Monday, June 14, 2010

The Sunday night rebound

I love going away for the weekend. I love the novelty of being somewhere else for just a night or two, getting to experience a different setting without the larger-scale effort of going on an actual vacation. Just leaving town from Friday evening to Sunday, or in the case of this weekend less: only twenty-four hours. Even twenty-four hours out of town feels special and festive to me.

What I don’t love so much is coming back. Not that I don’t also love to be home: I do. I like to get back to the familiar comforts of my own house and re-connect with whoever didn’t come with me: half the family, in the case of this weekend. I like to check on the pets and see what they’ve been lacking while I was away. I like to re-establish regular household routines, even after just a very short break from them. And not least, I’m always grateful for safe travels completed.

I don’t love coming back from a weekend away only because of the seemingly exponential trouble of catching up before a new work week begins. It just doesn’t make sense to me that as little as twenty-four hours away from home can generate this much extra work as Sunday draws to a close, and I thought this weekend would be different: I thought if I made the effort to bring fewer clothes and less food I’d spend much less time unpacking; if I spent more time leaving the house neat and taking care of tasks before we left, I’d find myself ahead of the game upon return.

But it never happens like that. I always feel overburdened upon returning, between unpacking, cleaning out the car, sorting clean from dirty laundry, getting perishables from the cooler back into the fridge, and then making dinner and ensuring that the kids have what they need for the upcoming Monday at school: snacks, lunches, permission slips, sneakers for PE class.

Common sense tells me that the best way to make Sunday evening after a trip run smoothly is to get home with plenty of time to spare. And yet my friend Nicole does exactly the opposite. When her family goes away for the weekend – which they do fairly often – she has no problem with staying out as long as possible. On Memorial Day weekend, although our families were staying in different towns, we spent an afternoon together at the beach in Maine. “What time are you heading home tomorrow?” I asked her, already thinking about Memorial Day traffic. “As late as we can,” she said. “We’ll have dinner on the porch and go back to the beach until the sun sets.”

“But how can you pull that off?” I asked her, not for the first time. “How are you organized for the new work week if you don’t leave here until after seven at night? How do you have the kids in bed on time? How do you get school lunches made?”

Nicole is a very organized person. She ticked off the ways. “We’ll have dinner before we leave for home, so that’s out of the way. The kids know the tradeoff for staying at the beach late is that they have to go straight to bed when we get home. And that it will be peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for lunch tomorrow. They brought their homework with them. They can pack their backpacks in the morning. It works out, and we get to have more fun by staying longer.”

As I hurried around my kitchen last night at ten o'clock still trying to get ready for a new workweek, I thought about that some more. It’s not like Nicole is being cavalier: she runs a household every bit as organized as mine, plus she has to go off to work in the morning, which I don’t. And I so envy her attitude, of not marring the weekend’s fun with an early departure; if you’re having a good time, why not make it last as long as possible? Her approach makes my conservative plan to get home with plenty of time to spare on Sunday seem so parsimonious.

But honestly, I’m still not sure how she does it. We got home at five yesterday and I’m still not unpacked. The kitchen is untidy; the car hasn’t been vacuumed; and the kids will have to rummage for school snacks in the morning. I didn’t manage well at all as far as the end-of-the-weekend return home.

I want to make it work Nicole’s way: make the fun last as long as possible and then make everything fall into place in the morning. She’s lucky as well as talented in the way that her kids know exactly what they need to do to make the plan work out. Her family’s weekend included three more hours of fun than ours did, and even leaving midafternoon wasn’t enough to keep me from being frazzled by bedtime.

So I’ll keep working on it, and maybe someday I’ll figure out how Nicole makes it work when I can’t. Mostly, I just try to remind myself that part of it might be a willingness to compromise. Peanut butter and jelly for school lunches? It’s not what we normally do, but maybe the kids would agree it was worth a little extra time outdoors on a sunny Sunday.

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