Monday, September 10, 2012

Home Again, Home Again

If you have a dog and you go on a trip, you can be pretty sure of an effusive greeting when you get home. Whether you’ve been away for 5 minutes or 5 weeks, a dog will happily greet you at the door and welcome you home with excited barking, licking, tail wagging, and running around in circles.

If you have a cat and you go on a trip, you never know what you’ll get when you come home, but you can be certain it will not be described as “effusive.” At best, the cat will give you a disinterested glance on its way to the food dish, as if to say, “Oh, were you gone?” At worst, you will be finding little “presents” in places like your shoes, your purse, and your bed for several weeks. And in between those two extremes there are myriad variations of everything from the proverbial cold shoulder to outright hostility.

When you have children, their reactions could be anything from dog level right down to cat level. A non-verbal child has no idea when you would be coming back, so the element of surprise when you walk in the door could go either way: excited screams and lots of hugs and kisses, or resentful screams and anger. A verbal child is at least likely to have given you some advance warning of how they will react, so you know whether to expect resentment or excitement.

When my husband and I went to an out-of-town wedding this weekend, we left our kids with several familiar babysitters. When I left, the baby was quite content to climb into the sitter’s arms and didn’t try to cling to me, which I thought boded well. And the toddler, although he requested, “Mama, stay here for a big while,” gave me a kiss and a not-too-clingy hug. But this was the longest that we’d left either of them with a sitter in recent months, so I honestly had no idea how much they would miss us, or if they would even be aware that we were gone. And I dearly hoped that our poor niece and her friends, who were sitting for the bulk of our trip, would not have to deal with whiny repetitions of, “When are Mommy and Daddy coming home???” or “Mama? Mama? Mama?”

So when we returned after two blissful, child-free days, it was a lovely sort-of surprise that the kids were happy and excited to see us. My nearly three-year-old son grinned and ran right over to give me a big hug, then went back to watching his movie. That was pretty much the sum total of his reaction. My one-year-old daughter, on the other hand, beamed and toddled over, nearly strangling me with her hug. She let go only so she could repeat the process with Daddy, then ran right back over to me to do the same again. Throughout the course of the evening, she would periodically catch a glimpse of one of us as she was playing, and would immediately drop her toy, run over and give us a hug and a kiss, then go back to what she was doing. If I was sitting on the couch, she would scramble up to sit on my lap and then happily throw her arms around my neck, occasionally even giving me a wet, sloppy kiss complete with a verbal, “MWAH!”, content to snuggle for a few seconds before wriggling out of my arms and going back to playing.

That’s not such a bad welcome home. Not so effusive that I need to worry that they were pining for us all weekend long, but not so cool that I feel like our presence wasn’t even missed. Just a good, well-balanced, healthy dose of missing us, but not missing us too much. Kind of the same way that I felt about them.
This beautiful rainbow that appeared in the middle of the wedding reception was a perfect symbol of many aspects of the weekend.

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