First, I cry.
Then I clean.
Whether or not the cleaning is an emotional response to being a temporary empty nester, I don’t know. But regardless of the catalyst, there is no doubt that after ten months of solid kid abuse, the house is in dire need of a purging.
First I tackle the kids’ rooms because typically, those are the scariest places in the house. There is the usual assortment of old, half-eaten food hidden in drawers and under the bed, usually unrecognizable from whatever it was originally and now resembling an alien life form.
Then there is the collection of dirty clothes that never made it into the laundry basket, got stashed in the back of the closet or hung from the chandeliers. And of course, the assortment of broken, fast food restaurant toys that are definitely not so “happy” anymore.
It takes an average of two days, three garbage bags, and one gas mask to get through the kids’ rooms before I am satisfied that there is no longer anything broken, dirty, or formerly edible in the room.
Then I move on to the fridge.
I’m usually pretty good about keeping track of what’s in my fridge. But over the course of the school year, the food containers seem to multiply and take over. By the time I get around to the post-school, kids-at-camp cleaning, the contents of the containers forgotten all the way in the back of the refrigerator either look like a science experiment gone awry, or a refrigerated toupee.
This would be a good thing if I was in dire need of Penicillin because I’m pretty sure I could cultivate a decent batch of antibiotics from the mold growing in there. But when you’re looking for a snack, former food that is now black and hairy is not really all that appetizing.
My problem is, I have one of those top-freezer refrigerators, so I practically have to sit on the floor to see what’s on the bottom shelf. Because of this, I will often jam a lot of food down there, but then forget to check back in a timely manner to see if the leftovers are, in fact, still food, or have been transformed into ET.
My son usually does a great job of keeping the fridge leftover-free. But sometimes some of those hard to see food items in the back get missed and forgotten, and that’s when the trouble starts.
Not so coincidentally, a few days after the kids leave for camp, a noxious smell starts to emanate from the vicinity of the refrigerator to indicate that all is not well inside. Then, the sniffing game begins. First I start with the milk because that is usually the first to turn. Then I sniff my way through various cheeses and yogurts; down to the lettuce in the crisper which may have turned dark green and slimy while it was hidden in the drawer.
While I am down at eye level with the crisper, I will notice a food container on the bottom shelf, shoved in the back next to the jar of pickles and other things I always buy that never get eaten.
Slowly, nervously, I will peel back the lid of the container – just enough to catch sight of something that may have evolved to such a degree that it could possibly push the lid open the rest of the way, jump out of the plastic container, and go on to propagate into a new species known as “Meatloafus Erectus” – a new breed of Hamburger Helper which can walk on two feet and communicate with other forms of ground beef.
Having found the culprit, I then face the daunting task of cleaning the nasty mold-and-food encrusted plastic container. If it had been filled with something tomato sauce-based, I either immediately toss it in the garbage or accept the fact that my formerly clear containter is now and will forever be pink. If I decide to keep it, it gets soaked, boiled, thrown in a NASA decontamination chamber, and then run through the dishwasher at scorching temperatures where it will then be completely disinfected and also melted into a useless blob of plastic.
Then I will vow to never leave leftover food in the refrigerator ever again.
…Or at least until next summer.