There was a strange man by our mailbox when we got home one Sunday. He coolly sat there watching us pull into our driveway, his white sedan near where weeds were choking the landscaping rocks. The guy kind of looked like my husband Matthew, but my husband was golfing that afternoon.
I was on to this guy - whatever he was trying to pull by resembling my husband. I told the kids, "Nobody move. Don't get out of the van until I see what he's about."
So we parked and didn't move until the man casually emerged from his vehicle, and my oldest son Berto cried, "It's Uncle Tim!"
Then the doors were pushed open, and the kids sprinted down the driveway. I had forgotten my husband said he might come by, and sirens whistled in my head as I desperately tried to think with a dumb smile on my face, WHAT DOES THE HOUSE LOOK LIKE?
Yes, what does the house look like? So many times in my life I've asked myself this sorry question. I've had my share of humble pie at the hands of unexpected visitors.
I mean, sure, when you're deadly ill, being rushed to the hospital, you can let the shame go reasonably well when your friends come to watch the kids in your smelly, disheveled home. After all, they can't judge you too harshly while your fate seems uncertain. And when the repair man comes for the AC unit, puts on his little booties so as not to mark your juice-smeared floor, and you realize you forgot to cover the duct tape that holds your couch together at the seam, you can trust you won't see him again...or you can logically explain that your couch hasn't reached its 15 years of mandatory service yet, and you're not cheap - really!- just frugal and resourceful. Then you can ask if he watches the Red Green show.
But when your brother-in-law walks into your littered home and sees St. Paddy's Day signs waving in the vented breeze, wishing him the luck of the Irish in late April, you have little option but to joke as you turbo-sweep and straighten the clutter about his feet, "Come back in July, and we'll have the Easter signs up!"
And he glibly responds with, "And by Christmas, Halloween!"
Worse is the exposure of your poor housekeeping methods at the hands of expected visitors. A dear friend comments every time she enters your door, "I'm so glad your home is cluttered like ours - stuff everywhere!", and you comfort yourself that you're a reality ambassador, spreading cheer and lowering expectations. Party guests innocently open the microwave, believing you maintain your appliances, and find what looks like a hideous laboratory from a horror film, so you try to show appropriate horror and blame it on the kids' experiments in blowing up spaghetti. Your father-in-law uses your master bath and is greeted by feminine unmentionables dangling from the doorknob (You're not overly proud of them; you just think they add that extra something to the décor.) and bits of mustache trimmings in the sink. Too late at night, you pull out the bed from the sleeper sofa to make it up for relatives, and they jump back with an, "Oh my gosh!" and then giggle and point at What Lies Beneath, awed by the magnitude of the decaying debris. You can grumble that you cleaned under there only a few weeks ago as you fetch the vacuum, but they won't believe you.
It's always something that you forgot to hide or clean. Humiliation is just a pair of thongs or a moldy, forgotten sippy cup away.
I used to be prouder of my home...before I had kids and lost a critical, maybe fatal, amount of sleep. I used to make huge, long lists, weeks before entertaining, that included such ridiculous items as these:
Dust ceiling fans and pictures
Polish table, chairs and hutch with olive oil/lemon juice
Remove bras from bathroom doorknobs
Clear off entertainment center and book shelves
Now my list looks like this:
Try to sweep
Load dishwasher if possible
Take a nap
Perhaps someday I'll get back to mopping floors with more than wet paper towels stuck to the bottoms of my feet, polishing furniture until I can see my haggard face in it and scrubbing bathrooms every Tuesday morning, but right now I'm tired, and sick of society telling me what the perfect house should look like. Houses come in all shapes and sizes, darnit, and different levels of disorder, decay and maltreatment by dwellers, and I'll take mine as it is, so lived in it's beautiful, with a slice of humble pie to stay.
This post was originally published on this blog in July 2013.