- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 22, 2007

The silence is deafening around here. No bickering. No “SpongeBob” blaring from the TV in the den. No slamming doors. The phone hasn’t rung all day. It’s so quiet you’d think there was a power outage.

Just what did I do to achieve such a level of peace and quiet?

No, I did not ply my children with Benadryl. What kind of mom do you take me for?

Better than mere antihistamines, I am enjoying five nights and six days of summer camp.

What’s interesting is that only the younger two children are away, and yet the entire character of our home is completely different.

The children who have jobs, make their own social plans and put themselves to bed at night remain.

The children who must be told to bathe are gone.

I almost don’t know what to do with myself.

It’s possible this unfamiliar tranquility is made more obvious because of the flurry of activity that characterized the days before Jimmy and Amy left for camp. Preparations took on the flavor of a shuttle launch. Coincidentally, their suitcases ended up containing enough stuff to live comfortably for several weeks with the Russians up in space.

They’re armed with all the essentials: bug spray, sunscreen, ChapStick, soap, shampoo, toothpaste and enough clothing to allow for an outfit a day plus a few extras in case of a laundry emergency.

I spent $167 at the store getting all of the stuff on the list provided by the camp. Still, I expect my children to return home sunburned, filthy and bug bitten from head to toe with suitcases full of untouched clothing and a desperate need for a dental hygiene appointment. What would be the point of camp otherwise?

Wallowing in the silence around here, I find myself imagining the things they might be doing at camp. In my mind’s eye, I can see them on the “zip line” suspended over the lake, I envision Amy careening down the water slide, and Jimmy shooting arrows at the archery range.

I can only daydream about their camp adventures for so long until I remember a phrase my older girls love to repeat: “It’s only fun until someone gets hurt. Then it’s hilarious.” Next thing I know, I’m imagining a stray arrow flying through the air, cutting the “zip line” like a laser, causing my little camper to plummet down, down, down …

Ack. This is the problem with a quiet house. It’s too easy to have actual thoughts, and none of them seem to be happy ones. I have to get a grip.

I ought to be using the uninterrupted time to conquer the long list of projects I intended to do when the children went to camp. Now that the time is here, I realize I should have written these things down because I can’t seem to think of anything to do other than repeatedly sweep a kitchen floor that already is freakishly clean.

It seems like I should be doing things I can’t do when all four children are around. For example, I could sit outside and read a book. The problem is when I go outside all I can focus on are the weeds I should be pulling. But wait. I can pull weeds when the children are home.

I could go to the pool, except that would mean surrounding myself with other people’s children. What would be the point of paying several hundred dollars to send my offspring to camp, only to be splashed, bumped and otherwise annoyed by the offspring of strangers? No thanks; no pool.

I could go out to lunch and go shopping, I suppose. But I already sent all my disposable funds to the camp where the younger children are having fun, or possibly are falling from the “zip line.”

Suddenly I realize this issue of what to do with my time while the younger children are gone is crucial. They’ll be back on Friday and I don’t want the week to have been wasted, just wandering aimlessly around the house, punctuating my meandering with episodes of “Paula’s Home Cooking” on the Food Network.

That’s when it hits me. The thing to do is clean their bedrooms. I can tackle this chore with a garbage bag in one hand and box for Salvation Army donations in the other. I’ll tear through dresser drawers and the dark corners in the closets. I’ll lay face down on the floor and scoot close to the beds so I can reach under and retrieve dirty socks and empty juice boxes.

I’ll even wipe out the drawers in the children’s bathroom and put new toothbrushes in the drawers. Heaven knows they’ll need those when they get home from camp.

The best part is, they won’t even realize I did it. It makes me want to let loose with a ghoulish, “Mwwwaaaaggghhhh.” I’m an evil genius.

Granted, this isn’t what some folks would do for fun while the children are away, but hey … it beats sitting around wondering how far the archery range is from the water slide.

Besides, it won’t take very long to get their rooms clean. When I’m done, I plan to take advantage of the peace and quiet and do something nice for myself.

I’m going to clean the garage.

Columnist Marybeth Hicks, a wife of 20 years and mother of four children, lives in the Midwest. She is the author of “The Perfect World Inside My Minivan One Mom’s Journey Through the Streets of Suburbia,” a compilation of her columns. She uses her column to share her perspective on issues and experiences that shape families nationwide. Visit her Web site (www. marybethhicks.com) or send e-mail to marybeth.hicks@ comcast.net.

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