Hoss and Nana are “big city” grandparents. They live about four hours away from us, so they don’t get to spend as much time with the children as they’d like, but summertime means special trips and changes in scenery. So, last week the boys were camping with them in north Georgia.
With both Jamie and me working fulltime, the boys’ school breaks would be very difficult to manage if we didn’t have grandparents as willing volunteers to “keep” them. It’s special when they can go to Atlanta, too. It’s good for them to get away from us and their old routine.
Selfishly, I also appreciate the time gifted to just Jamie and me. As I often do, I romanticize the week without children. I imagine we will read our favorite books in the living room, television turned off, gazing at each other lovingly in the silence. Or, binge-watch “Downton Abbey” in our pajamas and eat take-out. Maybe we could pack a picnic and go out to the farm, where the stars really shine and sip chilled wine and talk in the quiet.
One day into this vacation, I got home from work ready to lay all options on the table. A modern-day lady from an Old West saloon, fanning out all sorts of choices like cards on a green felt covered poker table, whiskey bottle and shot glasses at my side. As I drove down the driveway, I saw Jamie in the garage. My tall, dark, and handsome Old West gunslinger was sitting on the garage floor waving his hands in the air, signaling me not to pull the car inside.
I exhaled, not defeated so much as forewarned. He was working on the lawn mower. The lawn mower’s back end was pulled up on a wench. The mower’s front two wheels were still on the garage floor, but it was hoisted high enough in the air that the front headlights faced the concrete floor. Jamie was sitting on the garage floor spread eagle, mower between his legs.
“Whatcha doin’?” I asked, still optimistic.
“Workin’ on the lawnmower. The part I ordered from Amazon came in today.” He didn’t even look up. He had his arms plunged into the lawnmower’s underside. The lawnmower looked embarrassed.
Unabashed, I continued, “What are you thinking for tonight? Dinner out? Or maybe we can stay home and watch a movie?” He looked at me and smiled, proud to be fixing something. “Well, I thought my plan was to work on the lawn mower. If I don’t get it fixed, the yard is going to take over.”
I was getting the picture. “Please tell me those aren’t your good jeans.”
“Yeah, but I’m not going to mess ‘em up. I’ll throw ‘em in the washing machine when I come inside.” He was clearly unconcerned, grease stains already visible on the knee.
Needless to say, the work week went on as per the usual. There were no starlit, hand-holding picnics, but it was quiet in the house. We enjoyed the respite from the hamster wheel of routine.
After the boys are gone about three days, I start listening for them. I miss their raucous laughter and constant questions. It’s always the noise I miss first. Jamie doesn’t get homesick for them the way I do. Thursday night late, after a few glasses of wine and thigh-high into binge-watching “Homeland” -because we COULD- I confessed to Jamie that I was about ready to have them home. He looked at me like I’d lost my mind, “Be still, devil woman. Can I pour you some more pinot?”
On Friday night, those two rapscallions landed back home like category five hurricanes. They brought home laundry and new freckles and stories from their week in the big city. They were full of excitement and sugar and caffeine. The house felt suddenly full again.
As they were settling in, I went into the laundry room to start a load of clothes when I noticed the door to Bailey’s hamster cage was wide open. She was most certainly not inside. I had no idea how long she had been out. After a quick look around, I knew we may be in for some trouble. The executive decision was made not to tell Colin so close to bedtime. Besides, we figured there was a good chance we would find her before morning.
By lunchtime on Saturday, and still no Bailey, Jamie and I felt we had delayed the inevitable as long as possible and had to tell Colin she was missing.
There were tears and a broken heart, but Jamie told Colin not to give up. There was no reason to lose hope. She may still turn up. I was skeptical. Colin asked if we could pray for her. So, right there under the fluorescent kitchen lights Colin took our hands and prayed:
Please help us find Bailey. If we can’t find her, please keep her safe and feed her hamster food.
I HAD to find that hamster.
Saturday night, I busied myself in the walk-in closet sorting laundry and praying Bailey had not made the small hill of dirty clothes her new home. With every garment I sorted, I looked for her. From the confines of the closet, I could hear the boys plotting some sort of escapade.
I’ve often wondered how long it would take someone to find me if I died in the walk-in closet. I’m pretty sure the logic applied to if a tree falls in the woods is the same as if a mom falls in the walk-in closet. My best guess is that someone would start looking for me around suppertime.
Sunday night, the business of prepping for the week started, and I went to the laundry room to continue the vacation laundry. I flicked on the light, and there she was- Bailey. Standing on her back legs; frozen still, right in the middle of the laundry room floor, she didn’t move a muscle. All hamster-like activity had stopped as if she thought if she were veewy, veewy still, I wouldn’t see her.
In the split-second that she and I made eye contact, I knew three things to be true: 1. Fresh with a taste of freedom, she was a woman out on her own and wasn’t willingly going back to her cage. 2. Woman-to-woman, I felt sorry for her and silently wished she could stay out on the lam. 3. I had a seven-year-old wunderkind devastated his hamster was missing.
She made a break for it and ran behind a Rubbermaid container full of fall decor that never made its way to the attic. I tiptoed toward the container and cooed, “Bailey girl? Don’t worry, sweet girl. It’s ok. Come here, sweet girl,” as I gently picked up the Rubbermaid container. No Bailey. Under the cabinets, I discovered a small hole where the wall and baseboard meet. The size of half a Post-it note, I’d never noticed it before. She’d run into it and was hiding between the cabinet and the wall.
I squatted down and peered inside. I couldn’t help but wonder if she hadn’t made friends in there. Was it quiet? Was she figuring things out and making a new life? I put a small amount of food out in the middle of the floor, turned off the lights and waited. She was out in less than a minute and scurried over to the food pile. I figure that’s how I’ll get caught, too. Tempted and lured by the food pile.
While Bailey was eating, I put a box in front of the hole and scooped her into my hands. She was ticked. You could tell. She also had her cheeks full of food. So, she was ticked and hungry. Gently, I carried Bailey in the scoop of my hands down the hallway to find Colin.
He had just gotten out of the bathtub. He had on his pajama bottoms, no shirt yet, and his hair was still wet. He had that look that is only part-time little boy now: full cheeks, big grin with missing teeth, and bright blue-green eyes. He smelled soapy and warm. “Colin,” I whispered, “look who I found.”
“BAILEY!! Oh, Bailey, you’re back!” Big tears rolled down his face as he took her out of my hands with his still wrinkly bathwater fingers and pulled her to his bare chest. “You’re here!”
He looked up at me, Bailey damp now from his chest. “I can’t believe you found her. I just can’t believe it!” His big eyes sparkled and shone, and in them, I saw the relief and wonder and joy all parents feel in knowing everyone is safely home.