Taming Martha, or the Out of Law Mother Out of Law
May 12, 2008
Things were in a bit of a commotion at the mommies’ house. Their house needs a lot of repairs. A plumber is doing a lot of work on pipes under the house. The washer is sulking. For some reason the spare bedroom is full of boxes and furniture moved out of the way of other activities.
[A trap door in a closet provides entry to the crawl space under the house. Little cat Sylvie crawled down after the plumber to help him. He thought she had come back up when he came back up. However, the next day, my daughter heard the faintest of meows and finally discovered a trapped, very dirty cat in the crawl space.]
As I got ready for bed, they apologized. I said, “Don’t worry about it.” (I am a messy, untidy person, so other people’s messes only make me feel less guilty about my own flaws in this regard.)
I asked, “Do you have some towels I can use?” They are very good hostesses, and usually leave extra towels out for guests, but had forgotten. “I’m sorry,” said Mommy, and pulled some towels out of a closet. “They don’t all match in color,” she said, “but Mrs. Random isn’t here, so it will probably be all right.”
My antennae quivered.
As I was leaving the next day, Mommy pointed at a package of linens. “Tell Mrs. Random we have new sheets and new pillow cases for the guest bedroom,” she said.
I said, “Perhaps that will keep my wife’s inner Martha Stewart from rising to the surface.”
Mommy said, “It doesn’t have to rise very far.”
My wife has a very strong value system that when guests arrive, our house must look immaculate and very presentable. Before any guests arrive, including mommies and Random Granddaughter, my wife goes into a frenzied flurry of cleaning and arranging. If I have left anything obviously messy and amiss, I attend to it rapidly before my life ends prematurely; then I stay well out of my wife’s way until guests have arrived and it is clear they are not going to storm off in disgust. At that point my wife relaxes, and becomes not only a gracious hostess but a relaxed and friendly person.
This is a good value; it is much better than my male slovenliness. At the same time, I realized that when we visit the mommies, they feel they are under the eye of a critical and professional house keeper. They are not messy or unclean, but they are two very busy women with an active and imaginative four year old daughter who is into many busy projects at any given time. Compulsive tidiness is sometimes the second fiddle in the mix.
I mulled how to tactfully convey this to the mother out of law. I am thinking of suggesting she put out guest towels that don’t match in color.