This was not the question I wanted to hear. It was not even a question, rather it was my wife’s way of telling me I was in trouble.
“I invited mom over,” I told her.
“Did we discuss this?”
“Did we agree to invite her?”
“More or less…”
She just stared at me.
“What’s the problem?”
I should have known. We go on a cleaning binge whenever my mother comes over. It is not the normal cleaning that one would do if say the President were to drop 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 up the magazines strewn across the floor near the couch. 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-laws are invited to visit. No, scratch that. It is what a husband does after inviting his mother without getting the okay from his wife.
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 (believe me, it needed it). Then I announced I was done…
That is when Ms Deep Cleaning said I had only just begun.
So I moved everything from the kitchen counter and scrubbed the layers of dust that were 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, get real, they 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, there are some things your mother will never lose.. So remove the magnets and clean behind them.”
I didn’t — but 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 shaky 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.
Miriam Schiller 1924 – 2018
65 thoughts on “Deep Cleaning”
Loved the ending. My condolences to you. My mom passed away last year, and it’s a mixed blessing. You miss them on one hand, but on the other you’re happy that they don’t endure prolonged suffering.
As far as cleaning, the wives are always the ones to deep clean for both relatives and “company”. If it was up to the guys, it’d be limited to food and drink and big screen TV. No cleaning allowed.
I’m so sorry about your mother! Even though in many ways you lost her years ago, there is a finality about a mother’s death that can hit hard. I hope she is at peace now.
And only you could write a post like this at at time like this. It made me laugh and cry, almost at the same time….. You are, beyond a doubt, a very talented writer.
It seems that more and more families are going through this. I hate to think what it was like years ago when the community and medical support we have now was not available.
To be honest, I wrote this a few years ago and republished it as a tribute to mom. Still, we need to hold onto our humor in time like this.
Yes, we do. And I still think you’re a very talented writer, even if you did write it a few years ago!
Your cleaning levels sound like mine, Greg. My husband can always tell when company is expected because that falls into level 3. I’m sorry to hear about your mom’s passing, but I’m glad she got that visit in and found a bit of dust behind the magnet to make her smile. Love the photo of her. ❤
As a tribute to mom, I moved the magnets and cleaned behind them. 🙂
She’ll be glad to know you finally learned. 🙂
This was really good!
I am glad you enjoyed it.
I did, and you are welcome!
Sorry about your mom 😦 You’ll always have the memories, and these wonderful stories 🙂
Family stories are amazing. My father used to tell a story about my great-grandfather being conscripted into the Prussian cavalry at 8 years old. I always thought it was a tale until we found an old photograph of him with his Lancer unit and he was just a child. He looked like my son. I still have that photo….somewhere.
I am a mother-in-law and I am always so happy to be invited over to my son’s house, I would never look behind the refrigerator magnets! I am so sorry for the loss of your Mom, Gregg. There is never a replacement. I lost mine almost 11 years ago and still miss her so much. 😢
All parents, each in our own way, will always practice parenthood. It’s ours, we earned it and in many ways our kids count on it. 🙂
I’m sorry to read about your mom’s passing. What a great story to share toward the end of her journey. You gave her “satisfaction” of discovering a mess. A joke between you and her, for old-times sake. Grief doesn’t simply go away, but it does help to write about it in blog posts…a way of keeping their spirits alive.
I couldn’t think of anything that made her happier than finding and revealing a flaw. In her fragile state, it restored a glimpse of her former glory. What could be better than that?
is the saying, “Cleanliness is next to Godliness” – I’m guessing it was invented by a Flaw seeking parent. 🙂 Glad you were able to make her day, that outing.
There is this thing in Zin that argues that you should avoid perfection, that you should let people catch you in small mistakes because it makes you more human and them more comfortable. That’s not saying that your house should be a pig-sty. 🙂 –Curt
At least for me, avoiding perfection comes naturally.
Laughing. You are not alone!
I think I have a refrigerator under all the magnets, but it’s been a while since I cleaned, so they MAY have become one with the appliance.
I may start calling them barnacles instead of magnets…just to cover my butt.
Refrigerator magnets are the appliance version of tattoos.
I’m sorry for your loss, Greg. If you’re like me, you were grieving long before your mom passed. My mom is still with us. But her memory is fading and she repeats herself. She can’t recall what she told me five minutes ago. But she can recall an episode from high school more than 60 years ago. Mostly, it makes me sad. I miss the mom I once knew.
But this is not about me. This is about you and your loss. I hope you find joy in the memories of the mom you had before old age spirited her away.
Her passing was more blessing than loss. The saddest thing is that her mind had deteriorated to such a point that she was frightened and stressed all the time. It got so even our visits made her miserable. She was such a happy person for so much of her life, one could say that she stopped living years before she died.
Here is a funny story though.
Her mother suffered from Alzheimer’s too, though mercifully for not as long. Grandma grew up in England and was a WWI war bride. Over the years, she lost most of her accent but when her mind went, it all came rushing back. She reverted to an English school girl. Forgive me Grandma, but a mean little English school girl.
One day, when my mother came to visit, Grandma called out, “Who’s there?”
My mother replied, “It’s Miriam.”
And Grandmother snapped back in cattiest schoolgirl voice, “Miriam? I never liked HER!”
We all broke out laughing.
That’s a great story about your grandma. She could still make you laugh.
We’re visiting Poor John’s brother and sister-in-law. I think they might have deep cleaned, but I also think they have a cleaning lady. I’ll be checking under the fridge magnets tomorrow.
Don’t forget to run your finger over the trim on the top of the windows. People should be made aware of the dirt there…especially during family gatherings. It’s what I do.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
Oh, I know all about hitting SEND without fully understanding what I sent. It’s why I take everything with a grain of salt. 🙂
Uh…”just beFORE hitting Send.” Ha ha ha!! Need a the whole shaker here.
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.
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.
Does she still laugh at the kind of jokes you tell when she is around? ‘Cause if not, you DO joke around her too much, funny boy.
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.
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.
You know….. putting off Deep Cleaning only makes it worse. 🙂
True…but…I just look away. 🙂
My mother, the militantly orderly German hausfrau, never misses a trick. Fortunately my mother-in-law, who took housekeeping to new lows, nicely balanced her out.
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.
You absolutely would have seen that in my childhood in Germany. I remember it clearly. I don’t think this has carried over to the newer generations but can’t swear to that.
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.
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.
Another good one.
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.
Love the antidote, Mark. Glad she kept you. 🙂
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!
I’ve been telling my mom and wife that for years but they say the jury is still out. 🙂
See how smart your wife is?
Another enjoyable read–brightened my Monday!
She is very smart, but let’s keep that I said so between us.
I’m not certain how to respond–with a humorous or a serious comment. So here’s what I’ll say: We need to implement a certain sense of humor to deal with the reality of aging (parents and us).
That is exactly what I had in mind. Humor soothes the pain of living.
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.
Mom is too frail of both body and mind for much of anything – and that is what is most hard about advanced aging – feeling beyond purpose.
Yes, that is true. My mom is the same way.
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.
Those little deceptions are the perils of marrying a fiction writer.
Great column with a great ending, Almost Iowa. And, of course, very clean prose… 🙂
For prose this clean, one has to scrub behind every comma.
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