There was a small poof of dust as I gave the decorative pillow on the sofa in the front room a pat. Great. Something else to add to The List.
My in-laws were scheduled to invade my home in T minus three hours to spend the Thanksgiving holiday with us. I loved them, but I suspected that my mother-in-law, Phyllis, kept a mental list of all the ways that I fell short as the ideal daughter-in-law.
Number 1: Candace is an atrocious housekeeper.
Of course, that was not new information. I have been married to her Sam now for twelve years, and the evidence of an unorganized pantry can be hard to keep hidden for too long.
I attacked the offending sofa with a vengeance, dragging my over-priced Kirby vacuum behind me. During one of their visits a few years ago, Phyllis had informed me with a condescending smile directed toward my banged up little Dirt Devil, that a housekeeper is only as good as her tools. A few weeks later, my Christmas present arrived. I had fantasized over what the large, heavy package could possibly contain, only to discover the shiny new vacuum. It felt like a slap in the face. How could such an impersonal gift feel so….personal?
The sound of a herd of elephants crashing above my head, coming from the direction of the kids’ bedrooms, suddenly drowned out the whirring of the vacuum. The noise made its way down the stairs, punctuated in turn with bouts of laughter and a screaming wail.
“Mom!” My blond curly-haired daughter, Dixie, ran in to tell me what horrors her brother had inflicted on her. “Ian said that my picture is ugly and it doesn’t even look like a unicorn because unicorns aren’t purple! Unicorns are purple, aren’t they, Mom!”
Turning the vacuum off, I heaved a sigh. It was never earth-shattering dilemmas that I had to resolve between the kids. It was always the dumb little things.
Ian rounded the corner and said defiantly, “I didn’t say your picture was ugly! I said it was stupid because unicorns aren’t purple! You’re ugly!”
“Well, you’re stupid!” Dixie countered.
“Enough!” I bellowed. “No one is ugly and no one is stupid! You are both beautiful and brilliant. Ian, tell your sister that you’re sorry. Dixie, I thought that you were cleaning your room, not drawing pictures.” They both started talking at once, arguing over whose fault the argument was.
“I don’t want to hear it!” I cried. “Grandma and Gramps are going to be here in a few hours and we still have a lot to do!”
They continued to argue as I sent them off to finish their jobs. A moment later my cell phone started buzzing and emitted a tinny rendition of “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree.” The caller ID informed me that it was Sam calling.
“What?!” I barked, as a greeting.
“Hey, what’s going on?” Sam said.
“Your parents are going to be here in less than three hours, what do you think is going on? I am trying to get this house into Phyllis-approved condition!”
“Stop stressing about it!” Sam said. “It’s just my parents. It’s not like they aren’t expecting a little mess. We’ve got kids.” He said it in such an irritating, matter-of-fact manner, it was a miracle that he wasn’t standing in the room next to me, or he would have lost his head, or at least some major body part.
“Just your parents?!” I shrieked. “Your mother already thinks that I can’t keep this house clean enough. I have to at least appear like that isn’t the case!”
“Come on, Candace, you worry too much,” Sam said, unhelpfully. “Oh, by the way….Mom called and said they left a couple hours ahead of schedule. They should be at the house in about an hour.”
I didn’t even have time to gasp in response, before the door bell was ringing.
Once again, there was the pounding down the stairs, with the additional noise of arguments over who answered the door. Ian, being the oldest and biggest, was able to make it to the door first, and he swung it open to reveal his grandparents.
Phyllis and Roger were here. Three hours early. Wonderful.
Both the kids flung themselves into their grandparents’ arms.
“Hey, Sport!” Roger chuckled, as Ian wrapped himself around his waist.
“Gramma, Gramma!” Dixie chimed, jumping up and down, while Phyllis tried to aim a kiss in the direction of her head.
“Did you bring anything for me, Gramma??”
“Of course! What are Grammas for? It’s a surprise….” She then looked up and saw me standing in the entryway to the front room.
“Candace, dear. How are you, Honey?”
I issued the obligatory hugs, getting dizzy from Phyllis’ expensive perfume.
“Wow! You guys are early!” I faltered. “You must have made really good time.”
“Well, you know how Roger hates the rush-hour traffic. We decided to leave a little early to avoid it.” As in, three hours early???
“I think I made a new record, Candy,” Roger said, his hands stuffed in the pockets of his khaki pants, rocking back and forth on his feet. I could tell he was impressed with himself. He kept a mental record of how long it took him to drive to our house, and reported where he stood in relation to previous trips every time they came.
“Six hours, twenty-three minutes,” he beamed. “I’m sure that I beat the time we drove over last summer for Kevin’s wedding by at least thirteen minutes. And that’s compared to summer roads, even! You never know what you’re going to get in November!”
“Yes, the roads were quite dry,” Phyllis interjected. “But you never know what they will be like when we go back home.”
“You will have to be sure to leave extra early, to ensure the roads are in good shape,” I urged earnestly. “We would understand if you had to leave a little earlier than you planned….to avoid the weather, of course.”
“Don’t be silly, dear!” Phyllis said. “We wouldn’t dream of leaving any earlier than we have to! We want to spend every possible minute with you and the kids! Now tell me, kids, what have you been up to? I haven’t seen you since this summer! Goodness, how you’ve grown!”
The procession made their way back into the kitchen, where Dixie wanted to show off her collection of drawings hung on the fridge.
I grimaced when I saw the plates with half-eaten peanut butter sandwiches and an empty bag of chips still sitting on the table from lunch. There were chip crumbs all over the table and floor, as though someone had taken the bag and swung it around their head, just to see how far the crumbs could reach.
“It looks like someone didn’t finish their lunch, or clean up their mess…” Phyllis said in a sing-song voice.
Number 2: Candace doesn’t do the dishes….
Number 3: …or make her kids do their chores.
Number 4: Candace doesn’t feed her children healthy meals (chips??)….
Number 5: …or make them finish the meals on their plates.
“Come on, kids, let’s clean up this mess together!” Phyllis said gaily. They jumped right in. It isn’t work when you’re doing it with your grandma, after all.
This wasn’t good. They had been here less than five minutes, and I was already at Number 5. How was I going to make it through this week?
“I’m going to check on the laundry,” I said. “I wasn’t expecting you for a while, so your bed isn’t made yet.”
“No hurry, dear. We’ll be fine,” Phyllis insisted.
I heard them talking and laughing, happy to be working together, as I left the room.
Be sure to check back tomorrow to see what happens on Tuesday of Candace's Thanksgiving week!