“Oh my God, you’re not eating THAT?” I asked my oldest son at a rare moment both kids were in the same room.
And I mean rare moment.
This has been a summer we should have switched out our standard front door for a revolving one. The pattern has been nuts. One kid would pop in when he had days off from his internship while the other was wrapped up in summer classes at his out-of-state campus. Then when I thought we’d all be together, one would dash off to transform his paycheck to distant scuba lessons just when his brother would roll up the driveway for a longer stay.
Yet there were glorious snippets of global positioning overlap for the two, most of which took place within yards of the refrigerator. (After all, they’re college boys.) But the question I blasted about a food choice that day, and the genuine horror on my face, sparked both sons into breath-robbing laughter.
I knew what they were thinking: There goes mom, the panicky Germ Cop who fears anything not stamped with an expiration date. Ah yes, we’re home.
How could they not LOL? I was holding my face like the Home Alone kid. My eyes were bugged out in a most Roger Dangerfield-y way. College has given them the confidence to survive vintage leftover consumption. But I insisted, “Stop eating that! It could have mold spores or some mutation of a medieval plague!”
They continued cracking up.
Apparently, the zapped meal that horrified me was considered fresh, good stuff when viewed through their young man goggles. Had they learned anything from the queen of microbe paranoia? Apparently not. The kid finished his throwback lunch while his bro cheered him on. These guys either have guts of steel, or I worry too much. The truth is probably somewhere between a vague “best by” date and a stomach pump.
I found it interesting the flash point to this distress could be sourced to our refrigerator. Moments before the mortification/laughter outburst, I had sauntered into the kitchen in a carefree mood. But I stopped short when I recognized the empty Styrofoam clamshell yawning on the counter. It was the very one I had systematically jenga-stacked on the fridge’s top shelf for too many days. The agony hit me when I realized my son was snarfing a “seasoned” restaurant leftover from his previous weekend pop-in.
In my mind, his abandoned half-meal was merely awaiting garbage day. I didn’t want to toss it in the garage trash bin too early. Why attract mice or bugs? But in his mind: “Cool. Food.”
The problem was mainly in my head, not my son’s. That was when I realized there had been a shift in our household.
The kids have been mostly launched, and I had recalibrated my daily routines without even knowing it. I thought it was safe to have a “Frigidaire” staging area for abandoned/potentially rotting dishes. I had never announced to my boys, “Anything north of that egg carton is biohazard material strictly earmarked for trash day.”
My husband and I constantly quote the wise person who once told us, in a most kitchen-y way, about this child-launching chapter of life: “Your dishwasher will be mainly filled with wine glasses and coffee mugs.” That truism needs an addendum: “But when kids bounce home between semesters, be sure to get a carbon dating kit for their takeout leftovers.”
And here we are in late summer. Another shift. A quick peek behind our Samsung’s side-by-side doors tells the story. Gallons have once again downsized to quarts. Kirkland logos have given way to Trader Joe’s. There are no mystery cartons blocking the hummus.
We’re all back to doing our own things, and though I’ll miss my snarfing wise guys this fall, I look forward to the next flurry of visits. I’m gonna take a cue from the fridge and be chill about this phase, because my love for my boys has no expiration date.
Denise Snodell writes alternate weeks. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter: @DeniseSnodell