It was midnight and I was looking at a two-hour drive. The theatre where I was working had given me keys to a condominium so I wouldn’t have to make the long trip, but something was calling me home.
Traveling is hard and I miss my family. When I am away, I think of nothing but kissing my sons’ chubby cheeks, of watching them dress up in costumes and run and laugh through the house. My heart pines for my wife’s smile and the sway of her hips, of waking in the morning and seeing the tuft of red hair lying beside me. When I hear that dulcet call, there is no amount of highway that will keep me from getting home.
As I sped down the highway, I thought of the last time I made this drive so late at night.
The last leg of a 10-day business trip left me only a two-hour drive from my home. At about 11 p.m., I called my wife from my hotel to say goodnight. What was it Percy Sledge sang about what a man would do for a woman? A few soft words from my wife and my bags were packed, and I was flying down the dark highway towards her loving arms.
As I once more raced along the same stretch of road, I couldn’t help but smile at the memory. A man discovers himself in the arms of his wife. He grows in the arms of his children. Family demands he put away childish things, that the values he espouses be given life.
Percy of course sang the truth. But whomever it was that said absence makes the heart grow fonder was certainly no liar. Amidst all the romantic notions I have of chubby cheeked little boys frolicking in the yard and a wife whispering sweetly in my ear there are precious few visions of the reality that awaits me.
My midnight run was followed by the chaos of getting three children ready for school in the morning. There was whining and crying. Shoes were lost, teeth were not brushed and homework was missing. With milk and cereal all over the floor, the house looked like a tornado had just blown through.
That evening, I decided we should take a family walk through the neighborhood. Now that the evenings are longer, there is no better way to savor the family time. Not two steps past our house, the mood is shattered with more whining and crying. I must referee a fight because someone was pushed down too hard when someone karate kicked someone else in the head.
Why is it, I wondered, that when I am away I do not think of the bickering and arguing about who is the boss of whom or toys that seem to be strategically placed so that I will step on them with bare feet in the middle of the night. Nor for some reason do I wistfully hold in my heart the wife that wakes up on the wrong side of the bed, sucks her teeth when the laundry has not been done as was promised and gets too tired and irritable to drop a coin in the love machine.
The answer is that it may not be what I focus on, but I do miss it. I miss it all, the hustle and chaos, the sweet talk and the teeth sucking, the bickering and the laughter. This is family. It is what grounds me. Without it I am lost, rudderless, adrift and unconnected.
The following morning, I woke and saw the tuft of red hair lying next to me. I heard my boys stir in their bedroom and begin to laugh and play with each other. The morning sun streamed into the room and I thought to myself, “It’s good to be home.”