Deep Cleaning

broom“You did what?”

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?”

“We did…”

“Did we agree to invite her?”

“More or less…”

She just stared at me.

“What’s the problem?”

“Deep cleaning.”


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

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