Eleven Days in Five Countries and My Open When Letters

In a couple of weeks, I’m going to meet up with my sister and her daughter for a trip through France, Switzerland, Germany, Austria, and Spain. I tell you that one country would have been enough, but this being my niece’s European tour, she insisted that she had to get from one interesting place to the next, traversing the same distance you’d go from Indianapolis to Washington, DC to Atlanta and back. If you tell me that you can see all of that territory in just two weeks, I’ll tell you that you aren’t going to see much with all that Interstate travel. I’d prefer to stay in one village and loop around to see things nearby, like the pig with an extra tail and the cave where Jacque Bartier, a nine year old, painted his hand print and archeologists came and thought it was a discovery of ancient cave dwellers for about three weeks. I’d rather experience the people and lifestyle in one place, walking and eating and smelling the air. I’d like to see how the light is different in this different new place. I’m telling you – I’ve lived on the East coast, in the Midwest, and now in the Pacific Northwest and the light is different in each of these places. I don’t need stand in line to see famous paintings. I just want to see the light that inspired them.

My sister and her daughter are even headed down into Italy, a place I’d love to visit, but on it’s own, and not part of a whirlwind tour. As it is, I’m experiencing a whirlwind just planning on how to be polite and ask for bottled water, salad and strawberries in each of the three languages with which I am relatively unfamiliar, French, Spanish, and German. I am going to be a dork, trying to pronounce something in French and having it come out with a high school Spanish accent. And forget about talking in German.

In the meantime, I’m trying to imagine the condition of my house and the occupants in it after I’ve been gone for eleven days. My boy Nick may be thirteen, but I’ve only been away from him two days once when he was four. The whole family has been working on his ability to take care of some things on his own, basic cooking, cleaning up after himself, and managing his homework. He’s so aggravating about it that I want to do the job myself, especially in light of the fact that cleaning up one of his messes might have taken me four minutes and would take him twenty-five as he created more messes just trying to clean up one spot.

I know exactly where the idea for ‘The Cat in the Hat’ book came from. Do you remember all that pink snow? That was Dr. Seuss standing by and letting a kid clean up his own mess and watching it spread like mold growing on old bread on a summer day in South Carolina. I’ve stood by and watched as my grousing son made a little mess on a table top into a big one on the table and down two legs, on the back of the chair, on the covers of three books, and embedded into the carpet forever. I’m telling you that I look forward to fourteen hours with a book on an airplane. I really do. I just wonder what the house will look like when I get home and whether or not Nick and Mike will be talking to each other or me when I get back.

So, in light of all that, I’m going to write some Open When letters. You know the ones I mean. Last week, I read about a man who’d been deployed to the Middle East and how he wrote seven or eight letters to his fiance. She was supposed to get lonely and open the one that said ‘Open When You’re Lonely.’ Then, she was supposed to wonder if he loved her and she was supposed to open the letter that said ‘Open When You Wonder if I Love You.’

Well, I’ve been trying to begin Nick’s letters. Here’s a list of the titles I’ve come up with so far:

Open When You Have a Tiny Mess to Clean Up

Open When You Have Made that Tiny Mess into a Big One

Open When You’re Procrastinating Your Homework

Open When It’s a Half Hour Past Bedtime

Open When You’re Whining

Maybe I should rethink writing these letters to my son. Maybe I should write some letters to my beleaguered husband. They might read as follows:

Open When Nick’s Turned the House into a Pigsty

Open When Nick is Whining

Open When It’s a Half Hour Past Bedtime and Nick has Procrastinated his Homework

Yeah, that will do it. I’ll leave Nick a single letter – Open When Your Patient Dad is About to Hit You – and I should be good to go.

Thank you for listening, jules



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