Sometimes I write for fun. Most of the time, though, I write out of necessity. I write to make sense out of unfathomable things. And here’s todays:
Every July my family goes to California. We spend a week at a generous family friend’s beach house and enjoy for a short while, living like the other half do. It’s my kids’ favorite place in the world and a treat we all look forward to from August to June.
The first summer we visited, my eldest son, Levi, was 3 and a half and his brother, Eli, a new born babe. It was a tough time of adjustment for us. At the time, Eli had been diagnosed as blind and Levi was struggling to cope with the sudden appearance of an annoying baby brother who seemed to suck all the attention out of his world. We brought our babysitter on the trip and she had some kind of nervous breakdown and went AWOL. Seriously. She left us a bizarre, incoherent goodbye note and that was the last we saw of her. Given our stressful situation, we inadvertently let some of the household chores fall by the wayside.
We received a stern reproach from Lois, our beach house hostess, the following spring when I called to inquire about our upcoming summer visit. Frankly, it was mortifying. Accused of not leaving their lovely home in the same condition in which we had found it, I apologized profusely and assured her that I would never again allow toddlers, teething or childcare trauma to distract my attention from my housekeeping responsibilities.
From then on, I cleaned each summer like an army recruit trying desperately to impress her platoon sergeant. I scrubbed, shined and sparkled everything from the grout in the kitchen tiles to the bottom of the white marble toilet bowls. I cleaned this house like none other I had ever lived in.
Years passed and things seemed normal between us and our friends. So it was with great confidence that I sent this year’s email inquiring about a July visit. A few days later I received a phone call from Mel, our affable host who has always reminded me of my beloved father.
“This is very difficult for me,” he started. “You know we love you guys.” (Note to self: it is never a good sign when a conversation begins with a heartfelt declaration of love) He then proceeded to tell me that we had left their beautiful home in shambles last summer. I will leave out the details, but suffice to say that according to him, walls needed repainting, appliances repair, and furniture replacement. He said that we had left the beach house in bad shape before, but that this past summer was the worst of all and he simply had no choice but to ask us never to visit again.
I was seriously stunned. This seemed impossible to me. I distinctly recall our final Sunday morning cleaning session in which we washed and replaced the linens, scrubbed all the bathrooms, cleaned out the refrigerator, and did a host of other cleaning duties.
“But, we cleaned…” I stammered. “…for hours. I just don’t understand.” By this point, I was sobbing and close to hyperventilating. He graciously suggested that our definitions of “clean” must be vastly divergent. I offered to replace the recliner we had allegedly stained and cover the costs of any household repairs even though I remembered the tattered arm chair looking very near death upon our arrival last summer. He, of course, refused. No, there was nothing I could say or do to redeem myself or my family.
Beside the sheer mortification of this experience, I am deeply saddened to know that people we so greatly admire and respect believe us to be selfish, reckless and inconsiderate. I know we weren’t responsible for the damage they believe we caused. They lend out that house to countless friends and family who do not treat it with the same level of respect that we do and they probably have not set foot in the house in years. But I couldn’t argue with him. They apparently inspected the house and found several things wrong with it directly after our visit. So we, in their minds, are the culprits. Arguing seemed pointless. So I apologized again and hung up.
I want there to be a lesson in this. But I’m having a hard time finding it. All I seem to come up with is that you should never stay in anyone else’s home, borrow anyone else’s car, or utilize anything that doesn’t personally belong to you, yourself. Because the potential for something bad happening is just enormous. It’s like driving without car insurance. You’ll never have an accident until the day your policy lapses due to an overdrawn checking account.
Self reliance is the only way to go. I remember back in 8th grade when my best friend, Annie, dumped me for a more popular, less uptight burn-out chick. I sat in my bedroom playing Simon and Garfunkel’s “I am a Rock,” over and over until I fell asleep. I woke up feeling better though. I guess as a mom, I’d just bought into the whole “It take a village” thing; believing that you could rely on other people, that accepting help was a good thing, that you weren’t really out there all alone.
Forgive me if I sound callous or cynical, but accepting anything from anyone leaves you vulnerable and, as far as I’m concerned, vulnerability sucks.
That is a very bitter pill to swallow. I wish I could offer you Mary Poppins’ “spoonful of sugar” to help it go down. From my perspective, it seems unfair for the hosts not to contact you immediately afterward if they had discovered such severe damage at the end of your visit to allow you an opportunity to make amends (though I do believe you when you say that the arm chair looked tattered upon your arrival).
Don’t stay out on your island too long, and when you come back to the mainland, I pray that you are welcomed by friends who care more about enjoying life (and all the mess that entails) with their friends than keeping their furniture in pristine condition.