Worn-out Welcome Mat

My relatives don’t really know me. After a four-day visit with us, my niece and nephew were touch by how gracious and helpful I was when I got out of bed at 3:45 a.m. to bid them goodbye as they left to go back home to South Dakota. I didn’t have the heart to tell them I just wanted to be sure they actually left.

Now that it is well past last season’s invasion, and before this year’s siege begins, I’m sorting out some of my thoughts.

Last year, we had varying numbers of guests over a period of 3 ½ weeks. Counting one person per night as one overnight house guest, in 24 days we had 102 overnight guests at our house. I am not exaggerating.

Based on volume of experience, I think I’m qualified to make these observations:

A four-bedroom house filled to capacity requires more than 17 bath towels. We need that many because when young people shower they need three towels per shower, which may or may not have something to do with the fact that their showers last a minimum of 20 minutes and a maximum of however long it takes to run out of hot water.

Young people, and here I’m speaking of 15-24-year-old nieces, nephews, sons and daughters, aren’t as concerned for the environment as I’d been led to believe. I base this observation on the amount of excess-packaged convenience foods and takeout meals they consume, and the casual way they dispose of that packaging. Of course, that’s when they actually dispose of it as opposed to leaving it stuck to coffee table for me to dispose of the next morning.

Life for these people begins when we stop trying to show them the sights around the Metroplex—where a president and a TV show were shot, for instance—and go to bed, leaving them to the TV and refrigerator. They prefer to sleep during the day, which is just as well, because it keeps them out of the way while I launder their towels and unstuck from the coffee table the evidence of their nocturnal feeding frenzies.

Benjamin Franklin was right: After three days, both fish and visiting relatives take on a certain bouquet. I have observed, over several years, that my guests tend to leave approximately 18 to 24 hours past the moment I reach the “I cannot stand this another minute” panic mode.

I need to learn how to handle this better.

Perhaps because a messy kitchen endangers my mental health, I could make a rule that no one could be in the kitchen except for certain hours. On further thought, that wouldn’t work because our daughters-in-law need to feed their babies and also prepare special “healthy” food for themselves. The food I prepare is, by implication, not healthy.

Perhaps I should arrange for a daily laundry service to pick up wet towels and drop off fresh ones. That might get a bit expensive, and our environmentally correct daughter would be offended by the chemical smell of commercially laundered linens.

Perhaps we could suggest that, during long visits by family members, the guest(s) could take turns buying, preparing, serving and cleaning up after dinner. They might not welcome this idea, especially since we apparently have enough money to send out the towels. Why can’t we just hire someone to cook and clean up, too? And we’d need more than one cook, since our extended family consists of vegetarians, the militantly carnivorous, the seafood-allergic, the lactose intolerant, and wheat product-sensitive, and one who won’t eat anything orange.

Perhaps we could get a keyed lock on the computer room so nephews wouldn’t accidentally call 911 while trying to get online, thereby sparing us the heart palpitations and cold sweats induced by waking up at 1:30 in the morning to a uniformed Plano police officer pounding on our upstairs bedroom door.

Perhaps I should become more assertive and insist that when our grown kids are guest in our home, they should keep the same hours as we do, eat what we eat and when we eat, and let us listen to our own music now and then without making jokes about our occasional trips to Branson, Mo.

Perhaps, with visiting season just around the corner, we should books ourselves on a cruise. We’d send them postcards, I promise.

Published in THE DALLAS MORNING NEWS November 27, 1996

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