my uncle's house for the week.
My uncle lives 7-8 hours away from most of our family. Which explains why he is the sanest one of the group, and also why I want to go stay at his house. After the early morning phone call that led - somehow - to my aunt coming into my bed for moral support, I packed up our things at my aunt's house and called the only person I knew with a few hours free, and a large trunk.
"Mom, you need to come and get us. And our stuff."
Was it a no-brainer to call my mom. Yes, of course. She's my mom, after all. But was it humiliating?
Yup. That too.
To her great credit, she was there in 30 minutes and did not say a word other than "I have plenty of room and would love to have you." I loaded her car, and my brother's car, and we drove to her new house. She moved out of my childhood home when she remarried. I don't usually stay at her new house for long periods of time because - while she and her husband are extremely welcoming - it is not "home" for me, and also because they have 3 indoor cats that trigger Lucy's asthma. So when we come for the whole summer we stay in my childhood home by the beach, which now belongs to my aunt. Or at least, we used to stay there.
In the past year, my mom's three cat's all died - 2 after long and happy lives of making everyone else miserable with their screeching and sinus infections and litterbox mishaps, and a third after a short but exuberantly joyous life of destroying furniture and sleeping in the dining room table. And so my mom was catless for the first time in 30 years at a time that I needed a place to stay. It was, by all accounts, a fortuitous turn of events.
As I unloaded the car and brought all of our belongings into the guest room, I thanked my mother repeatedly, while trying to explain what, exactly had happened to cause me to leave my aunt's so abruptly. After several lengthy conversations, it was decided that I would stay with my mom for the rest of the summer. The cat's were gone, the cat hair was slowly disappearing, and the litter boxes and cat toys were put away.
This was going to be great.
I piled our boxes and suitcases into the guestroom, packed a few items back into my brother's car, and we headed to Virginia for a week before the kids' summer camp started, so that I could decompress and reset our vacation. And maybe get some writing done.
The day after we left, my mom went to the animal shelter and picked out 2 new cats.
I am a little nervous about living with cats - never mind new cats - but I know my mom and step dad like to have pets, and they love cats, so really who the hell am I to say anything. I am just the adult daughter who moved her family into their house unexpectedly for the summer. I can't imagine how thrilled they must be about that. Possibly less thrilled than I am about 2 new indoor cats. I really, really don't like living with cats. I like cats, but I think pets in general and cats in particular should be outside as much as possible. There are many reasons for this, but primarily it's because I have turned into quite the germaphobe, so I have lots of issues with fur and litter boxes and finding random piles of pukey hairballs with my bare feet.
In an effort to remain calm, I called mom and asked her to close the door to the guest room, so the cats wouldn't sleep in my suitcases or on my bed and freak me out with their catness all over everything.
"Oh, I can't close that door." she informed me solemnly.
"I know it doesn't latch, but maybe just pull it shut so they don't go in? They won't even know it's there!" I said hopefully.
"I can't close the door - I put their litter box in there."
Meanwhile I got several emails from my aunt, asking me to come back to her house and offering up the privacy of her blessedly cool and quiet cellar - a space which used to be my playroom, and then in high school housed our pool table. Now it houses the litter box.
Such is my lot in life, apparently.
It must be karmic. I have created conflict and drama up and down the eastern seaboard. My belongings are in 5 different houses in 4 states. I have no idea where I am going to sleep next week, or for the next month. My cellphone is dead, I have no GPS, and I am spending the afternoon cruising Craigslist looking at conversion vans with beds in the back. But maybe I should just stay here in Virginia. I am far from home, from the kids day camp, from friends and all of our our summer plans and New England amazingness.
But I can say this: there is not a cat in sight.
18 hours ago