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After a vacation, good intentions founder in the familiar hubbub of home

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Local,Meghan Cox Gurdon

It's nice to be home. Of course it is! No, really. After being away, who doesn't relish the taste of familiar coffee, the softness of a familiar bed and the comfort of familiar belongings?

It had taken 12 hours in the car, pounding down I-95, before the five children and the dog and I could finally uncurl our aching selves.

The air seemed absurdly humid. Our house seemed absurdly spacious. The accoutrements of normal, nonvacation life seemed absurdly pleasing (see above).

Billy the Wonder Dog bounded into the house, amazed to find that it still existed. The children raced off to their bedrooms almost chortling with the pleasure of being home.

Their father, who had returned a week earlier, played the role of King Canute as he tried to hold back the tide of belongings that instantly began to wash over the place.

"Please bring that bag to your room," he said to one child, and "Hang that jacket up, will you?" to another, and "No, don't leave the toys on the stairs," to a third.

Playing the role of King Canute's enforcer, I joined in: "Dirty clothes straight to the laundry. And no shoe crimes in the front hall! All flip-flops must go into cubbies or bad things will happen!"

"Okay, okay, okay!" the children said, and I'm pretty sure they meant it.

While away, we'd lived in an environment of genial austerity. We hadn't brought much with us, only necessities like shorts and shampoo and dehydrated liver treats for the dog.

Our days had been outdoorsy, full of good clean activities like throwing sticks in the ocean for the dog to retrieve and mountain climbing and forest-path-traversing. Our meals had been indulgent, full of gloriously unwholesome foods like potato chips and sausages and the annual box of Froot Loops.

The combination of few possessions, dreadful nutrition and lots of activity was fantastically restorative. It left us all with a feeling of zestful anticipation. When we arrived back in Washington, boy, would we turn over new leaves!

"When we get home, we'll get on a good schedule," the younger girls promised each other and me each night, as the clock ticked past midnight.

"When we get home, I'm going to clear out my office," I informed everyone, so invigorated was I by vacation life without clutter. "And the utility room, and the closets!"

"When we get home, I'm never eating candy or French fries again," said a teenager through a mouthful of Almond Joy on the return journey. Through our own mouthfuls of chocolaty coconut, the rest of us agreed.

Soon we were back, strewing our stuff around, and, in the case of the children, wondering about dessert and not wanting to go to bed. Soon our house had that tousled, lived-in feeling again -- the very feeling that makes a person want to go on vacation in the first place.

Oh, I tried clearing out my office, sorting through the backlog of mail and books and school forms that obscured the surface of my desk. I didn't get far.

It wasn't long before all the robust and cheery resolve leaked away. The wonderful detached simplicity of vacation -- the unscheduled days! the unadorned surfaces! -- had been replaced by clutter, cacophony, and that old hag-ridden feeling of having too much to do and too little time in which to do it.

Still, it's nice to be home.

Of course it is!

No, really.

Meghan Cox Gurdon's column appears on Sunday and Thursday. She can be contacted at mgurdon@washingtonexaminer.com.

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