God gives a special gift to every woman who becomes a mother-in-law. She is endowed by her Creator with the ability to send her daughter-in-law into frenzied, Tasmanian-devil-like housecleaning with a simple phone call. I love my mother-in-law. She has never spoken a cruel word. Has never criticized my cooking, housekeeping or the way I dress her son. She is short; her ear covers my heartbeat when she hugs me goodbye. Her frame is as unimposing as a child's favorite teddy bear; she has been loved into silky softness through years of gentle wear. She is priceless to me; a treasure of smiles and kisses. We are chatting on the phone: she, sitting properly in her favorite chair above a freshly vacuumed carpet. And me, sprawled on my couch atop newspapers, clothes that wait folding, and bits of last night's popcorn-eating marathon. I plop down on the nearest surface that can support me, ready to chew the fat. My stomach relaxes its few remaining muscles, and I practice spelling my name with my bare toes in the dust on the kitchen floor.
Then, those three little words erupt from her loving mouth: "I'm coming over." Whether she knows it or not, her voice sets into motion a series of escapades more inane than a Three Stooges filmfest. "I thought I'd drop by this morning. ..." Her sweet voice cracks delicately, like an overboiled eggshell. AHOOOOOOGAAAAAHH! The sound of a submarine in dire straits echoes through my body. M-A-Y-D-A-Y bounces along the walls of my hovel.
In an instant, I feel my blood pressure soar to geyser heights. Throbbing in systolic anticipation, I ask the question: "When?" I ask innocently. Lovingly. My voice does not quiver or screech. It has taken years of marriage to perfect this. ... I am proud. I wait for the feathery intake of oxygen that precedes her answer, ready to catapult into action. "Oh, I don't know ... in a little bit. Pop and I have to drop off some cans at the recycling center ... (I run over, push the Coke cans deeper into the trash). "Not long, I think." GIVE ME TIME! I want to scream. Will I have vacuum time? Makeup time? Can I finish this bowl of potato chips and wipe the crumbs from my face before you get here? "Okay!" Happy voice. "I'll see you then." I hang up and take a deep breath— OPERATION COVERUP begins. Dirty dishes go in the oven. I dust with shirtsleeves and odd socks found near furniture. Toilets are flushed and brushed more vigorously than a head full of nits. Clutter is tossed onto beds and those rooms are closed off the way Grandpa did in the winter to save heat. An aromatic fogging of canned "Mountain Freshness" masks any recent family emissions. A "visiting room" is chosen. We'll steer Ma there with herky-jerky hugs, slap a glass of iced tea into her hands, and tie her to the chair with bungee cords of keen eye contact. Our bright shiny faces will fill her bifocals. A giant car rolls up the drive. I see her head, bobbing just above dash level. I imagine a pair of white inspection gloves inside the purse she holds securely in her lap, but I know it's just my jittery nerves talking. We exchange smiles through the streaky glass (Yikes!) on my front door as she minces toward me, and I straighten my shoulders to reflect a worthy daughter-in-law.
Then I realize I forgot to put on a bra or brush my hair. I can taste the Ruffles hiding between my teeth. But at least I'm wearing shoes, and my sweat pants are fairly clean. "Hi, Ma!" The hugging/steering begins. "So glad you could pop in!"
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This article originally appeared on Canton Daily Ledger: When the MIL comes Robin Leach springs to action to get the house ready