Welcome Home to a Smelly Kitchen

When I open the back door, I am greeted by my dog’s wagging tail and the unmistakable, pungent scent of overripe bananas. I close my eyes and breathe deeply, knowing fruit flies are swarming in my kitchen like locusts on the prairie.

Ah, home sweet home.

The kitchen is a four-day time capsule. There, squeezed against the wall, is the ironing board, right where I left it. The iron still stands precariously on the end where I set it to cool before it could be put away.

There’s a newspaper on the kitchen table. When I left it was Monday’s edition; now it’s Friday’s.

On the island counter sits the bowl of fruit and vegetables I restocked last Sunday, uneaten and in various states of decay. The now-black bananas emit their gaseous odor alongside wrinkled peppers of yellow, red and orange; a shriveled lime that resembles a Hacky Sack; and an avocado covered in cheesy white rot.

If my plane had gone down or I had been snatched away by aliens, I wonder how long it would have taken for someone to notice the rotting food in the middle of the kitchen.

I wonder, too, as I drag my rolling suitcase to the bedroom, if they would cover the ironing board with a tablecloth and use it as a buffet table or perhaps lower it, put the computer on it and call it “the desk in the kitchen.”

I don’t travel much for business, but when I do, I’m always reminded that in my home, there’s no one like mom.

Like many women who must travel, I left a four-day meal plan, for which I had shopped and laid in provisions. Like many women who must travel, I came home to a fridge full of leftover Chinese takeout and a trash can overflowing with Subway sandwich wrappers.

I’m not so vain as to believe my family couldn’t get along without me. My husband managed to shuttle everyone to school and sporting events and even handled a special function for our eighth-grader that required dress clothes and a camera. (Thankfully, I was still in a taxi on my way to a meeting when he called to ask how to turn on the camera.)

Also, I’ve learned through the years that it’s OK for the dad to do things differently from the way the mom does them. A sack lunch is still a lunch, after all, even if it contains a sandwich with enough peanut butter to glue a child’s mouth shut for the afternoon and a bag of carrot sticks fit for a bunny farm.

Still, when the mom goes away for a few days, everyone realizes that although she may not be indispensable in the strict sense, she is the only one who brings in the mail and carves a path through the mountain of shoes leading to the back door.

Just once, would I like to come home to find that the laundry has been kept up or at least that the clean clothes I meticulously folded before I left have been put away?

Oh, sorry. I must have dozed off and started dreaming for a second.

Am I annoyed about the fruit flies and the dried out sticky rice in my kitchen? Does it bug me that in addition to planning my own week’s worth of appointments, I also had to print out a complete itinerary for the people I left behind and then took phone calls to confirm the information I had provided?

Yes and no.

It takes me a day or so to reclaim the kitchen, gather up the laundry and set the machinery of my life to humming once again. Within a span of 48 hours, I have re-established my routines and repositioned myself at the helm of my household. It’s almost as if I were never gone.

It’s good to get away every so often, but then again, there’s nothing like the feeling you get when you walk into the house after a tiring business trip and breathe in the acrid stench of rotten bananas.

It’s just another way my family says, “Welcome home, Mom. We love you.”

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