by Barbara Olson

I walk into my foyer and become weak in the knees with the scene before me. My no breed, brindle coated dog is barking in a high-pitched frenzy while turning frantically in dizzy circles. Poor Coco, too, is obviously disoriented and upset with the mess and the musty, wild-like smell that has taken over the usual order of the entry way.

There are at least six battered, medium and small, plastic bins with blue tops randomly stacked on the mail table. Dilapidated and torn brown boxes are scattered on the floor. One has been knocked over and damp towels and used toiletry items tumble recklessly from it.

Parts and cords to electronic equipment snake through piles of dirty clothes that have been carelessly dumped on the oriental rug. Thick books, battered and torn from their spines, teeter on the foyer chair. Sport jerseys and rackets lean ransacked on the stair steps leading upstairs. The foyer’s oak wood floor is only visible in small glimpses and there is barely a place for me to step safely.

“Hello?” I venture in a weak and anxious voice.

“Hey, Mom! Where ya’ been?”

It is confirmed. My son is home from college.

The adjustment challenge begins. Lord give me strength and a shot of whiskey.

I reach up to receive a scratchy-chinned hug from my 6 foot 4 inch, lean and blond, all-American teenage boy (they are relentlessly and everlastingly our “boys,” right?) Then I calmly but authoritatively ask various questions out loud to him in an earnest tone, without sarcasm, I hope.

In my head, I thought it out differently: Why does my astute and well-educated (at least expensively educated, according to the tuition bills) think his dorm room belongs in my foyer? In the few months away from home, has he forgotten where his own room is?

Perhaps I should have left a trail of breadcrumbs so he could find his way, although a trail of beer cans would surely be more effective. And who might he think would be carrying this wreck-of-a-mess up the stairs to his room? Our home is fresh out of butlers.

“Ha. Ha.” he chuckles while flashing his “Who loves you more than me?” wide and playful grin.

Ha? Does he think I’m a comedian and not the stern “and I don’t mean maybe” mother that I think I am? Does he think I’m kidding? Or is this situation going to turn into another familiar but exhausting “you’re-not-the-boss-of me” struggle that we have been two-stepping together practically since his birth – twenty long years ago?

I clearly remember one such battle of the wills when he was six. We had gone to the shore and I was pretending as hard as I could to be spending a relaxing day with my little darling. After wave riding and sand castle creating, he needed a new challenge. He stood up, wiped sand off his scabby knees and then boldly announced that he could and would swim across the ocean. I chuckled and went back to my book while he got a substantial head start. Lord knows my aging, forty-year old body was no competition for his six-year-old determination. It was eight years and past his puberty before we were allowed anywhere near the Avalon beach lifeguard station.

And what about all these dirty clothes? Does he somehow think it is my job to wash them?

I take a deep breath. “I am going to explain the lay of the land one more time, my dear son,” I begin. “ My work here is done. This house is simply a way station on your journey to full independence,” I explain once again. “You may come in and out as your academic or work schedule dictates, but we are not a full service establishment here with maid service and the American eating plan menu. You must take care of yourself and contribute to the household chores.”

He thinks this speech is hilarious, too, and he chuckles again as he continues to text.

With surprising maturity, I remember to give my son a little slack. Last year he had a full time summer job and he worked hard, I hear. Unfortunately, work is not something I have seen from him on the home front.

Hmm. Adjustment time again. Hmm. I quickly conclude that I am simply a convenient accessory to my son’s existence and it will be difficult to win with head-to-head combat. I decide to wage a defensive battle: I exit the foyer empty handed. I remember his bed has no sheets and the washer and dryer lay silent. I go to the kitchen and check that the oven is cool and then I switch off the kitchen lights.

Mom is going on vacation. It is my only choice.