If I could remake the 1990 film, Home Alone, the mom would be the one left behind. Ah, the joy. She would rush out of the bathroom and see her family leaving for the airport in a cab, the mounds of luggage gone, the rooms empty, the pets boarded. At first, she would pull out her cell phone to call another cab, but as she starts to punch in the numbers, she would breathe in the solitude, toss the phone into the toilet and slide like Tom Cruise in Risky Business across her well-polished wood floors, playing air guitar and rocking out to Heart or Pat Benatar. She would dash out to the grocery store to restock her kitchen with all her favorite foods, pick up scented candles and bath oils, then find all the magazines, books and movies that she was going to get to but never had the time. The intruder scenes would be more like Wait Until Dark, the house quiet and dim, the mom gliding quietly through the wonderfully empty rooms. The intruders, clumsy and bumbling, would signal their presence so that the mom could bash them in with her really heavy cast iron skillet while sipping her vodka martini. Yesterday was September first and I am missing my home by myself weekend.
For the past five years, my husband and friends have gone to Arizona for the opening of dove season. A real guys weekend (in a dry town). The guys would leave the evening of August 31; my truck loaded with gear and adult men. I would wave good-bye and run into the house to prepare appetizers. The wife of one of the guys would show up an hour later for our celebratory cocktail party. For the next few days, I was alone. I went to work. I came home and stayed alone. I made gourmet meals for one. I watched scary movies and read beach novels. I went to bed when I felt like it. I might have spent some time grading papers or working on lesson plans but most of the time was spent on me. This, I told myself, is what it would be like to be single.
This was my time to remember how it was to be on my own. I had so few years between leaving my childhood home and getting married that I sometimes forget how quiet it is when you are single. I want that feeling of being only responsible for myself; the joy of wandering around the house and not disturbing anyone else; the solitude to think. A few days are always enough. Our reunion was always joyous. Our marriage was stronger because I had these days.
This year I dropped my husband off at the airport, put the top down on the convertible and drove home to a house full of people and demands. Instead of a spiritual retreat, a time to recoup my inner forces, I am trapped by responsibilities. I texted my friend even though her husband wasn’t going. “I forgot it was dove weekend. Vodka martinis,” she reminds me, but she is in California, getting ready for a 10K. One of the other wives has organized a hunting trip to an outlet mall. “You should come here!” the party planner commands by e-mail. I’m not working. I don’t need clothes. What I need is my solitude, my freedom.
September 1, I came down the stairs with my pack of dogs to find my youngest daughter stretched on a bench, sick. My grandson giggled in his rocking chair. I put my daughter back to bed and amuse my grandson. By the time I get him down for his morning nap, I feel too old to ever be a mother again. Down in the kitchen, I listen to my mom complain how she isn’t feeling well. Her malady is relatively minor, not as serious as my daughter’s, but a concern to her. As I listen, I realize that I am not going to be alone in my house again for many years. Neither my parents nor my daughter can afford to live on their own. I am truly caught in the middle.
At this moment, I have a great sense of loss. I long for my empty nest days. I thought once my children were gone that I would have the time to write, to read, to do the things I enjoy. Instead I find myself cleaning other people’s messes, ferrying my parents, trying to remember all the diet restrictions, the likes and dislikes. I wipe up the coffee drips on the kitchen table and wonder how I got here.
The economy. Modern longevity. Poor financial planning. These are the reasons that the analysts cite for the increase of multi-generational homes. Builders are beginning to design homes for families like mine. I am not alone yet sometimes I feel alone. I am in a new community. While I like that the houses are far apart and we have our privacy, I find it harder to meet the neighbors. And I am in a different stage than those I have met. Some have lived on the street for thirty years and have empty nests. Others have young children. I have a household of four generations, five adults and one infant. Sometimes I feel strange telling the people how many live in my house.
Helping my parents and my daughter is the right thing to do but I thought I was in another chapter of my life. Instead I have flipped backwards to the stay at home mom chapter—only with parents instead of children. Like a mom with children, I find myself saying: “I can do that after I take my parents . . .” In some ways, I think it’s not fair. I have other siblings. I have expected nothing from my parents since I was nineteen. I thought my independence was their independence. I was not expecting this. No one was expecting this.
I worry about my parents’ future. They live in my basement. What if one falls? What will happen if one becomes seriously ill and needs more care? Do they have the resources saved? I worry about my daughter. But she is independent. She has a circle of friends and is investigating a career change. Someday my daughter will feel financially secure enough to move out. Her son will be older, his care less physically draining, and he will come to his grandparents for the weekend. In the future my husband and I will be alone again.
Whenever I hear Trace Adkins’ song, “You’re going to miss this,” I always become tearful. I remember wanting to be a grown-up, wanting to go to college, wanting to marry my husband, wanting a baby, wanting a house. And I had these things once . . .and some days I want them back. When I hold my grandson, I remember holding each daughter. How precious time was. Did I kiss each one enough? One day in the future, I will miss all the people gathered in the kitchen before dinner. I will miss seeing my grandson first thing in the morning. I will miss cooking with my daughter. I will miss talking about the news with my parents. Someday I am going to be alone and I will miss my multi-generational household.