My mother-in law can stand on her head. And not with her feet against the wall, either. You know the pose--I call it "Getting Ready to Go Through the Birth Canal"--where you put your head on the floor and your knees on your elbows and then gracefully lift your feet into the air until your body resembles a flag pole. Yeah, me either. But I've seen it done. And while this may not astound you young and flexible types, let me tell you that my mother-in-law is probably almost twice your age. Not old, definitely not elderly, my mother-in-law is one of those women who I just know will live long enough to raise money for my funeral by posing for one of those Naked Old Ladies calendars. And she will be the best looking. There is an old family story that says someone was complaining about their weight and my mother-in-law said, "Just come to my house for two weeks. That's all I need to whip you into shape."
She has one of those immaculate townhouses where you know to take off your shoes -and wish you could hack off your grimy feet at the ankles- before you enter. Once I spent a week there while our floors were being done and I compulsively cleaned up after myself every moment of every day. But it didn't stick.
When Pete and I have had our fill of the mental illness we euphemistically refer to as parenting, we call my mother-in-law to babysit. Invariably she asks for something to do while we are gone, because she gets bored. Apparently it is not enough for her to stare at the television and contemplate what she thinks she might have time to prepare to eat during the next commercial. "Give me something to do," she says. "I can fold laundry or whatever. Anything. I get bored." I always refuse. I give her a DVD and the remote and run like hell out the door. Come to think of it, though, I do have a few things I've been meaning to get to.
Here's a partial list.
1. There is a splatter of coffee on the stairwell wall that has been there since 2002. That was when Pete spilled it and refused to wipe it up because he was actually bringing the coffee to me. After a battle of wills that lasted three months, I finally cleaned the coffee off the rug, but I can only go so far and still keep my dignity.
2. There is something that resembles a booger on the bedroom wall. In the kids' room? No, ours. On Pete's side of the bed. In any case, that should just take a minute. You can use Pete's pillow case if you like.
3. There is some vacuuming to do in the basement. Those little white round things hanging from the joists are not party lights. They are egg sacs. From spiders. In a colony the size of which would make Warren Jeffs beam.
4. While you're down there, maybe you can take a moment to take care of that yucky I-emptied-but-didn't-clean-the-deep-freezer-when-the-power-went-out-in-August smell. That would be helpful.
5. There is a dress on the floor by the washing machine. It has been there since our friends got married four years ago. Why? Because while I thought I looked incredibly sexy in it, subsequent wedding reception photos told me differently and I left it there thinking I would wear it again when I lost some weight and gained some abs. Plus it needs to be dry-cleaned and those kinds of things I only wear once.
6. If you're really ambitious, you could brush the dog. He really loves it when you do that. You'll need a contractor's bag and a canine straitjacket for this job.
7. If you're really bored, you could try to clean out the fridge a little. You can probably guess what belongs there and what doesn't. For instance, 8 gallons of whole milk? Those belong. A toddler's slipper and a plastic letter M? Give 'em a quick smell, but those could probably get thrown out.
8. Throughout the house, on every level, you will find stacks and stacks of mail, fliers, ripped-out reminders from newspapers, downloaded lyrics sheets, and mathematics scratch-papers. These belong to your son. I have tried every method imaginable to control this paper storm, including forcing him to take it with him whenever he leaves the house, to no avail. Maybe you could pack them in one of those bazillions of boxes of his stuff that you shipped to our house when we got married? Then we'll just mark it, "Valuable Things," and send it to Thing One's wife when he gets married.
9. Thing Two is over a year old. If you have time, she could probably use a bath. Take pictures, though, okay? The first one is a milestone.
10. Finally, if you could just do a quick run-through in my car, it has been "Mom-ed." You know, sour-milk sippy cups rolling around under the seats, cast-iron french fries and chicken nuggets stuffed into the cushions, that sort of thing.
Don't feel obligated to fill all of your time though. These things are not priorities, they are just busy-work. Take a break. Relax. Do some headstands.