Deep Cleaning

broom“You did what?”

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?”

“We did.”

“Did we agree to invite her?”

“I don’t recall. Did I do something wrong?”


“Then what’s the problem?”

“Deep cleaning.”

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.

Author: Almost Iowa

36 thoughts on “Deep Cleaning”

  1. Always listen to your wife. Happy wife, happy life. (I don’t know who said that but they were wise. I love your last sentence. My grandmother had Alzheimers and never forgot how to play piano or to pray. She thought my ten year old daughter was the mother of my three year old triplets but she remembered what made her smile. I get this blog. I enjoy your writing. If you like to read humor as well as write it, feel free to check mine out. I try to embarrass my loved ones on a regular basis.

    1. Happy wife, happy life.

      It was my wife who came up with that. I didn’t realize it was a threat until much later.

      I did check out your blog. It is wonderful. I highly recommend it.

  2. My mother-in-law is a neat freak too! She lives several hundred miles away which gives me enough lead time to do a deep cleaning before her (thankfully infrequent) arrival. My husband has a male-dominant disease that makes him incapable of seeing dirt and mess so it typically lands on my shoulders. I loved your description of the several types of cleaning!

    1. Some of what went on between my wife and my mother was the pecking order. My mother was like that. She would always find something to peck about. Once she had done that, everything was fine.

      But that was years ago.

  3. My first reply to you is the first of a series of what I considered witty replies to commenters/repliers which were entered via my Iphone and which headed off from there into, I now discover, parts unknown. My Iphone 5c / WordPress interface has been extremely unhappy ever since the 6 was released and Apple (and…horrors–could it be?–WordPress?) stopped giving a flying fig for we lesser mortals.

    What I said was likely not half so clever as it seemed to me just be hitting Send. Just meant I like your family’s healthy, wholesome, accepting approach. (Something-something about laughing at the elephant in the room who does forget after all, add an analogy and an alliterative phrase–see? not so very clever.)

    No matter what release of laughter, I’m sorry you feel the loss.

    Enjoy your day, A.I.

  4. Very nice, A.I. You know where it’s headed but are happily along for the ride to see it as it happened
    😉 or didn’t. Enjoyed and felt the ache simultaneously. Good job there.

    1. If I skip a visit, mom won’t remember who I am – but she always remembers my wife. The conversation usually goes something like this.

      Mom: Now who are you married to?

      My wife: I am married to Greg.

      Mom: Who is he?

      My wife [pointing to me]: This is Greg.

      Mom: I don’t know him and I am not sure I like him. He jokes around too much.

        1. Whenever I am with mom, I go with the flow. I don’t challenge her memory or her outlandish statements, and she can come up with some wild stuff. The goal is to keep her stress down and her spirits up.

          She still likes to laugh.

          Her mother, at her age and condition, was hilarious. She was born in England but lost her accent over the years. Alzheimer’s brought her accent back and she became a catty like school girl.

          One day when we went to visit her, she asked who we were. My mom told her who she was and grandma snapped, “Oh, I never liked HER!” Mom cracked up laughing.

  5. Love the story and totally relate to cleaning categories. I always need to tidy the rooms for the cleaners because they vacuum and dust. But Deep Cleaning hasn’t been done for years!!! Great ending.

    1. My dad came from a traditional German neighborhood. There, it was common to see old women on their hands and knees scrubbing the sidewalk. And just to be clear, they did not limit their cleaning to their sidewalk, they scrubbed the public walk and swept the street as well.

        1. While Germany is still a tidy country, the young people are less inclined to be so – but that still puts them way beyond their American cousins.

          We participated in an exchange program with a delightful German girl living with us and my daughter finishing high school in Heidelberg. The families have spent quite a bit of time with each other since and last year we traveled to Germany for our exchange student’s wedding. She was married in a castle.

      1. This is how all the Hispanic families were when and where I grew up–that would be Puerto Rican and Cuban families. When in Spain in the 70s, very old women were out in the morning scrubbing the original beautiful mosaic tiles in front of their doorways.

  6. Fantastic. Utterly brilliant. I laughed so had I had to read it to Mrs. Portsong, who reminded me of an early visit from my father. A tall man, he ran his finger across the top of the entertainment armoire like a general at inspection. My diminutive wife turned red with anger and said, “Walt, you do that again and you might not be welcome back. I’m keeping your son, but I might not keep you!” He never did it again… Loved your story.

  7. A very tenderly told tale….I can tell you are a good son and husband in addition to being a wonderful writer! Always enjoy your writing!

    1. you are a good son and husband in addition to being a wonderful writer!

      I’ve been telling my mom and wife that for years but they say the jury is still out. 🙂

  8. That is some serious cleaning. I have never cleaned behind the magnets. Did your mom clean the stain behind the magnet? That probably made her feel she could still be useful–that’s important.

  9. Ooooh, I love “little deceptions that spice every marriage.” Very nice. My mother-in-law is visually-impaired and while I would love nothing more than for her to get her sight back, it makes hosting her on a weekly basis infinitely more feasible. Great column, as usual.

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