My Latest Column

The following is a more polished verion of my “Left in Charge” posts.  It appeared in today’s Martinsburg Journal

My wife recently took a leap of faith. Others might consider it a trip to the beach with friends. In any case, it was a risky move leaving me with sole responsibility for the kids and the house for nearly five days.

That’s like leaving the Absent Minded Professor in charge.

She must have been worried that I’d misplace one or both of the kids. In fact, the first morning, she called at the crack of dawn to be sure I’d gotten them up and ready for school.

“Don’t trust me?” I said.

She said “no” a little too quickly.

I admit to having an irresponsible streak. But while she was away, the kids made it to school more or less when they were supposed to, my son got to his soccer games, and my daughter made it to her piano and figure skating lessons. Not once did I forget where they were or what they were supposed to be doing.

While I was patting myself on the back for keeping my kids and their schedules straight, the day my wife was due back home snuck up on me. This used to cause some panic on my part when I found myself in similar situations in the past. But I’ve learned from my mistakes.

I now know that when my wife says she doesn’t expect the house to be in order upon her return, what she really means is that the house had better be spotless. If it’s not, she’ll turn into a martyr who has to do five days of housework in one night.

To prevent that, I’ve put together a checklist that I follow and offer here for the benefit of those who’ve tried to put things right in the last-minute rush to avert a homecoming disaster:

1. Collect the dirty clothes you and your kids have left strewn all over the house and fire up the washing machine. The last thing she wants to face is a week’s worth of your dirty laundry when she’s got a suitcase full of her own.

2. Do the same thing with the dirty dishes piled up in the kitchen. That’s assuming there are dirty dishes. If not, get rid of the remains of all the take-out meals.

3. Make sure the kitchen is tidy but not too clean. If it is, she’ll be suspicious that you didn’t provide any nutritious meals for the kids and got take out instead.

4. Throw away some of the fruits and vegetables that were untouched while she was away. That way she’ll think you actually served them.

5. Vacuum the carpets. If you really want to score points, steam clean them. I realize this may not be possible as it might take too much planning.

6. Have the kids clean their rooms. Or at least shove all the junk on the floor under the bed and into the closet so at least it looks like you enforced the clean bedroom rule.

7. Most importantly, brief the kids. Make sure they don’t give any of your secrets away. You are all in this together.

Here’s one more thing: The day of your wife’s return, call her regularly to find out exactly where she is. That way, you’ll have a good idea of when she’ll actually arrive home.

This little bit of intelligence is key because you’ll want to look busy when she arrives. You can decide how to accomplish this, but I usually put off mopping. That way, when my wife comes through the front door, I can get all fussy and shoo her from the kitchen so she won’t ruin my floor.

Nothing says “Welcome Home” better than a neat and tidy house. Just don’t overdo it. The last thing you want is for her to think you’ve actually gotten competent while she was away.

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