They supposedly say that you can’t go home again. Well “they” are wrong. Especially if you are a teacher and get three months off during the summer.
Growing up in a small town, I always swore that I would leave and never look back. I chose to go away to school when many of my friends stayed nearby. My freshman year of college, I went home only when they closed the dorms. When I left for the summer, I cried while I drove along Lake Michigan for the last time for three months. I was a bit dramatic.
In the weeks leading up to my return home, I was frantically searching for a summer job. A friend posted something on Facebook about a family needing a nanny. Bonus: They had a pool. I messaged her, she gave the family my phone number, and before I knew it, I was on the phone with the dad being given the details of the summer. Three very active girls, ages 10, 12, and 14. I would be spending most of my time making sure they were where they were supposed to be, when they were supposed to be there. Upon my arrival back to town, I went to meet them. No one said anything about the “ferocious” dog, Jake, that greeted me at the door. I got to spend my summer days laughing, singing Taylor Swift, baking, introducing the girls to 90’s sitcoms, and settling the occasional sister argument. I also had a pantry filled with all I could eat snacks at my fingertips. It didn’t take long before I truly started to feel right at home. We stopped calling me a “nanny” and started calling me a “manager.”
Summer ended and we said our tearful goodbyes. I packed up my stuff and headed back to school. I worked a job on campus that offered me summer employment. I had a decision to make. Spoiler alert: I chose to go home, spend some quality time with my family, and manage the lives of tweenagers. Most people dreaded their summer jobs. Mine gave me the little sisters I always wanted.
Those summers shaped me. I fell in and out of love during those summers. Life slowed down a little bit during those summers. I returned to my roots during those summers. I was able to rebalance myself. They gave me the time and space I needed to take care of myself. I made big decisions during those summers. A friendship blossomed over Mexican food and long walk and talks. My bond with my family grew stronger, even with the occasional “I DON’T EVEN LIVE HERE!” argument. I never truly knew what to expect during those summers, but I always knew come fall, I would be a better person than I was when I arrived.
Five summers, two puppies, and a bunny named Moose later, my nanny days came to an end. The girls weren’t girls anymore. I watched them grow into beautiful young women who I am so fortunate to have in my life still. Only a few things remained in my childhood bedroom. I had my own apartment and a job that paid me year-round. I was sure my summer days in Washington were over.
Things never go the way you think they will. When my mom was diagnosed with terminal cancer in March 2015, it was a no brainer that I would once again return home for the summer. That summer, I would not be chauffering girls to swim practice and summer jobs. I would be driving to doctor appointments, chemo treatments, and running out to pick up any food that my mom could possibly stomach. I wouldn’t be sitting poolside, but rather, bedside. We joked that my nannying experience best prepared me to care for a cancer patient.
I loaded my car with things from my apartment that I would need for the summer. I’ve always been a pretty terrible packer, especially for someone who loves to travel. I debated which black dress I needed to pack, just in case things took a turn for the worse. I paid my rent through the summer and forwarded my mail, unsure of what the next few months would bring.
When I first got home, my mom was still able to go up and down the stairs with minimal assistance to spend time in her favorite chair. A week later, I would help her from her bed to the couch for a few hours. Before long, my dad or brother would have to get her to the car so I could take her to appointments.
We spent five days in the hospital before saying our final goodbyes after two days in hospice. I didn’t know what to expect when I went home for the summer, but I don’t think it was this. I remember very vividly sitting in the kitchen after the funeral was done and everyone had left, thinking “What’s next?” With two months of summer left, I debated what I do next. Do I go back to my apartment? Do I run away forever? Do I sit in my twin bed and cry about my life? My summer plans had consisted entirely of taking care of my mom and now she was gone. That was when I realized I could do what I had always used my summers home to do: take care of me.
I helped care for my mom for 3 months and I would have continued for 300 more if I could have, but during that time, I didn’t take very good care of myself. So I slept and I stopped eating all of my meals straight from the bag while driving from point A to point B. I cut back on the coffee (just a little bit). I went to the gym and I went on long walks. I did a little bit of traveling. I spent time with friends and with my family. I cried when I felt like crying and I laughed when I felt like laughing. I was able to recharge after life had drained me.
A few months ago I started to think about how I would spend this summer. I knew I wanted to spend a lot of time traveling, so I started booking trips. But what about the time between trips? I LOVE where I live. Seriously, I talk about Madison like a giddy schoolgirl with a crush. There is so much to do and eat and see. Seriously, the tourism board should hire me. But the thought of returning to my small town kept creeping into my head. I have spent all of my other summers there, why stop now? My dad can help feed me AND he turns on the AC! He has a beautiful deck. A lot of my favorite people (and dogs) are in the area. My favorite coffee shop is there. All the Michael’s Italian Feast, Monical’s Pizza, and Steak ‘n Shake I could eat! I’d be about the same distance away from major airports wherever I lived. So I casually mentioned the idea to my dad to make sure he wasn’t planning on turning my childhood room into display room for his collegiate swimming memorabilia and made sure he knew I was (mostly) kidding about the feeding me part. It was decided. I was coming home.
Upon hearing my summer plans, a coworker joked that he could picture me loading my (far distant) future children into the car to head off to my childhood home for the summer. I think that sounds like an excellent idea (way) down the line!
My summers home have always led me somewhere unexpected. They gave me countless extra meals and late night conversations with my mom. They gave me a second family and a best friend. They made me, me. My mail has been forwarded, my bags have been packed, and in a few short days, I’ll do what they say can’t be done. I’ll be going home again (for the summer, that is).