My California hippy housesitters emailed me, the morning of my flight home, to say, “Hey, wow, August 17th is today. We have no place to go. Can we stay a little longer?” August’s housesitters were a family: Granma & Granpa, Mom, Toddler Son, and 4-month-old baby. I didn’t want to kick them out on the street. I told them they could stay till the end of the week; Sophie could sleep in my bedroom, if they could squeeze themselves into the other 2 bedrooms.
I forgot to mention that, in addition to my bedroom, I’d also like to be able to walk across my own living-room floor. Their clutter filled it up. I’d also like at least one shelf in my own refrigerator. Also, one shelf of kitchen cabinet space. That doesn’t seem like too much to ask. The problem was that I had to ask. They did not spontaneously volunteer any of those things. I had to ask for each, slowly, over the next few days, after waiting in vain for them to simply see that I needed a patch of kitchen and some living-room calmness too. All my natural and recently-enhanced British reserves had to be thrown out in favor of California directness.
“Can I please have the key to my own house, please?” I asked, on my second or third day back.
Their immediate response to most questions was to blame July’s housesitter. “We never got a key to your house. July’s housesitter must have lost it.” July’s housesitter, they said, lost the plug to the bath-drain: a tiny item, but one that is crucial to Sophie’s daily bath-before-bedtime routine. July’s housesitter must have hidden the web-cam that Sophie and I rely on to skype Ben every morning, in another routine that we treasure and don’t like to have interrupted. July’s housesitter must have been the one to break the shelf in the fridge. July’s housesitter must have also been the one to destroy my cell-phone, which I’d left inside a bowl on the top shelf of a tall bookcase. My phone is now so broken, most likely by a child playing with it, that I had no telephone access for my first 4 days back, and I have no record of most of my friend’s phone numbers.
After I emailed July’s housesitter, explaining my frustration, it tended to turn out that August’s housesitter would find the key to the front-door or the web-cam. The bathtub drain and cell-phone are still a mystery, but at least now I have replaced both those items. As if dealing with jetlag, single-parenthood, the busy week before the semester starts, and the natural disorientation of returning home after a long absense weren’t enough.
I had to ask the August housesitters to please move their cardboard boxes and piles of stuff from my front yard. We just don’t live in the kind of neighborhood where people leave piles of junk in their front yards. We have a back yard for that. We have a garage for that. Apparently, they thought we lived in backwoods Appalachia. Or, I think, they believe that they themselves are too enlightened to care about offending the aesthetic feelings of others.
The final straw came when, on Wednesday morning at 6:30 am, the Granma asked me to watch the toddler boy for her. The Granma had a 7 am meeting she had to go to. The Mom was still asleep after a rough night with Infant. The Granpa was still asleep. I was up, playing with Sophie, fighting through jetlag. I think it was that jetlag, or maybe it’s just my damned over-generous foolishness, that made me say, “Yes.”
It tuned out to be two and a half hours of babysitting that little boy. For most of those two and a half hours, Soph wanted to ride her pink bike that she’s been talking about almost every day of the last two months in Britain. But the little boy wanted to ride it, too, so I had to police the turn-taking. Little boy wanted help with the play-dough. Little boy desperately needed attention. I needed to take a shower, which I did while periodically shouting, “Play nice, you two!” I needed to get to work in time to get a full day’s work done before Soph’s daycare closes at 5.
When the others finally got up, they innocently asked, “Why didn’t you wake us?” Because Granma told me not to. Because I’ve been through infant-caused sleep-deprivation and I know how bad it is. Because I’m just too damn polite for my own good. I went off to work, late and fuming. Soph sobbed when I dropped her off at daycare — after the crowded house, she just wanted time alone. I almost sobbed myself. In my involuntary babysitting, I hadn’t even had breakfast for myself, since taking care of the toddlers seemed more important. I figured I’d just eat at work. But every food shop at work was closed. Classes don’t start till next week. So, on top of everything else that day, I also got an involuntary fast.
I kicked them out that evening.
I still feel guilty. They moved into a hotel, not on to the streets, but still: you should have seen how stressed the two-and-a-half-year-old was when he realized he was going to be moved yet again.
Everyone tells me that it’s not my fault, that I was more than generous, that they need to be kicked into finding themselves some permanent housing. They have jobs. There are apartments available. They have known for more than three momths that I would be returning on August 17th. I still feel bad.
And I’m still finding things that are broken. I’m still moving my stuff back into its rightful place, from where they had shifted it. It feels like I’m moving into my own house. Yesterday I finished moving Sophie’s toys and clothes back in to her own room. Today I almost finished moving things in the kitchen back to where they belong. Tomorrow I’m going to take the cat to the vet to try to find out if we can do anything about her apparent poisoning.
Today, when Sophie and I went out to greet the garbage-man, happy to resume this California routine, he leaned out of his truck and said, “I can’t pick up your garbage today. You haven’t been paying your bill.” That’s another thing that August housesitters broke, apparently. They were supposed to pay utilities. They apparently didn’t even notice the warning notices that garbage collection would be cut off. They certainly didn’t pass any of those notices on to me.
The early-morning lawn-waste guy wouldn’t pick up our lawn-waste garbage. But the afternoon recycling-and-real-garbage guy is a flirt who knows Sophie and me. “She’s so beautiful. She looks just like you. I’m not supposed to pick up your garbage, but I know you, so I will. What happened? Are you losing the house too? Foreclosure?”
Yup, that’s what I came home to. That, and the need to apologize to all my neighbors for the mess that this house has been. Apparently, the housesitters had actually cleaned up most of the boxes and piles of stuff from my front yard before I came home. Apparently, it was worse last week.