The Meat and Potatoes of Life: Missing toothbrush triggers mom’s tears

| August 29, 2014 | 0 Comments
Photo courtesy Lisa Smith Molinari The author took this photo of her son's abandoned bedroom shortly after he departed for college.

Photo courtesy Lisa Smith Molinari
The author took this photo of her son’s abandoned bedroom shortly after he departed for college.

Lisa Smith Molinari
Contributing Writer
It didn’t hit me until I saw that smear of toothpaste on the sink this morning.

I’d heard the stories: “I cried for an hour in the bathtub.” “I couldn’t get out of bed for a week.” “I was a snotty, puffy-eyed mess.” “I didn’t think I’d make it to Thanksgiving.”



I listened to fellow military moms with genuine compassion, but I couldn’t personally relate. Those things would never happen to me.

Then, we dropped our son off at college last Tuesday.

“He’s only going to be three hours away,” I told a friend, “and besides, a little separation will be good for all of us. I won’t be one of those people who blubbers like a baby.”

“Oh, you will,” my friend warned. “Trust me.”

We helped him set up his dorm room with plastic bins, granola bars, power strips, extra sticks of deodorant, clip-on lamps, new sheets (that won’t be washed this semester) and cheapo particle board shelving that looked like it would buckle like a ramen noodle under the weight of the tiny microwave.

Dry-eyed as planned, I kissed my son’s prickly cheek good-bye at 4 o’clock, so that he could go to his first hall meeting and we could wolf down free hors d’oeuvres at the parent reception.

After more than our share of chicken bites and veggies drenched in ranch, my husband and I spent a couple of carefree days exploring the nearby lakes of upstate New York.

I awoke early the next morning, after getting home late the night before. I could’ve used another 20 minutes, but my husband needed a ride to the airport for a work trip to Korea, so I shuffled my way to our bathroom down the hall.

I stepped over our labradoodle, Dinghy, who had wedged himself between the toilet and the bathtub. Ever since we moved into this quirky old base house a year ago, I felt cheated. Not only did I have to share the tiny bathroom with my huge hairy husband and son, the huge hairy dog decided that it was his favorite sleeping spot. It just wasn’t fair.

I looked bleary-eyed into the mirror at my pillow-crimped bangs and groped for my toothbrush. Glancing down, I saw my husband’s toothbrush and mine, but where my son’s toothbrush usually lay, there was only a smear — a smear that, up until that point, had always irritated me.

Why do men refuse to thoroughly rinse the slobbery toothpaste out of their toothbrushes? Don’t they care that someone has to continuously clean the dried up smears on the sink?

But this time, I wasn’t annoyed. I stared at the smear, and then, it hit me. He’s gone.

I felt a hot prickle behind my eyes and a flush in my cheeks. In a stupor, I left the bathroom and found myself at the open door of our son’s room.

How sweet … his unmade bed! I gulped and pulled a tissue from a box on his nightstand. Oh, and that odor of teenage boy sweat, I breathed in deeply. He never did take that bowl down to the kitchen like I asked. I smiled at the three-day-old tomato sauce-enameled dish, and let a tear tumble down my cheek.

I explored my son’s abandoned room, noting every void in the dust where books, alarm clocks and speakers used to be. With watery vision, I inventoried the vestiges: gum wrappers, crumbs, pennies and tiny tumbleweeds of God knows what.

All the things that had once been bones of contention were now cherished relics of the time, now past, when our son lived under the same roof.

And then, I gave in to the parental instinct I had denied myself based upon logic and reason, and I bawled like a baby.

Is it Thanksgiving, yet?
(A 20-year military spouse and mother of three, Molinari share’s humor and insights in her column, “The Meat and Potatoes of Life,” at www.themeatandpotatoesof

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