Two shakers of Tony Chachere’s Original Creole Seasoning (both open).
Three boxes of assorted teas. One dozen plastic go-cups from various Mardi Gras parades. An unopened jar of cayenne pepper. Half a container of Morton’s Sea Salt – Extra Coarse. A half a jar of creamy Jif peanut butter. A half-jar of Thrill Your Grill Pork Rub. An unopened bottle of Mrs. Dash Grilling Blends – Chicken (No MSG). Three sets of stainless steel barbecue skewers. A bottle of black pepper. A brand-new container of Weber brand New Orleans Cajun spice mix.
One bottle of Uncle Steve’s Pure Ribbon Cane Syrup “rich in nature’s flavors” and three-quarters’ full – this, in a box on the floor of the closet, right next to the hamper full of wet towels.
This is the legacy of the son we never wanted – the gifts that Ross left behind.
Yes, he’d officially moved out a year-and-a-half prior, but in the two-year span of our adventure in man-child-rearing, Pat and I got to experience the joys of a boomerang kid, if only for a few weeks. It was actually better the second time around because he’d trained us so well the first. Ross was heading back to the South to house-sit nine months (rent-free, natch) for a buddy who’d just been deployed to Iraq. In his typically charming, knuckleheaded fashion, Ross had neglected to calculate how the expiration date on his Phoenix lease corresponded to his departure date for the Palmetto State… and now he needed a place to crash for a few days while he got his affairs in order (rent-free, natch).
So after two weeks of rose-colored reminiscing, non-Chelada beer-drinking, Poore Brothers Jalapeno Potato-Chip bingeing, football-watching and when-exactly-are-you-leaving-again nagging, Ross’s car turned west from the North 74th Place cul de sac and headed off to a new adventure.
Pat then changed the locks on the doors and installed a new video security system.
That was seven months ago. Ross called yesterday.
“Hey Cousin, what’s going on?”
“Hey Ross! What a pleasant surprise – what’s up with you?”
“Well, I think I’m coming back out to Phoenix – June 2nd through 9th.”
“Really?” I said, thinking to myself: I hope you’re not planning to stay with us… and I really hope you’re not calling to ask for my frequent flyer miles. “To what do we owe this honor?”
“Well, remember that girl I was seeing for a while – [ REDACTED ]?”
“Oh, yeah, [ REDACTED ] – as I recall, you never introduced her to us because you were embarrassed by us… She’s not pregnant, is she?”
“No – No, she’s not pregnant, at least, I don’t… no, she’s not pregnant. She was just in Savannah a few weeks ago and we hung out… and so I’m coming back out to Phoenix. I didn’t think I’d be back so soon.”
“No, it certainly is sooner than expected… I’m glad she’s not pregnant. So, uh, is this serious with [ REDACTED ]? I mean, if you’re flying halfway across the country…”
“No – no. It’s not serious – it’s not like it’s a long-distance relationship or anything… I just got a good deal on a plane ticket and thought I’d come out -”
To Phoenix… in June… when it’s 110 degrees. And it’s how many miles from Savannah to Phoenix again?
“Well, it’s a shame you didn’t wait a week longer to book your tickets, Ross, because we’re headed out to the beach house on the 19th…”
“Well, you know, I could change…”
“Yeah, that’s not gonna happen. So about [ REDACTED ] – are we going to get to meet her this time? I assume you’re not staying with us – that you’ll be staying with [ REDACTED ]?”
“Yeah, but I’d like us all to get together while I’m out there.”
“Great! Would love to see you. We’ll be on our best behavior when we meet [ REDACTED ].”
“Cool – I’ll call you when I get things settled.”
“Cool – oh, and Ross, did you get all those speeding tickets I sent you? They kept coming to the house so I just bundled them up… Suffice it to say, you may not want to get pulled over while you’re out here. In fact, you may want to have [ REDACTED ] drive you around. See you in a few -”
The niggling nagging. The naked passive-aggression. The overt nosiness. It has come to this: I have become the mother I never wanted to be to the son I never wanted.
And here, I’d worked so hard to cultivate my child-free lifestyle: We drove a German two-seater from ’02 to ’06. We traveled to Italy for a long weekend back in ’04. We went to Germany for Oktoberfest among other things in ’11. We toured with a rock band in ’07 and ’12. We trained for ridiculous athletic events. We drank, gambled and stayed up all night. And still, after two-score years of child-free bliss, I find myself haranguing the 29-year-old to make sure he comes to visit while he’s here in Phoenix for his cross-country booty call?
Who am I?
The first time Ross moved in was October 2010. It was my fault – I’d invited him: I’d flown him out to Vegas (free, natch) so he could keep me company at the World Series of Poker (back when I did interesting things). He wanted to launch a new career in a new locale and leave the dull drudgery of drafting back in Baton Rouge. Trading AutoCad for Photoshop, he moved into our guest room in Scottsdale and set about getting gainfully employed with friends of mine in the advertising industry.
In the meantime, we – correction: I – did what every new parent does: I worried and bought him shit. Plane tickets. Beer. A used car (after I tried to fix the clatter-trap he drove out here and my mechanic refused to let me drive it home because it was unsafe). Hotel room in Vegas. More beer. He did take the colitis couch off our hands (long story), and we unloaded one iPod and two laptops on him (one of which he returned so I could give it to my nephew). To be fair, he paid us back for some of it. We put the rest on his tab for the day his Lucky Cherries scratcher ticket comes in.
In exchange, I got to worry about walking around nekkid in my own home. I got someone to take out the trash for me every week. I got one unfortunate call at 2:08 AM; I got to wake him up with my bullhorn on Thanksgiving morning after the drunken onslaught that is Thanksgiving Eve (who knew?). I got to howl with laughter when our dogs greeted him at the door the first time he came home late. Note to interlopers: They weigh a combined 178 pounds. They have all their teeth. They don’t like being awakened at 2 in the morning. I got to do a lot of cooking – ribs, gumbo, jalapeno poppers. I got to eat haggis. I never got to meet [ REDACTED ]… but I did get to know Ross for the sly, talented, thoughtful, creative, witty, bat-shit-crazy-nutcase-about-football that he is.
Then when he left, we got our lives back.
There are things I will never experience because we’ve chosen not to have kids – child birth, first tooth, first steps, first flush of that first potty-trained poop (no photos, please), first day of school, first crush, first “I hate you! You just don’t understand me,” first arrest… (well, actually). It is this litany of milestones that stretches onward through life’s many adventures: The great migration from childhood to teenhood to adulthood… and if you’re a parent, you’re holding your breath while you sit on the sidelines watching it happen at break-neck speed. I watch from high up in the grandstands, removed from the action but still able to appreciate it.
I do not regret not having a child of my own. Better that than to regret having a child I didn’t want. If you’re honest with yourself, you come to realize that parenting isn’t for everyone. There are plenty of kids out there that didn’t ask to be born. My heart aches for them every day.
I’m glad I had the choice to be child-free. I’m glad I married a man who came to that decision with me. I think I can speak for him and say we’re both glad we took Ross in for the six months plus two weeks that he lived with us – and we’d do it all over again… but we wouldn’t do it again, right now.
Because I’ve still got an unopened container of Mrs. Dash, a half-empty bottle of Uncle Steve’s syrup and an ice-cold can of Chelada that he can tuck into his luggage for the plane ride back to Savannah on June 9.