My partner just got home this week after working in California for a month. A month is a long time—long enough that I had to try to remember what it was actually like to have her around, and that was an eerie feeling.
In general, when Kellie’s gone I revel in the space she’s left behind for the first two nights. Some of that is literal—the half of the bed she usually occupies is very useful to me when it’s empty. But also it’s sometimes nice to have one less personality since we’re a family of four strong-willed humans in a 900-square-foot house. But always, by day five, chaos descends. All of a sudden, the trash needs to go out, the chickens need water, the dogs are out of food, there are dirty dishes and crumbs on every surface, and everywhere I go I step on a Lego or trip on whatever kitchen implement the baby was playing with. Since Kellie was gone for over a month, there were at least twenty-six days like that.
When Kellie came home, she cleaned the house. She mowed the lawn. She changed the sheets on the bed. And then on Tuesday, while I was at work, she called me from the grocery store. “What do we need?” she asked, and I told her if she picked up a roll of biscuit dough I’d make biscuits and gravy. Oh, and wine. Couldn’t she stop by our local wine store on the way home and ask Jim, the owner, what was good for less than ten dollars? (As much as I would have liked a glass of wine during the month that Kellie was gone, there were no casual trips to The Wine Loft.)
That evening my son came home from preschool with a model helicopter kit, which he was intent on building immediately. I chopped mushrooms while Kellie uncorked the wine. The baby was up to his usual business of finding order and disassembling it. My son was having trouble with gluing the propeller, so he let out a whine, and Kellie immediately sat at the table with him. They finished the model together. I was amazed by how functional we were all of a sudden.
Had it been a week earlier, I would have panicked the moment my son unpacked the helicopter kit. He would have started the model, cried when he got to his sticking point, and we would have escalated from there. It would have ended with me packing up the kit while he screamed. By then, the baby would have been screaming too, and the entire kitchen would have been in disarray: floors, sink, counters. We all would have been hungry, and tired, and nowhere close to eating.
As it turned out, this particular evening wasn’t perfect. We were out of tahini, which is an essential ingredient in my mushroom gravy. I threw extra nutritional yeast in to compensate, but it wasn’t as creamy. But it didn’t matter. The biscuits were warm, the gravy was salty, and we had a ten dollar bottle of wine and a finished model helicopter.