Thursday, September 9, 2010

Just Perfect

(My MIL with Harrison, five days old. Her outfit is still perfectly pressed
after the 5:30am departure from the Kentucky airport,
followed by a connection in Charlottesville and a 2pm Boston arrival.
Her look is complete with lipstick and dangly earrings.)

In three days, my in-laws will descend upon us. “Us” being my husband, our son and me in a three-bedroom apartment - if you really want to call that guest room a bedroom. It doesn’t have heat in the winter and, under the bed, there used to be a collection of vintage porn magazines left over from my much-older male cousin who lived here before us. Now, there are just dust bunnies under the bed and the horrifying memory of my cousin combing his hair to look like John Travolta from Saturday Night Fever.

I should be sweeping up the rogue hairs on the bathroom floor. Or cleaning out our refrigerator’s vegetable drawer, which currently houses something that may have been an eggplant, but now resembles a sixth-grade biology experiment. I definitely should be wiping splatters of dinners past off the wall (thank you, my dear, sweet baby boy).

But instead, I’m sitting on the floor in our living room, squishing crumbs into our formerly nice Pottery Barn rug. I say formerly, referring to that time before we had our son, who is now 18-months old.

Formerly, I would have been buzzing about the apartment, trying to prepare for my mother-in-law, who – according to my husband – is as close to perfect as perfect could be. I am not perfect, but when she comes, I try. (Do all daughter-in-laws feel this way?)

Emma is – in a word – lovely. Born in southern Illinois, transplanted to eastern Kentucky as a newlywed in the early 1970s (about the same time as that classic porn appeared in our guest room), she embodies my vision of the classic southern housewife. She sits front and center for Sunday Mass, delivers elderly women from the local nursing home to a salon for their weekly wash-and-dry, and hosts last-minute dinner parties by whipping up a beef Wellington with garlic scented mashed potatoes and an array of colorful vegetables. She rotates the photos in her house depending on who is visiting, to make her guests feel special. Emma always has a batch of chocolate-chip-pecan cookies ready when you walk in the door. Each morning, she wakes up looking just as she did before going to sleep: haired combed, lipstick applied, face glowing.

This time, when she visits, the usual spinach quiche à la Julia Child won’t be waiting on the stovetop. The scent of just-baked banana bread will not be wafting through the apartment. I definitely won’t have time to clean the city-dust from our windows or beg our neighbors to pick up their lawn trash. Or plan wonderful, enlightening cultural and shopping trips into Boston.

But the guest-room sheets are clean. There are flowers on the freshly dusted antique cedar bureau she gave my husband when he was 22. The milk stains will be wiped clean from our hardwood floors. Crumbs will be vacuumed.

I’m not reveling in my new role as a stay-at-home mother. I’m resenting what my mother-in-law considers as my new job’s requirements. I don’t want to sweep, wipe and bake. With a bachelor’s degree and years of practice, I had mastered my old responsibilities of presenting to executives, writing reports and answering questions about the financial industry.

Motherhood is proving to be more complex than I anticipated. I’m still trying to figure out how to balance my old identity of engaged corporate citizen with a gym membership, dry-cleaned clothes and a small handbag with my new one of barf-stained sweatshirts, a loaded diaper bag and a babbling baby. Nevermind living up to my mother-in-law’s precedent.

So now, I’m sitting. Because on Monday, when my in-laws’ plane touches the ground at Logan Airport, I won’t be able to sit. A perfect daughter-in-law doesn't sit.

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