The stress of trying to be picture perfect for in-laws visit

Sep 27 2012 - 11:33am


I like to think that I'm secure with myself, that despite having gained a few extra pounds this year and routinely losing the messy house war, I am comfortable in my skin.

In my mind, I'm willing to open my door to anyone who wants to call me friend and happily show them the glorious imperfections that make up my life.

Well, almost anyone. There is one person I find myself desperate to fool.

My mother-in-law.

And she's coming.


The very thought of her opening one of my nine junk drawers sends me into cold sweats and hallucinations. For the past three weeks I have desperately wandered the floors of my house painfully aware of the newly-designed crayon murals gracing several unfortunately white canvasses. (Georgia turned two last week and someone told her.)

Every time I enter the basement I sniff at the old house smell, feel the cold tile, and groan at the 17 piles of laundry I can't seem to work through because I'm too busy reorganizing every single cupboard in my house in the off chance she actually opens one of them.

I've got three car loads of cast-off paraphernalia to take to the thrift store, light bulbs out in at least five rooms, and six levels of cobwebs to deconstruct. Between repainting the play set, working through three years of "to be filed" paperwork and tackling the 712 windows in my house I'm wound tighter than hair tie on a 2-year-old.

Today, I finally snapped.

I've been putting off one particularly nasty closet for the past year because finding organizational solutions to its myriad of problems is apparently impossible (for me). This afternoon (after repainting the play set) I gritted my teeth and opened her up.

What. A. Mess.

She's one of those massive front-entry beasts that has become our Room of Requirement -- the catch-all for things that don't have a home. I started in with the shoes, throwing them out of the closet with a vengeance. Just as I finished unloading it Jason came to check on me.

"Wow," he said, glancing at the impressive display of strewn footwear, "That's going to take some work."

I looked at him over my shoulders and tried to ignite my death ray. He apparently missed it.

"I guess it's a good thing my mom is coming so you can get some of this stuff done."

And then he lifted his foot and the land mine exploded.

"You know what?" I said, loud enough to ensure the entire village could hear me, "I quit! I am officially done! In fact, I have just decided to leave all these shoes right here so your mother can see exactly what our life is really like!" Then my poor husband ducked behind the door as shoes began to fly all over the house, traveling into the kitchen and the front living room at speeds no human foot could achieve.

And then, like all slightly insane young mothers who are desperate to impress their in-laws, I sat down in the middle of the floor and cried. And cried and cried and cried.

Sometimes this silly battle seems far more important than it actually is. It's been so easy for me to fret about someone's opinion when in actuality there's only one person that really matters and it's not one of my earthly relatives.

Somewhere in my head a little voice (I don't listen to all of them, don't worry) keeps reminding me that she, too, had little children once, and that despite my imperfections, what other people think really doesn't matter because Jesus loves me anyway.

But to be honest, if He were visiting I still think I'd want my cupboards all organized.

(EDITOR'S NOTE: This column was submitted more than six weeks ago.)

Annie Valentine is a wife, mother and columnist. Readers can contact her at or visit her blog at

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