When Your Kids Come Back From Grandma’s House and They’ve Lost Their Minds

It’s their first day back from the grandparents’ after a week of running wild outside in the country and swimming in a pool and watching movies for Quiet Time, and my boys have forgotten how to act.

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We are incredibly blessed that my mom and stepdad took the older three boys for a week (and do every summer), and that my father-in-law took the Dennis-the-Menace-times-two twins for a few days (because that’s about all the time anyone can handle with these guys), but man. Detoxing stinks.

When they come back from Nonny and Poppy’s house, they are bouncing off the walls — and that’s an understatement. No one wants to go into the backyard when I suggest bouncing on the trampoline instead, because they all missed their toys “so, so, so much!”

No one remembers where to put their shoes (the shoe basket we’ve had by the door for YEARS). They don’t even remember how to get dressed. It’s like dressing for seven days in a row is enough effort to last the rest of the summer.

The first day of detox was my third son’s fifth birthday, which means tradition set a birthday treat in front of him at breakfast. I had a feeling it was a bad idea, but what are you going to do with tradition?

Ten minutes later they were catapulting over the side of the couch so quickly I didn’t know whose name to call out in my “Stop it” voice, because they were blurs.

They got crayons, coloring books, Hot Wheels and a bin of four million Legos out all at the same time, even though we have a very important rule about “only one thing out at a time.”

“I’d like to see one of you build something with Legos, color a picture and play with the cars all at the same time,” I said.

They looked at me like I’d lost my mind. (By that point, I already had.)

After dinner, they forgot how to put their plates and silverware away.

“We used paper plates at Nonny and Poppy’s house,” they said when I asked.

“But Nonny didn’t make you throw them away?” I said.

“Yeah,” they said, not noticing the glaring inconsistency here: They still had to carry their plates somewhere.

There is just something about spending any length of time outside the house where your parents live that makes you forget all the rules. Or, worse, make up your own.

Detoxing Day One was filled with rules amended by incompetent-at-logic children. Here are just a few of them:

Actual rule: Only one book down from the shelves at a time.
Rule amended by detoxing, too-creative-for-his-own-good 8-year-old:Except when I create this world called Animalia. You see, Mama? I brought all my 12,000 stuffed animals up from the garage where I found them in a trash bag — why were they in a trash bag? — and made my room like a stuffed animal resort. They have a reading corner here. See? There’s a book for every one of them. I’ll clean it all up, don’t worry.

Yeah, right.

Actual rule: Clean up what you were playing with before you get something else out.
Rule amended by detoxing, I’m-the-birthday-boy 5-year-old: Except I get to pick everything to play with for the day, because I’m the birthday boy. What’s that, Mama? It’s clean-up time? Well, I’m the birthday boy, so I don’t have to clean up. Nuh-uh. I don’t have to clean up, even though I got to pick all the toys. I’m the birthday boy and I LOVE NOT CLEANING UP! IT SHOULD BE MY BIRTHDAY EVERY DAY FOREVER!

Don’t ever promise a birthday boy he’s exempt from cleaning up.

Actual rule: Stay at the table until you’re finished with your food and we say yes to your “May I be excused?” question.
Rule amended by detoxing, I-can’t-stop-moving-my-feet 6-year-old: Except that I forgot to show you this really neat picture I made at Nonny and Poppy’s house, and did you see this word search I colored instead of circling words on, and oh, yeah, I made this really neat paper airplane out of a superhero drawing. Do you want to see it fly? And my brother just got new markers for his birthday and I have this blank sheet of white paper and I LOVE TO COLOR SO MUCH!

This is getting ridiculous.

Actual rule: Don’t touch the CD player when you’re only 3.
Rule amended by detoxing, strong-willed 3-year-old twin: Except I’m an annoying 3-year-old who won’t listen to anything you have to say. Touch, touch, touch. See me touch?

“Stop, son,” I say.

Touch, touch, touch.

[Sit him on the couch beside me, acknowledging that I understand he really, really, really wants to touch those buttons and that I really wish I could let him, but he could break the CD player touching them all. Let him up three minutes later.]

Touch, touch, touch.

Long, long sigh.

Actual rule: Excrement belongs in the toilet. Please, for the love of God, don’t poop in your underwear.
Rule amended by detoxing, I’m-the-other-menace 3-year-old: Oops.

I finally had to lock them all in the backyard (cruel, cruel mother) just to regain my sanity.

I am incredibly grateful for the time our boys get to spend with their grandparents, no matter how challenging it is to get them back on a schedule and remind them of the rules they’ve known since the beginning of time (at least, their time). They are not only spending valuable time with another generation, but they are also giving their daddy and me the opportunity to spend some beautiful time by ourselves, reconnecting and engaging in conversations where we actually get to finish our sentences — and remembering how much we liked each other in the first place.

The time we spend detoxing is definitely worth that reconnection. Every single time.

P.S. Just power through that first day, Mama and Daddy. It will get better. Remember? It always does (not before you add a few gray hairs, though). Pretty soon you’ll be right back to counting down the days until you can send them away again.

A version of this article originally appeared on Crash Test Parents. Find Rachel onTwitter, Facebook and Instagram.

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Rachel Toalson
Rachel is a writer, poet, editor and musician who is raising six boys to love books and poetry and music and art and the wild outdoors—all the best bits of life. She shares her parenting articles at Crash Test Parents. She blogs on life and love and family on her web site. She co-hosts the podcast In the Boat With Ben, sharing wisdom about intentional parenting and the pursuit of a creative career.