I am, with a speed and frenzy that has led to panting, careening my way through Williams-Sonoma, Bed, Bath & Beyond, Fresh Direct and various other online and brick-and-mortar shops. The countdown has begun, just hours now, to my mother’s arrival at New York City’s JFK airport. I am on a mission to prove that I am, in fact, a full-fledged competent, successful adult with my life totally together, despite various career issues, no long-term partner, no kids, no property, etc. And for this, I need props. Lots and lots of props.
Two jars of pickles, some expired condiments and two god-knows-how-old Coronas do not an adult fridge make. I am stocking up on fine cheeses, cured olives and berries along with a smorgasbord of organic juices and fancy chocolates and the “good” kind of crackers and kale and quinoa, too. My mother, who lives for coffee and lives in the Bay Area and therefore only lives for coffee of a particular pedigree, has just phoned to make sure that I have the right filter to make a proper pour-over cuppa. I do not. Back to Williams-Sonoma. I must also remember to remove scary grad school loan statements tacked to the fridge with magnets.
A service has already come to clean my apartment, so I think I’m good on the bathroom, but, on second thought, the shower curtain is looking rather ratty, so I’ll be needing a new one of those. I should probably stop using a towel as a bathmat so add that to the list. The tub tends to retain a bit of water during showers, so a quick Drano fix—one for me, one for the drain—is in order.
The living room isn’t looking bad at all. Definitely need to get some flowers to fill the sad empty vases. Perhaps hide weird painting made by my dad, from whom my mother has been divorced (happily) for years. If I have time, I may recycle some of the junk books piling up and make sure that only those well received by the New York Review of Books and/or the New York Times Sunday Book Review are on display. The TV is in the living room though, and, while I am quite used to hunching over my low-to-the-floor coffee table to watch movies and eat, my mother might not be game. Add lap trays to list.
Bedroom. Sheets on bed are clean, but there appears to be a stain of some sort on the bottom sheet, right near the pillows. Need to flip it so that stain is at the foot of the bed. Oh! Just re-remembered that my mother is big on books, and propping up one of my flimsy, floppy pillows won’t do the trick for reading in bed at night. Procuring one of those cushiony things with arms is a necessity. Where does one even get one of those? At least I have good chocolates to put on the pillows. Maybe I’ll just put those on the stain.
The closet is just an absolute and total disaster, so we’ll keep that nicely shut for the duration of the visit.
And that takes care of the entire 600-foot (give or take, probably take) apartment.
The total cost of my mother’s visit, before her arrival, is nearing $400.
Post-visit I will joke with my friends about how much exercise I got from doing all that bobbing and weaving to avoid all the intimate questions related to my love life, career life, anything-life. I’ll share the details of my shopping sprint toward legit adulthood and say how relieved I was to see my mother off.
I will also vow to maintain my house just as she found it so that I never again need to endure another panic-fueled, pre-maternal visit spend-a-thon again. A similar vow made after her last visit has already led to some materialistic maturation, bringing me much closer to the ideal me while considerably cutting down on the machinations needed to stage a put-together life.
My bed has gone from futon to 1-800-Mattress-on-the-floor to West Elm. The sheets. . .Well, yeah, I need new sheets. But the kitchen has an enamel teakettle that still has its lid and actual dishtowels actually used to dry dishes. As for the fridge, well, it usually does have kale and at least one piece of real fruit. The TV went from a 2-foot deep behemoth I inherited from my great aunt to an elegant flatscreen with AppleTV. Oh and I even keep spare shower curtain liners on hand. It’s just the shower curtain itself I sometimes forget about.
But there is one aspect of these preparations that I have neglected to mention: Me.
I will be decently turned out in a pretty but not-too-revealing sweater and trim jeans with matching socks. I will be clean and my hair will be brushed. I will be exuberant in my greeting. Despite what I will later tell my friends, I will be forthcoming about the ups and downs of the recent goings-on in my life. I will be a little sad about some things, anxious about others, and excited beyond measure by still more. I will probably laugh and cry, hopefully more of the former than the latter, several times during the visit.
In short, I will be me. That is the thing that has never needed to be fixed up or altered in any way for my mother. That is the thing that will never evoke complaints — spoken or unspoken — from her. That is the thing that never seems to disappoint or displease her. That is what brings her 3,000 miles across the U.S. for this visit, and requires no prep, no props, no price tags, no panic. Just me, and my mom.
Heather Grossmann is the associate publisher at the local news site DNAinfo.com, operating in both New York City and Chicago. She’s a recovering — but not fully recovered —reporter and editor. In her spare time, Heather is an essayist, hot dog enthusiast and amateur pickler. Follow her on Twitter.