When Mr. Apron and I arrived home from rehearsal tonight, it was like a treasure hunt.  My father is spending the night before heading home tomorrow.  We’re hoping he can help us (i.e., do it all himself) hang up the cabinet that’s been earmarked for holding DVDs for a year now.  My dad made me this cabinet for my 8th birthday, when I asked for a simple shelf to hold my books.  He drafted and created a beautiful cabinet precisely the right depth for the paperback books I was voraciously devouring.  He asked a friend to sketch the arches that frame the top and bottom of the cabinet, and he cut and routered them himself.  And then presented it to me for my birthday.  Years later, of course, we would like to hang it in our first home, and wouldn’t you know! The depth of a paperback Babysitters’ Club book is the same as a DVD of “The Royal Tenenbaums”. 

So Daddie is visiting briefly, spending the night, and we left him at home this evening while we went to rehearsal.  Upon returning, the game began.  What myriad things has he upended?  What is amiss, awry, askew?  You see, my father is the quintessential absent-minded professor.  Clinically, we can call it ADD.  I handed him the Tupperware of leftovers, stating, “Can you throw this in the fridge?”  Well, we stand there talking, and he, paying no mind to the container in his hand, sets the pasta on the counter.  So any hope of specific instructions being heeded is a crapshoot.  You have to get his undivided attention for any and all tasks.  I understand my mother’s frustration at feeling she has to constantly clean up after him and the things he just doesn’t notice. 

We entered our house at 10:06pm.  No sign of Daddie.  Must be asleep after a late night last night and a long drive today.  Found the heat cranked up to near 70 degrees.  Found a drinking glass had migrated upstairs to the bathroom.  Found the ceiling fan spinning manically in the kitchen.  Found the basement door ajar.  Found a sock of his in the dryer.  I can address each of these mysteries, and follow his path through our home.

Behold, my forensic musings:

He actually not only flipped his laundry to the dryer, but also retrieved it 40 minutes later.  This is progress from Mr. Apron’s and my usual neglect of clean clothing for 17 hours.  The lone sock simply escaped his cursory glance into the dark recesses of the dryer.  The basement door he did try to close, but clicked the lock before it was latched.  Upon leaving the kitchen he reached up to turn off the light by its cord instead of at the wall switch, and turned on the fan.  Then he grabbed a drinking glass and marched upstairs to bed.  But not before finding the thermostat and cranking it up to compensate for his complete lack of body fat.  My father is 5’6” and weighs maybe 130lbs.  Maybe.  And so we have Daddie’s trail accounted for.

But the one thing I did ask him to do – remove his shoes to keep the salt and muck off the floors – he did do.  Even Daddie, in his absent-minded stumbling through our house, can do what I need him to, if I only bother to ask. 

Too often at my parents’ house, the assumptions rule the roost.  While some people might see us loading the dishwasher and assume that dishes after a meal automatically go there, others might not.  Some might see a pile of shoes by the door and courteously remove their own.  Others just tromp on through, oblivious.  My mother often finds herself trailing after us, correcting, fixing, muttering, but rarely states an expectation outright.  With occasional guests, maybe this is okay, but they’ve had several foreign exchange students who are remembered not for their cultural contributions to the family, but for their lack of courtesy, not because they were inherently rude people, but because expectations were not laid down explicitly from the beginning.  No one said to Jonathan, “When you need soap for your shower, just ask me.”  (Don’t steal my daughter’s expensive facial soap.) No one said to Daniel, “You’re out quite a few nights each week.  We’d like to have you home more.”  (Instead of just stewing as he stayed out night after night).  No one said to Manuel, “If you’d like to have a party, go ahead (or don’t!), but please note we don’t allow food in the living room.”

I remember as a small child, showing the house to prospective house sitters or nannies.  As a little hostess, I made sure to tell them always to put their pillows and shoes in the closet each morning, lest Amy the fox terrier/whippet mix chew the aforementioned to shreds.  You have to tell people from the outset, lest you set them up for failure.  And ruined leather.  Mom’s one attempt has been an unending series of reminder notes taped to walls, doors, shelves signed “The Management” that always left my friends wondering if I lived in a boarding house

My sister and husband and I stayed up till 3am last night, chatting away as if we were all still silly undergrads.  We cried, we laughed.  We talked about everything, from our parents’ marriage to our relationships with our mom and the piles of crap/gifts she’s always bearing; to what demographic would watch the reality show starring our family, and whether it would be a prime-time sit-com, or a late-night reality show.  Or an A&E special.  Shudder.  She complained my mother hadn’t removed her shoes when she came into my sister’s apartment, despite the pile of boots by the door.  We all agreed how important it is to tell guests in your home (or children, or spouses) what you need them to do.

Mr. Apron’s theatre professor told him that he needed to learn to “ask for what you want, in a non-judgmental way” and let people deal with their own emotional fallout.  I think she was talking about bigger things, like, “I need to have alone time with my vibrator every Sunday night” or “I would like you to be home more evenings during the week,” but it applies to simple things as well, like, “Can you please fold the towels like this?  When you fold them like that, I end up refolding them anyway.” 

When Daddie and my brother (also with the absent-minded tendency, except with a bent towards not having a clue about other people’s feelings) moved me into my first apartment, they stuck around for a few days to “help”.  “Helping” included locking me in the house while they took all the keys to the locksmith.  “Helping” included constantly leaving all the cupboard doors open for me to whack my head on and using paper towels at an alarming rate.  And expecting to be congratulated for their “help”.  So I ran around slamming cupboard doors angrily and hiding the other rolls of paper towels, frantically searching for cloth hand towels.  Stupid, stupid little things.  But my first space all to myself, and I was pissed off. 

The end result: I came off as a hysterical female obsessed with bullshit, and they never had a clue what they did wrong.  Maybe it would have taken a couple of repetitions in a calm, impassive voice, but they might have figured it out.  If only I had asked for what I needed. 

Here’s what I’d say if Daddie weren’t packing up tomorrow and heading back to become my mother’s responsibility again: 

  • Please turn the kitchen light off using this switch on the wall. 
  • Please keep the thermostat at 60 degrees.  If you want another blanket, they’re on this shelf in the basement. 
  • I keep paper cups in the bathroom closet right here.  Please use them when you’re brushing your teeth. 
  • The basement door is a tight fit.  Try to lock it so Finley doesn’t go down there and host sexy parties. 
  • Here’s your sock.  You left it in the dryer.