As we were in the airport yesterday, my mom asked me, “So, are you ready to go home?”
I felt tears well up in my eyes, a hitch in my voice, the swelling of my chest. I didn’t feel like bursting into tears right then and there. but it was happening, and I had to admit my answer was, “No.”
I had just spent five days away from home, absent responsibility and deep in the presence of other women in various configurations—my mom, my sister, and most of the time among the twelve women I had come to know like sisters over the past five months, as we trained together to lead writing workshops.
We had spent those five months writing together, carrying one another through sadness and triumph and all things in between. During this weekend I got to bask in their physical presence, their lack of demands, judgements or needs.
The thought of transitioning back into real life—getting kids to do chores, wiping up muddy dog prints, shopping for and cooking dinner. Stepping back into the minutiae of daily life suddenly seemed overwhelming.
I wanted to stay in our little boathouse Airbnb on the canal, walk in the cool morning among the palm and orange trees, magnolias and bougainvillea; to sit everyday with these women and dive deep into our thoughts on life; to have my lunch perpetually catered; to make art; to watch the prayer flags flutter in the breeze.
That’s the problem, I’ve found, with vacations, with time-outs from real life: the transition back in, the re-entry, the re-adjustment.
It’s not until I walk back into my house to dirty laundry, the ever present question of what’s for dinner, fluffs of dog hair in the corner of the stairs, stacks of unopened mail and the question of whether anyone cleaned the cat box while I was gone that I realize I harbored a fantasy that things would have changed while I was gone. That someone besides me would have bought milk or planned a meal for the eve of my return or gotten out the vacuum cleaner. That someone would have picked up the note I left in the hallway for the kids when I left five days ago.
When I travel together with my family, I’m careful to leave my house in a state I want to return to. If I have a house sitter, I ask them to leave my home vacuumed and reasonably clean, with clean sheets on the beds. Someone challenged me recently with these questions: What would you have to do to take such good care of yourself that you had no complaints? At first I had no idea what she was talking about, so I sat there silently for a while, pondering.
She wasn’t talking about manicures and massages or pairs of shoes. She meant what would you have to ask for, what would you have to say no to, what boundaries would you have to set, what desires would you have to reveal in order to have no complaints?
That was when I realized my own complicity in the equation of my disappointment. In order to have no complaints upon my re-entry from a trip, I’d have to ask. I’d have to itemize my expectations to my family as clearly as I do to a housesitter. Is it possible that if I did that, I’d break the cycle of fantasy and disillusionment? There’s only one way to find out.