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.


8 Responses to “Taming Martha, or the Out of Law Mother Out of Law”

  1. vroni1208 Says:

    That is a touchy subject. Tread carefully. You are taking your life into your own hands! 🙂

  2. pandemonic Says:

    I’m sort of like your wife. Things must be nice and presentable for guests, which is odd because most people I know are terrible housekeepers. I have a much higher standard than others. I think it’s because my mother put plastic on everything.

  3. modestypress Says:


    I don’t tread carefully. Perhaps this is why I have many tread marks on my body.


    I think this value in my wife comes from her mother.

    There is a very thin line between a characteristic that makes someone wonderful and an over-expression of that person’s feature that becomes something other than wonderful.

    I did speak about the mommies’ reaction to my wife. She was surprised and felt unjustly described but she took it calmly. I suggested that she provide mismatched towels when the mommies visit us next time, but I am not sure she can bring herself to do it. Maybe I will have to sneak in later and mix and mismatch.

  4. Vicky Says:

    It would be ideal if the mommies could just accept your wife as she is and not try to be like her when you’re at their house. I know that’s difficult but it’s probably just as hard for your wife to change her ways as it is to expect the mommies to conform to her standards. As you said their lives are very busy right now and they have different priorities – doesn’t make any of them “right” or “wrong” – just different and that’s ok!

    And you’re still in the middle, right? 🙂

  5. modestypress Says:


    Actually, I think I made this sound worse than it was for comedy purposes. It’s true I was surprised a bit by the mommies’ strong reaction, but on the whole we all can laugh about these little family dramas.

    When I was growing up, there were many tensions and false pretenses in my family. My wife’s family had similar traumas. The coming together of the two families was not all that congenial. The high (low) point was when my wife to be had a big fight with her mother just before she turned 18. With no place to go, she came to stay at my house. Her mother and brother banged on our door that afternoon and her brother dragged her kicking and screaming out of our house. As soon as she turned 18, she moved out and got a job as a file clerk.

    Every day I am amazed and grateful that the “Barely Extended Family” gets along as well as we do. But people being people, the chance always exists that we might mess it all up. At the moment, we’re doing pretty well.

    Years ago, on one of the times I visited a shrink, he told me to avoid putting myself in the “middle” of conflicted situations. On the whole, I follow that advice fairly well.

  6. Poor Sylvie! It’s amazing how many cats end up dead through similar adventures, and how many of my home inspectors find them during the course of routine investigations. Sometimes they emerge from crawl spaces carrying a no-longer-needed collar. It’s very tragic. Sylvie should be grateful that she was heard.

  7. modestypress Says:

    Indeed, Sylvie should be grateful. Perhaps she is. She sits on any available lap and purrs. Before and after her adventure/misfortune.

    On the other hand, everyone is grateful to Sylvie because she is such a sweet cat. Random Granddaughter says, “I love you, Sylvie,” and pets her awkwardly. RG recently learned how to pick Sylvie up (more or less) properly and carry her.

    Sylvie purrs none the less. Everyone is grateful.

  8. truce Says:

    Plumbers should pay more attention to cats. That’s the moral of this story.

    Also, I’m like Mrs Random in my house-proud guest-proofing activities. However, when I visit someone else’s house I don’t go looking for mismatched guest towels or mould in the shower. I only notice that stuff at my house. So maybe Mrs Random and the two mommies can carry on exactly as they are, and ‘no worries’, as they say here in Oz.

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