This was not the question I wanted to hear. In fact, it was not even a question. It was my wife’s way of telling me I did something incredibly stupid.
“I invited mom over,” I said.
“Did we discuss this?”
“Did we agree to invite her?”
“I don’t recall. Did I do something wrong?”
“Then what’s the problem?”
I should have known. Whenever my mother comes over, we go on a cleaning binge. It is not the normal cleaning that one would do, say if the President dropped by. It is much more involved than that.
You see, we have several degrees of household order.
Picking up is when we move our coats from the kitchen chairs to the hooks behind the door. If we are really serious, we might gather the magazines off the couch and stuff them into the magazine rack. But we rarely get that serious.
Straightening up is when we vacuum and dust.
Cleaning up is when we move things out of the way so we can vacuum and dust.
Deep cleaning is something else. It is what NASA does before assembling a satellite. It is what hospitals do when handling Ebola patients. It’s what wives do after their mother-in-law are invited to visit. No, scratch that, it’s what husbands do after inviting their mother without getting the okay from their wives.
So I washed the windows (they needed it) and I ran an oil cloth over the window frames (they needed it too). I vacuumed up the balls of cat hair hiding under the end tables and changed the sand in the litter box (oh yeah, believe me, it needed it). Then I announced I was done… but Ms Deep Cleaning said I had only just begun.
So I moved everything on the kitchen counter and scrubbed the layers of dust hiding behind the toaster and bread box. I also scrubbed the stove, the face of the refrigerator and the dishwasher.
“Did you get the refrigerator?” my wife asked.
“Sure,” I said.
“Did you remove the magnets before you scrubbed?”
“I said I cleaned the refrigerator.”
“Move the magnets.”
“It’s not like mom will notice.”
“Oh, she will.”
“Honey, for pity sake, the care home moved her to the memory unit because she forgot what her oven was for.”
My wife stopped cleaning and looked up at me. We both miss what mom used to be. It’s like she is gone but not gone. “Do you remember the country singer Glenn Campbell?” she asked.
“Yeah,” I said.
“Do you remember how beautifully he played the guitar even with advanced Alzheimer’s?”
“Well, mom is not completely gone and there are some things she will never lose.. So remove the magnets and clean behind them.”
I didn’t — but I pretended I did. It was just one of those little deceptions that spice every marriage.
A few days later, we brought mom over. She looked so hopelessly frail and didn’t know who anyone was. I had only one goal for the day: that she enjoy herself – and she did.
Nothing delighted her more than when I was helping her steer her walker across the kitchen. She stopped and slowly lifted a shaking arm toward the refrigerator. Reaching out, she moved a magnet to reveal the hidden stain beneath. I hadn’t seen her smile like that in years.