I texted a picture to my boys last week: "And just like that," I wrote below it, "Christmas is over!"
The picture was of our living room. And, let me tell you, that thing could've been in a magazine. I mean, if magazines featured rooms with 15-year-old furniture and slightly crooked art on the walls.
The couch was perfectly placed. The carpet was freshly vacuumed. The coffee table was dust-free. There wasn't a single abandoned water glass or rogue slipper to be found.
It was as clean and tidy as that room's ever been. An utter disappointment.
When the boys left earlier that day to return to school, the living room was a wreck. Our Christmas tree still stood in the corner, the skirt under it littered with stray pine needles, scattered bows, and ornaments that had fallen from their branches.
A giant poinsettia took up most of the coffee table. Cabinet tops were lined with snowman statues, decorative snowflakes and festive table runners. A "Happy Holidays!" banner hung from the curtain rod.
The box from Jay's new exercise bike was shoved against one wall. Santa-themed throw pillows lined the couch. A box of laundry baskets — a box literally big enough to hold five laundry baskets — sat at the top of the stairs.
That's a story. Before our younger son returned home in mid-December, he drove to my hometown to collect some Christmas gifts for our family. His Uncle Chris told him he'd leave something on his car for Bergen to pick up. Bergen saw this box next to the car, threw it in the back of our old CRV, and hit the road.
He transferred that box into his brother's sedan in Fargo for their carpool to Rochester — rearranging their luggage and boxes and backpacks to get it to fit.
And then, when they arrived in Rochester, we said, "WOW! What's in THAT giant box?" And that's when we discovered it was laundry baskets … which was super confusing. Until we learned they'd been left next to Chris' car by UPS.
Turns out the thing Uncle Chris wanted Bergen to take back to Rochester was a book. He'd left it on Bergen's windshield … where it was, apparently, later thrown to the ground by the windshield wiper when he cleared his snow.
Anyway. The box of laundry baskets didn't fit in the car when the boys packed up to leave Rochester, so there they sit.
Or, rather, sat. Because after our kids pulled out of the driveway last week — Jay and I waving them goodbye from the steps — I came back in, assessed our living room, and said, "I guess it's time."
I'll admit it: I was ready to reclaim the space. I love the Christmas season. Love the tree and the warm glow of the lights. Love having my kids close enough to wrap an arm around.
I also like being able to walk through my house without tripping on stuff.
So after I moved the laundry basket box to the basement, I started with the tree. In the newfound quiet of our home, I studied each ornament as I returned it to its box. The "Baby's First Christmas 1999." The snowman made of cotton balls by "Christian and Daddy." The picture of 4-year-old Bergen in a felt frame.
Ornament after ornament. Until Jay yelled from the down the hall, "Are you crying?" And I yelled back, best I could, "Yes." Because I was.
Just as I would be when standing in the doorways to the boys' rooms later that afternoon. Just as I would be when vacuuming the living room that night — the final step in returning our house to its pre-Christmas standard.
I take comfort in knowing I will get to see my boys again before too long. We do, after all, have a box of laundry baskets to return.
Jennifer Koski is associate editor at Rochester Magazine. Her column appears Tuesdays. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.