When my mother comes for a visit, I do not care if she thinks I should cook more or clean better. I grew up with her. I know the shoulds hiding in her closet. Even if I didn’t, she has to love me regardless.
But when the mother-in-law arrives, love is not unconditional. I care. I try. I clean. Ugh.
MIL means well. She really does. She arrives and she pretends to be delighted by the lemon feta chicken dish for dinner. Only I am running late from Kaya’s swim lessons and Bal has made it instead. Waiting for us, he cooks it too long. The chicken is dry, the broccoli vastly overcooked. This is my fault. Of course.
While gone for one swim lesson, my clean kitchen has become an immaculate one. My convention oven looks as though she tossed the original and bought a brand spanking new one. But no, she just scrubbed. Hard. My toaster is emptied of even one crumb. Apparently just wiping underneath the toaster is not clean enough. The stain on the counter is no longer a stain.
Oh crap, totally busted, she found the dish cloth cupboard. Noooo! You see, I do not fold my dish cloths, I scoop them from the dryer, throw them in a pile at the top of the stairs until I have enough hands to scoop them up on my way downstairs and then I ever so casually, toss them into the cupboard. My secret is out. Today though, my dish cloths are folded to perfection in well thought out piles and perhaps even colour coded. I totally meant to get to those before she came…
There is also a full pot of rice in the rice cooker. Cooked. Before getting that done though, she cleaned it. Also looks brand new. It is well over 20 years old.
Kaya’s boots are lined up. Bal’s laundry is being done. Shall I go on?
If I weren’t so damn worried what she must think of me, I would be screaming Hallelujah! and doing the happy dance. Somebody is cleaning my house? immaculately? And I do not have to pay her? To hell with my inadequacies. I am getting a clean house!
The next day when it is discovered that we do not have one ingredient that would nourish her son and the grandchildren, we go shopping. I lose her and she pays even though she’s a widowed pensioner. I feel like I can do no right.
At home she whips up some delectable dishes. All before noon.
For lunch I heat up the chicken leftovers which totally insults her. “Why don’t you eat the chow mein? And shrimp? You don’t like it?” Accusing.
“No, ummm, I do. I thought it was for dinner.”
And if a seventy year old Filipina woman can look at me ‘Like Duh, are you stupid?’, she does it. This food is fresh. It is ready. Eat now.
Since the chicken is dry anyhow, I toss it and dig in to the fresh stuff. Delicious. I wonder what is for dinner.
Only to find out, that is what is for dinner. Only not hot. Not fresh. Duh.
There are other things she does not agree with. Don’t have family movie/popcorn night without first cleaning the dishes in the sink. Don’t nurse my child still- feed her food, like rice. Rice is good. Don’t freeze baby food.
It can all be a bit, well, stressful but at the end of the day, her son is smiling for all the good food, the grandkids get a chance to know and laugh with Lola and I get my clean house. It’s all good. What I realize as the days go on is, even though I may be feeling like I can do no right, she is feeling useful and helpful and needed. She has probably not even considered how useless of a homemaker I am. Until she saw the dish cloth cupboard that is. Yah, I’ll make sure I’m on that one next time she comes.