I’m probably not the only one who has ever rolled her eyes and groaned at the thought of having out-of-town company, but it’s not always a bad thing. For instance, I'm convinced the only time my house is really clean is just before overnight guests arrive. But why do they always want to talk to you? Isn't it enough that you've supplied clean towels and fresh fruit? Apparently not. They invariably turn on the TV at top volume and settle in for a long chat. Why don't they ever want to just sit quietly and read for a while?
Of course, there are the horror stories. My mother-in-law was a lovely person, but nothing could summon a sense of dread quite like hearing her say, "Don't worry about me while you're at work, I'll find something to do." Like the time she did laundry and down-sized three pair of pants and a favorite sweater. Or when she threw away my potato peeler and bought a new one that "worked." Ahem. I'm left-handed, that peeler worked great. And the time she informed me -- after I shopped for all her favorite meat-and-potato meals and had a roast in the oven -- that she and my father-in-law had switched to a low-fat, low-cholesterol, no carb diet.
There are those too infrequent visits from my mom, which summon not dread but gratitude -- with just a smidgen of guilt. Like the time I came home from work and she said, "I noticed you had a few apples on the bottom shelf of the fridge so I made a batch of apple-cinnamon muffins." Delicious. Thanks, mom. Or, "Well, I was a little bored, here alone all day, so I washed all the inside window panes." Above and beyond, mom. Thank you. Or, "Your daughter and I had the best time after school today with her homework project, constructing a scale model of the Coliseum out of toothpicks." There truly aren't enough words. Thank you for saving me from that agony.
There's the sister who visited recently and we had a great time and she managed to leave while we both still wanted her to stay. Incredible timing. It doesn't always work that way with sisters.
There are the old college friends in town for one night, with whom you talk awkwardly about old times, painfully conscious of how much you've all changed and how seldom you ever think about old times.
There's the company who makes you want to count the dishes after they leave -- not because you think they stole anything, but because you need to know how many dirty plates and cups they left sitting in various odd locations throughout the house.
And then there is the company that comes out of nowhere, with no warning. Last week I got a call from my daughter the day I was to pick her up from college for Thanksgiving break.
"Mom, can you give Susie [not her name] a ride home, too?"
"Sure." It was 38 degrees and raining. I was sure her mom would appreciate not having to go out in that.
"And can she maybe spend the night?"
"Yeah, that's fine." After all, Susie's mom lives 15 minutes away from my house and the less time spent driving that cold rainy night, the better.
"And, um, maybe would it be ok if she spent the weekend, too?"
"It's a long story. I'll tell you later, ok? But can she? Spend the weekend? If she needs to?"
"Well, of course, but--" What?
Incredibly, Susie's mom had told her it would be best if she found another place to stay Thanksgiving weekend. Let me clarify something here. Susie and my daughter have been friends for more than six years. Susie is smart, cheerful, funny and loving. She has a smile that could light up three square city blocks. I've helped her get ready for prom, told her when she went overboard with makeup and even curled her hair, for godsakes. This is not a bad kid. I can not imagine her doing anything that would make her mother ban her from home.
So I was stunned.
Wednesday night I found myself sitting on the couch watching football with Susie while my daughter escaped to her room for a private phone conversation with her sort-of boyfriend. And Susie turned to me and said, "I just don't know what to do about my mom." And I heard her side of the story.
I’ll be the first to tell you, my kids are far from perfect. They have on occasion caused me to feel extremes of anger, sadness, hurt and disappointment. But I know, way down deep in that unconditional place where mothers know these things, that there is nothing they could do or say that would ever make me tell them they could not come home. So it doesn't even matter to me what Susie might have done, there is just no excuse for this banishment. Do I sound judgmental and full of condemnation? Imagine that.
Seeing the hurt and confusion on that sweet face, hearing the vulnerability in her voice just broke my heart. And hearing her thank me repeatedly while in the same breath she apologizes for the "inconvenience" of me having to take her in this weekend makes me see red.
Unfortunately, I know her mom well enough to make conversation, but not well enough to call and ask what the hell she thinks she's doing. Plus I've learned that the best intentions are usually the worst reason for doing anything.
When there is nothing you can do, you need to do something else. So today the kids will rake some leaves. If that isn't penance enough for imagined sins, on Sunday they will help me bake Christmas cookies. I'll probably force them to eat a few, maybe even insist they take some back to school. That should erase any lingering guilt about accepting impromptu hospitality.
Company. The good, the bad and the can't wait till they leave. I thought I’d seen it all. Until this weekend brought a new kind, one not previously encountered. The kind you want to hold close and comfort and yet, at the same time, the kind you hope you never need to entertain, ever again.