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Pleading guilty

Every so often, things from my past come creeping out of the dark and bite me in the conscience. I try to dismiss them as soon as possible, but sometimes they persist and I can’t seem to forget about them. I do know confession is good for the soul, or wherever our conscience resides, and there may be some value in sharing such experiences with others. If nothing else is gained, at least someone might be warned by my experience and avoid the same mistakes.
There was a time when, young and foolish, my husband and I apparently had a lot more time, patience, and generosity than was good for us. We welcomed drop-in friends and relatives, insisting they stay for meals, even stay over for a weekend. I’m not certain what drove us to such extremes– maybe because our parents hadn’t normally indulged in similar behavior and we were out to prove something– maybe we were more worldly, more tolerant, more sociable– certainly more reckless!
If a guest wanted to bring along a friend or relative– or two or three, that was okay with us, the more the merrier. Our little parties, originally planned for half a dozen people, nearly always blossomed into major productions involving dozens with many of them complete strangers to us. We seldom acquired lasting new friendships from this, but it did result in the illusion we threw really good parties and we had had a fine old time. What might have been quiet weekends with our kids, camping, fishing or picnicking, seemed to transmute into summer camp for adults, complete with boats, horses and midnight hijinks. There was no getting away to our little cabin in the woods. People found us and readily assumed, from past experience, they were happily included.
I’m not saying we didn’t enjoy ourselves most of the time, but the cost of the food and drink added up and the time and energy we would have spent on our kids was sidetracked to other people and other activities. We did have quite a few really good friends through all this, but there were a lot of other people who presumed on our hospitality and good natures. There didn’t seem to be any way to put a stop to it short of stopping all social activities. Not all the uninvited were friends of friends and relative strangers, either. Some were actually relatives who assumed the welcome mat was always out for them because they were “family.”
Then, one fine day, the whole thing was brought into sharp focus for me. A friend, from a city a couple hundred miles away, showed up one weekend with his wife and four young sons. Their boys were a little older and a lot rowdier than ours, but we enjoyed their company before, for a day at a time. From the suitcases and toys that emerged from the back of their station wagon, it began to be suspiciously evident they were on vacation. And, our house was to be their summer resort, with my husband and me in the roles of host, cook, bartender, baby-sitter and activities director. All this without invitation from us or warning from them.
We were stunned and at a loss as to how to handle the situation. We knew the friend was struggling financially and a family vacation at a proper resort was out of the question for them. I understood the friend’s wife probably needed a break from keeping house and caring for their lively brood. But why on earth they would assume we would willingly go along with such a plan was a total mystery. I could put up with this for a weekend, perhaps, but it was evident it wasn’t going to work for more than a day or two.
My kids were more than unhappy. At least one of them was either bleeding or crying at any given moment. Favorite toys were broken, seemingly deliberately. The dog was teased and bedeviled to the point where I began to worry she would attack her tormentors out of frustration and self-defense. The last straw occurred on Monday morning when my youngest son came crying into the house dripping with urine. One of our “guests” had stood on the picnic table in our back yard and sprinkled him in some childish territory-marking behavior.
I packed up a few of our clothes and toys, loaded my kids into the car, and drove off to spend a week with my husband’s parents, who had been begging me to bring the boys and spend some time fishing with Grandpa. My husband escaped to his office early on Monday and I don’t know how long our unwanted guests stayed. Apparently, not long, as the house was in good order when I returned and the only damage was a smear of lipstick on one of my oil paintings. A rag and a bit of acetone cleaned it off with no harm done.