When I was a kid, Summer had a distinct smell, feel, taste and sound. Riding bikes outside until sweat beaded along foreheads and knees inevitably ended up scraped concluded with walking into a wall of air conditioning in a pristine kitchen, and helping myself to a cup of cold orange juice, lemonade or limeade. Sometimes there would be in the fridge the makings of “suicide” drinks—cranberry juice, Sunny Delight, and sprite. When I fixed myself a drink, I didn't have to move dishes away from my workspace or papers off the countertop. I just chose a clean glass from the cupboard, fixed my drink, and put the glass in the sink or the dishwasher, where it would magically disappear when I wasn't looking and somehow, through some wizardly process I never saw (or was even aware of,) it would end up back in the cupboard, all shiny and clean, ready for another fill of lemonade.
During the summer, the bedrooms in the upstairs of our old house got pretty hot. Not unbearable—just warmer than the downstairs. But if you were really roasting, you could go to the basement with its oatmeal colored carpet, squishy couch and television and you could sit down there in the frigid temperatures and watch The Brady Bunch reruns on channel 4 (TBS! Remember the deodorant commercial for that station?) to your heart's content. And once you were bored with the TV, you could go back outside to play or ride bikes some more, or you could call your cousins in the next neighborhood over and invite yourselves to go swimming in their most-sparkling-clean-swimming pool-you-can-imagine, until dinnertime.
Dinner at our house was always fixed hot and served hot, out of serving bowls on the table and empty plates in front of your chair, at 5:00 sharp. If it got to be 5:30 and we hadn't eaten yet, that was weird. Any later than that was unheard of. There were always enough forks, knives, plates to go around—even if we had a guest-- and each person had a paper napkin folded like a triangle underneath their fork. Dinners were delicious, typically a meat-and-potatoes style, home cooked meal. Kids drank milk for dinner, parents had iced tea. Nothing else was an option.
If my grandparents were coming for dinner, we'd sit in the formal dining room with a table cloth and water cups on the table and and there would definitely be desert (usually cake) with decaf coffee after. I would struggle through that time, hating the smell of the coffee, until my mom would finally let me leave the table, after reciting, “May I please be excused?” which was actually not something we had to say any time other than when my grandparents were there. (Tee hee!) My grandparents only lived down the street, so they came for dinner somewhat frequently.
Ok, so now let's talk about the summer/childhood/savage upbringing my kids are having. And how there are always papers and dirty dishes and general crap all over the countertops and tables. Oh, you want a drink of water? Hang on while I wash three dishes before I can even find a dirty glass to wash for you. Oh, the rest of you want water too? Just go stick your mouths under the bathroom faucet. While I don't remember there ever being more than one iced tea glass in the sink at my parents' house growing up, I can't do the dishes fast enough to keep up here in my home. I literally wash dishes from one meal to the next, use and repeat. And while we're on the subject of dishes: we don't have enough to go around! There are six of us. When we moved here we bought a set of six bowls and six plates, along with a set of 8 forks, 8 spoons and 4 or 6 knives from Ikea. Plates and bowls keep breaking and silverware keeps getting run down the garbage disposal and has to be thrown out. Sometimes I eat my dinner out of a mug.
Dinner is chaos at my house now. Absolute chaos. Every evening, with high expectations, I begin dinner. Every night, cursing as I go, I dish up plates straight from the pot on the stove, carefully avoiding giving any of the scorched sections to the kids, and if there are “side dishes” those are either cold by the time the main meal is finished, or I go ahead and serve the main meal and the side dishes are finished just in time for everyone to be leaving the table. This often leaves my family having a nice steak and potato meal at the table while I eat an entire potful of peas by myself near the stove.
Napkins? NAPKINS?! Show me a dinner mess at my house small enough for a napkin and I'll show you.... well, that's just absurd! We put out multiple rolls of paper towels on the table. But only after the first spill.
All of this dinner talk is even assuming I have my act together enough to make dinner at an acceptable dinnertime. Sometimes I'll be cooking and realize it's almost 8:00 and nobody has eaten and it's an hour past bedtime and oh, forget it! Have a spoonful of peanut butter and chocolate milk.
It's funny that memories of my grandparents coming for dinner are so vivid and lovely in my mind. So elegant and like a fancy special occasion. Around here, IF we have people over for dinner (which happens very, very rarely, and it's never my parents,) …............hang on, I'm trying to think of how we'd do this. We don't have enough places at the table (or chairs.) We don't have enough plates or forks. We had two extra people for dinner once this spring and we ate hamburgers outside/standing up.
We do always have coffee though!
As for the air conditioning/television/basement.... No/No/Dirt-floor Cellar.
We do have a window air conditioning unit that we put in the girls' bedroom. It's made a huge difference for the entire back section of the house. And at night with the windows open, the most wonderful breeze comes into our room and the honeysuckle smells amazing. I love, love, love my bedroom.
Of all the differences between my childhood and the way my kids are growing up, the biggest difference is the state of the house. My parents' house was comfortable and homey, and immaculately clean. There wasn't clutter or junk or origami cranes all over the place. Neither were there plants everywhere. Or tons of stuff on the walls. Every room was decorated in a tastefully sparse and well thought-out way. My mom would have gotten a tattoo of Our Lady of Guadalupe on her back before she'd take a paintbrush and write on her walls just because she found a poem she liked about cats. (P.S. My mom is not the tattoo type.)
I didn't know that the space on the floor between the back of the toilet and wall could be such a frightening place. Growing up, it was always clean. Same with the narrow space behind the kitchen faucet where the backsplash is. Then I moved out on my own and places like that suddenly became really scary.
Sometimes I wonder what kind of keepers of their homes my girls will be. Will they be total slobs? (judging by their current lack of picking up after themselves, yes) or will they be Tidy with Whimsy (which is what I hope I am, except I know I veer dangerously near Slobville)? OR, will they be total neat freaks, deep cleaning on a strict schedule and having a perfectly kept home? It doesn't matter, I'll win no matter what! I like clean homes. I like sloppy homes, as long as they feel cozy. Somewhere in the middle is very nice. Whatever kind of home-keepers they turn into, I hope that they have good memories of the summers of their childhood.... even without the air conditioning and Brady Bunch reruns.