The crime scene
When I come home from work some nights, I feel like one of those investigators from CSI.
I can essentially piece together what has gone down at the house by the evidence left behind.
Enter, if you will, the Dunkle domicile, but be careful not to touch anything. It could be vital evidence. Even worse, your hands will likely come away sticky.
First, just through the side door leading from the driveway to the kitchen there are two sets of shoes scattered haphazardly. One pair is dainty and girlie. These belong to my 7-year-old daughter and they are not the shoes her mother wanted her to wear this morning. Most days, I awake to the sound of the household's two women arguing about clothing and footwear choices for the day.
In addition, there are a pair of boy's sneakers, surprisingly long because my 11-year-old son's feet grow twice as fast as the rest of him. I call him "Flippers" for the same reason I told him there's a ghost in the attic. I want him and his future therapist to have something interesting to talk about. I have a feeling I'll come up.
So, here is the pile at my feet as I come through the door. Most likely, I won't be able to see the shoes right away because they are under the coats, backpacks, lunchboxes, notebooks and trumpet case. The impression is that a pair of children either melted or evaporated in this very spot, leaving behind only piles of clothing and belongings.
This is very convenient for a person trying to enter the house because you haven't quite lived until you've stubbed your toe on a trumpet case.
From the entryway you can go in one of two directions. Forward, you enter the kitchen where the cupboard doors remain hanging open. Every piece of snack food has been extracted. Emptied boxes litter the counter. In addition, all the glasses in the house have been used once each and left by the sink. No one has yet learned that glasses can be refilled without getting a new one each time.
In the living room, more evidence can be compiled. The coffee table usually has several discarded wrappers from whatever food was in the house. Maybe these contained snack cakes. My kids also eat these wretched-sounding things called "Go-Gurts." These are tubes of yogurt you slurp up rather than using a spoon in a carton. These are left discarded on the coffee table, usually with a little oozed out on the wood just to make things that much nicer for Daddy when he comes home.
Samantha is usually seated at the coffee table at this point, playing with her various toys and books, singing a little song to herself, carefully avoiding the spilled food she's too busy to clean up. Wesley is seated at the other end of the coffee table, his school book open in front of him, pencil in hand, mouth hanging open and drool dangling in a translucent string as he watches television. The light from the magic box dances in his vacant eyes.
"Hello?" I say.
No response from the children. They are zombified by the potent combination of snack food digestion and SpongeBob.
"Hello!" my wife's voice drifts down the stairs. She's up there at the computer doing email. This gives me a time frame.
They were able to get through the door, shed their daytime school skins, eat everything in the house and enter the blue-hued nirvana of afternoon television before their mother had time to notice. This is the thanks she gets for rushing home from work to "meet" the bus.
It wasn't always like this. When I was a kid, I was expected to have the dishes done before my parents came home. My friends had to take their shoes off before entering the house and the place was immaculate. Only when my parents came home early from that weekend away, did they ever confront a mess this bad, and by then I was in high school.
Somehow, I thought a family household was clean and neat and proper just because, but now that I'm the parent, I realize it takes a lot of work to keep things that way.
Not to be outdone, I kick off my shoes, pull off my socks, add them to the pile, and retire to the dining room to play "Some Nights" on my acoustic guitar.
"Dad, I can't hear my show!"
"Life's tough all over, kiddo!"
Some nights it's easier to just join in and be one of the kids. At least until my wife comes downstairs.
Daniel Dunkle is news editor for Courier Publications. He lives in Rockland with his wife and two children. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on twitter at @DanDunkle.