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Irish mother’s imminent arrival encourages a cleaning frenzy

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A husband gets down and dirty with some cleaning

Thirty-eight miles separate my house from that of my mother’s.

It takes about 50 minutes for Eileen’s 77-year-old husband to drive her here, 63 if you count the pit stop at the pet store to get bully sticks for their grand dogs to chew on. When my mother calls to announce that she is running errands in the area and would like to drop by for tea, we know we have an hour, give or take, to get the house in tip-top shape.

Being married to an Irishman has its benefits. We’re usually the life of the party. We are proud, protective husbands and parents that go to extraordinary lengths to protect and love our family.

But every rose has its thorn, and an Irishman born of an Irish mother brings with it that mother’s judgment of how you’re keeping your house and looking after her son. My wife knows this drill and has gotten the pre-Eileen cleaning scene down to a science after 20 years of marriage.

In fact, we have a name for the whirling dervish of mops and feather dusting -- eil-ifying.

That means that floors must be swept, dishes are to be loaded into or out of the dishwasher, couches vacuumed, and piles of mail and magazines removed from the counter.

My wife even has a sense of humor about it at this stage. “Thank God for your mother in a weird way,” she says as she scrubs the sink. “If it wasn’t for her coming over once a week who knows if anyone around here would lift a finger to clean this place!”

There are times when my wife isn’t in the mood to run around the house with a mop, so she cagily suggests we meet my parents half way at a Perkins for a meal instead. I thought that was one crafty way of avoiding an Irish mother’s judgment on the state of one’s housekeeping skills, but after we had drinks with a few couples we’ve become close with, the stories I heard of how some women are handling their Irish mothers-in-law made me laugh out loud.

“I hire a cleaning lady once a week and I time it as close to the weekend visit as possible,” one said. “I have an episode of Hoarders: Buried Alive on the DVR and I pretend to be watching it as she comes over. Her eyes move to the television at the very moment I say something like, ‘Jeez, can you imagine anyone living like this?’ It’s a cheap shot, but it works.”

“I couldn’t be bothered,” said another. “I sometimes spray Pledge around the house so it smells lemon-y and there is a hint that maybe I put some effort in. If she doesn’t love me for who I am that’s her problem.

“Besides, she’ll find something else to complain about, like how freezing it is in my house with all this air conditioning. It’s like she forgot what menopause is like or something.”

With that, she washed her resentment down with the rest of her margarita.

“Mine parks her ol’ broom on top of my house once or twice a year,” one Polish woman explained.

“Right before she comes over I go to the dollar store and pick up a selection of cheap get well cards and I have the kids sign them for display on the mantle over the fireplace.

“When she comes in and sees them and then eyes the mess around her, she hugs me sympathetically and offers to clean my house without any judgment. She’ll even throw a few Irish soda breads in the oven on her way out to make sure we have enough to eat!”

Irish women of a certain age are sharp ladies and it’s hard to pull any wool over their eyes, but this younger crowd seems well able for them.

It takes about an hour to whip a house into shape and when that won’t work, whipping up a line of malarkey will do just fine!

Mike Farragher will be reading passages from his book This Is Your Brain on Shamrocks at the OurLand festival on July 29, an Irish gathering that is part of Lincoln Center’s free Out of Doors Festival. For more information, log onto http://www.lcoutofdoors.org.

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