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Good to Be Home
By Jackie Fleming

Years ago when my three boys were just wee ones, my old high-school friend, Marge, invited me to lunch at her home in a nearby upscale subdivision. She was a teacher, had never married and had recently purchased a condominium.

The minute I walked into her home, I knew there was something different about it, but I couldn't quite put my finger on what it was. I put my finger on the kitchen counter while admiring her tile, and realized what was so different. The counter wasn't sticky. Upon closer inspection, I saw that there wasn't any peanut butter oozing down the kitchen cabinets, no Kool-Aid puddle on the floor or cookie crumbs on the place mats. No one had left the half-gallon carton of milk out or put the mayonnaise back in the fridge without the lid.

After lunch, we sauntered into Marge's living room to sip our coffee and reminisce about the "good old days" and ponder "whatever happened to?" I was immediately struck by the fact that her stereo turntable cover didn't have fingerprints of assorted sizes all over it, and none of her records were warped from being used as Frisbees.

When Marge gave me directions to the bathroom, I made my way up a flight of stairs which weren't covered with Hot Wheels tracks, slinky toys or yo-yos. Being the only female in a house with four males, I always approached bathrooms with caution. I carefully opened the door and there was no potty seat to be removed from the toilet. And - wonder of wonders! - the seat was down. I peeked behind the shower curtain, and there wasn't a turtle or frog to be seen in the tub - just a pretty bottle of perfumed bath crystals where usually I saw a soggy box of Soaky Fun Bubbles.

After a delightful afternoon of bringing each other up to date on our lives, I bade Marge good-bye, each of us promising the other that we would do this more often. I climbed into my clunky station wagon and headed home, wondering what series of crises would be reported to me by the sitter upon my arrival. It always seemed that when I treated myself to a day out, I was penalized by having to deal with all sorts of mishaps, spillage, clutter and fights that had occurred in my absence. The highway stretched before me, and I slowed my speed trying to put off the inevitable. I felt vaguely sorry for myself. I dawdled in the grocery store, not knowing what to get for dinner.

No one was in the yard when I pulled in, and the dogs didn't come out snapping at the grocery bag. It was suspiciously quiet inside the house, and I called out, "Where is everybody?"

"In the bathroom," came the reply.

"Great," I sighed. "What is it this time?"

When I went to the kitchen to deposit the groceries, it was noticeably free of dirty dishes and food morsels.

"We cleaned our room and the kitchen and now we're giving the dogs a bath," my eldest proudly proclaimed, as I approached the bathroom wondering what was going on.

Our two black Labrador retrievers were totally immersed in Soaky Fun Bubbles and, upon seeing me, leapt from the tub; two white clouds with white tails, knocked me to the sudsy floor, each bestowing a slurpy "welcome home" lick on my face. The three little boys and two big dogs thought this was wonderful entertainment, and we all slipped and slid around on the bathroom floor, bubbles everywhere, laughing hysterically.

I surveyed the ridiculous scene around me, and for some reason I couldn't explain, I felt sorry for Marge.