Pushing hard, I open the heavy white gate leading into the backyard of the historic Houston house. An expanse of white gravel covers the backyard. Several giant live oak trees arch over the gravel with style. Their branches wrap around the little two-story guest house in the back corner of the property. At the door, I punch in the way-too-easy-to-guess code (1234!) and enter with the curiosity inherent in coming alone into anyone else’s home for the first time.
Gladly dropping my heavy luggage, I tour the little house slowly. Pink, teal, and orange bohemian touches are everywhere. Tassels dangle from pillows, throws, placemats, and door handles. Realistic faux succulents of all sizes adorn the living room. A giant fiber art piece hangs on the wall, and I find shelves of books and games tucked under the stairwell.
The U-shaped kitchen is anchored by a battered wooden table, lovingly marred by traces of children’s art activities. Smears of tempera paint and faint glitter remind me of my son’s preschool years. How I miss that time of messy creativity. Pink Eames-style chairs encircle the table. The countertops are made of poured concrete; the cupboards are made of sturdy white wood.
What I really want to see, though, are the sleeping quarters and bathroom. Will they really be as lush and comfy as they looked online? Will they offer the quiet, peaceful atmosphere I know I will need this week after excursions in the noisy city? Hopes high, I carefully climb the steep stairway. Entering the room, my English-major heart swoons at the ivy vines climbing across the second-story window, just like something from a story. The book titles on the shelves hint that someone similar to me owns this place. A fluffy white duvet covers the king-sized bed; pink and orange woven throws drape off the edge.
And the heart of it all? The giant jetted bathtub nestled into a sunny corner, surrounded by windows. Exuberant green houseplants perch nearby and dangle their leaves into it as if waiting for their own chance to bathe.
I once had a tub like this, thirty minutes down the road in the Houston suburb where I lived for seven years. It was the best comfort I knew during the years of early motherhood. After long days of nursing and soothing my baby, I often retreated to my tub when his dad came home from work. That bathroom was large and quiet; the water was so warm I wished I could sleep there all night. The house I now rent back in South Dakota has a small tub that doesn’t comfortably fit my wide hips. Showers just aren’t the same. I yearn deeply for the relief offered in a deep, long tub.
I haven’t been back to Houston in six years, not since moving to California for my former husband’s career and then again to South Dakota after our divorce. It feels like coming home. But this homecoming is colored with confused anticipation. I feel a strange mix of eagerness to see favorite places and sadness over what happened in the years after we left.
Really, I am here to see my son, my beloved boy, who is eight.
It is the halfway point of his annual 10-week summer stay with his dad. When I last lived in this town, we were an intact family of three. My son was born here. I miss my brick house in the leafy suburb, my church, but what I really miss is my boy. Saying goodbye to him every summer is the hardest part of my year. Opening myself to his departure feels like pushing open a heavy, sticky gate that resists my pressure.
Our week together in Houston is filled with ethnic food, trips to Trader Joe’s for necessities like chocolate, museums of all kinds, church services, and a few evenings with friends.
After spending the days with me, my son wants to sleep back at his dad’s place, which is fine because I know how much he needs that time. He misses his dad like crazy, and I wish there was a way for them to see each other more often throughout the year.
While he is with his dad in the evenings, I retreat to the soaking tub, just as I did when he was a newborn. I feel guilty relaxing at home, so leaving home with its many overdue responsibilities is the only real way I can relax before the ultra-marathon of single mom life starts up again in the fall.
Every night this week, I have filled that giant tub with hot water, turned off most of the lights, and placed a bowl of peanut butter cups and a sparkling drink on the tub ledge. I let the tub jets massage my feet and glide my hands over the water’s smoothness. Every night I relax like I haven’t in ages. The fact that this opportunity is rare indeed makes it even harder to drain the tub and step out of it when it’s time for bed.
As we sit together in the cozy living room near the end of my visit, reading and watching funny videos, my son and I wonder what the guest house had been before its tasteful renovation. I think it had been a garage, given its proximity to the alley and its concrete floor. Any traces of its old life—oil spots, thick dust, cobwebbed windows, piles of old paint cans—are completely gone. It stands transformed, full of beauty and comfort and lush hospitality, ready to embrace tired moms as they work their own messy, dusty journeys toward transformation.
Kristina Roth is a writer, editor, and creator in South Dakota. She is a solo parent to a spirited boy and two scruffy dogs. Kristina seeks to find God in the beautiful mess of life and share that through her writing. Her essays, creative nonfiction, articles, poetry, photography, and art have appeared in a wide range of print and digital publications, from literary journals to anthologies, national magazines, blogs, and more. She would love to meet you on her blog.