Recently, a friend of mine was expecting company for a few days and admitted to working herself to a frazzle getting ready — preparing everything from beds, baths and beyond. (Hey, that would make a good name for a store.)
Basically, she did exactly what the Hilton would do prior to a guest's arrival.
I told her I could relate, because I did some binge-cleaning myself this week: my mother was coming over for the day. I started early — that is, after I'd fed thecats. No one does anything around here without first feeding thecats. That would make the cats angry. And we don't like it when they're angry.
I searched the house for all infractions, however minor, of the "Good Housewife's Code of Cleanliness," a manifesto written by my mom and signed by the founding mothers in 1950. Or 1590. I can never keep it straight. Violations include, but are not limited to, the following found anywhere other than their rightful places: crumbs, toenail clippings, DVDs, orange peels, socks, dinnerware.
To test for dust, I blew on the piano (if I sneeze, I dust), then changed the powder-room towels. I fluffed every pillow in a 4,840,000-square-foot radius (that included the neighbors' house) and implored the cats not to shed until "grandma" went home-because "mommy" can only take so muchstress.
I worry it might kill my mom (since climbing up on the kitchen counter to reset the clock for Daylight Saving Time hasn't done it yet after 91 years) if I disappointed her as a housekeeper. This is especially true since after disappointing her in so many other ways — ballet (I tripped a lot); violin (I "practiced" a lot); and that six-month correspondence course from mime school.
Doug already helped on our regular cleaning day, so he didn't understand why I was polishing faucets and throwing out old fruit like a crazy person.
"The place looks fine," he insisted. Which translates from husband-speak to, "Stop vacuuming under my feet; I'm trying to watch the game."
I scrutinized the kitchen floor; put all loose items in the dishwasher (including two cat toys and a leftover sock); and hit the refrigerator handles with anti-bacterial wipes.
My mother is a wonder of nature: she can detect a single bacterium — something that otherwise can be done only by an electron microscope — and kill it with one blow. She's like Annie Oakley … with Lysol.
Beds made, check. Quilt smoothed, check. Clothes hung up, check. I was ready to go pick up mom. But first I reminded the cats one more time: no shedding, no scattering of toys and no "gifts" of field mice (who made the fatal error of sneaking into the basement) until after I took grandma home.
By the time I started the car, my house would have passed inspection by Jack Nicholson in "A Few Good Men."
Has it always been this way? When a cavewoman's mother came to visit, did she run around like a pterosaur with its head cut off, tossing out mammoth bones and sweeping the cave floor down to bottom layer of dirt? And did her mate say, "The cave looks OK to me," as he tossed another mammoth bone over his shoulder?
Probably. It's kind of comforting to know that some things never really change.
Email Cathy Drinkwater Better at firstname.lastname@example.org.