By DENENE MILLNER
They come every afternoon with book bags flying and their converse stomping the front lawn and their maniacal little giggles rushing into the still air, oblivious to what has been done while they were gone, and what still is to get done, too. I am usually clutching my “to do” list to my chest, with way too many “to-do’s” still unchecked, a little frantic. It is rush hour at the Chiles household, and my second, third, fourth, and fifth jobs are about to begin—homework tutor, chauffeur, cook, bathtub wrangler, midnight seductress. I want to hide. Or call in reinforcements. Or better, just take the doggone day off.
My husband, God bless him, notices these things, and, on occasion, takes mercy on me. Sometimes, that mercy comes in the form of take-out dinner, or a break from after-dinner kitchen duty, or all-access to the bedroom remote and my trusty pillow. And when he’s feeling especially benevolent, Nick, the editor-in-chief of the travel magazine Odyssey Couleur, tosses a travel junket my way—an all-expenses-paid trip to somewhere where laundry rooms and homework are non-existent, somebody else cooks and drives and cleans, and I can just chill, sans interruption or obligation. In return, I write a story about my trip for his magazine, but this is small payment.
The. Trips. Are. Glorious.
I started writing this MyBrownBaby blog from the shores of the Alabama gulf coast, where Nick has sent me for a four-day respite. I’m posted up in a well-appointed, three-bedroom, two bathroom condo—spotless, with granite countertops in the eat-in kitchen, a grand king-sized bed in a master bedroom with a huge deck overlooking the bay, and a flat-screen TV equipped with CNN, HGTV, and an endless loop of Bravo’s “Project Runway,” and “The Real Housewives of Atlanta.” There is no laundry room (not one that I have to use, anyway). All dirty dishes are being left on the tables at fine restaurants all across town—for someone else to clean. There are no dirty little brown girl booties in my Jacuzzi bathtub. And nobody is smacking me on my shoulder, waking me from a sound slumber to tell me their throat is sore, or they’re so parched that surely they’re going to die of thirst, or the little boy from “Where the Wild Things Are” just might be hiding out in the closet.
There is only peace here.
I’m finding it in the gentle whisper of the wind tickling the ocean just outside my window, a Heavenly early morning alarm, for sure. And on the deck of sail boats, while I teeter dangerously over the edge to feel the water spray against my face and watch the dolphin play tag and beg for the croacker and jewel fish and eel and shrimp the captain’s caught and tossed their way. There is peace, too, in the wildlife refuge I hiked this morning, where Hurricane Ivan had his way, but somehow, the beauty of this land and all its inhabitants remained steady, stunning, and sure. And I found plenty of satisfaction at the bottom of the gigantic bowl of bread pudding and homemade whipped cream I just demolished, without worry or apology.
I wore red shoes and red lipstick, and sexy dresses and curls in my hair—and drank mojitoes and slurped down raw oysters with plenty of horseradish and hot sauce, and flitted about without a care in the world. And then I came back to this big ol’ condo, and turned on the TV, and lay across the bed and, well… did the mom punk out. I’m longing for my family—wishing that Mari and Lila could have held the slimy fish in their hands and giggled when the dolphin dipped in and out of the water, and that Mazi could have walked along the beach and tasted the plethora of shrimp prepared in more ways than even Forrest Gump and his friend Bubba ever could have imagined. And I am longing to fall asleep in Nick’s arms—to lay my head on his chest and let the thump of his heartbeat soothe me like no ocean waves ever can.
I’m longing, simply, for life—my simple family life.
All of a sudden, this three-bedroom condo seems cavernous—too dark and a little scary. As I sit here with every light in this place blazing, CNN blaring the same Obama/McCain/America-As-We-Know-It-Is-Coming-To-An-End stories it’s had on repeat for the past three weeks, I’m reminded of a passage in bell hook’s picture book, “Homemade Love,” a bedtime favorite in our house, about a little “girl pie” whose parents love her hard and strong. At night, they tuck their little “honey bun chocolate dew drop” in, and she snuggles under her covers—in her bed, in her house, safe, satisfied, and surrounded by unconditional love. And when she falls asleep, this is on her mind:
Memories of arms that hold me
Hold me tight
No need to fear the dark place
‘Cause everywhere is home
Really, there’s no place like home, is there? I mean, I’m so very grateful for this “me time”—every last one of us hardworking moms craves it—deserves it. I also know that so many of us aren’t blessed to have these kinds of “get away” opportunities come their way—that work gets in the way and family gets in the way and busy gets in the way and, yes, we get in our own way.
But the peace and solitude I found here in Alabama can’t compare to the peace and solitude I find in my chaotic, messy, love-filled home. There, with arms that hold me tight, I have no need to fear the dark place.
Because at my house, everywhere is home.