Yesterday we had the in-laws for lunch, as they are going to Melbourne for Christmas to see the new grandchild and we will be heading south.
My husband is always pleased when we have people over. It means I will clean the house, as he knows I am proud and hate to have people see the house as it normally is – cat hair from their sibling-style spats all over the carpet, dust which is always only obvious after the visitors have arrived and the sun hits the furniture just-so, piles of things I intend sorting when I get round to it. When we lived in Thailand we had a maid who kept the place spotless. Later, back here, we had cleaners who came once a week. There was nothing quite like coming home on a Thursday evening, greeted by a clean and tidy sweet-smelling spick-and-span house, and knowing the weekend was mine.
But then one of the cleaners left, I left fulltime employment and had a few rough years getting (or even getting to look for) work, and we decided we couldn’t justify it. Now I’m busy, earning good money, and yet we still don’t have cleaners. That is first on my New Year’s resolution list. Employ a cleaner.
Anyway, I digress.
My husband is the only offspring still in the country. His brothers are scattered around the world – California, Malaysia and Melbourne. Their leaving occurred over 20 years. We also left in that time, but were the only ones who returned. Suddenly it seemed we were the only ones here, with my rapidly aging in-laws. Now we are ready to spread our wings again. But we feel we can't move and leave them here alone, despite knowing our own old age will be just that. Alone.
Or perhaps it is because of that, that we stay.
So we do our duty. Visit them regularly. Listen to the stories of what the relatives are up to. Treat them on special days. Drive them around my father-in-law’s old haunts so he can reminisce about his childhood 70 years ago. Help them with the computer and solve their emailing problems. (Father-in-law rang early one Sunday morning and announced dramatically “Mum’s in trouble.” To my panicked “what’s wrong?” he answered, “well she was sending an email …” argh!!!)
We worry about them when they get ill, which is becoming more frequent. Try and find ways to make their lives easier. Drive them to the airport or to and from the hospital. And invite them over for a Christmas celebration before they leave. They are not very social people, and enjoy seeing us – we are a link with the modern world.
After they had gone, we returned to our lounge. The house felt clean, tidy and fresh. The Christmas tree looked fabulous, if I do say so myself. The sun streamed into the living room, and we felt relaxed. The cats reclaimed their chairs and curled up for a sleep. As did I on the couch. All was peaceful. We had leftover ham and salad sandwiches and strawberries for dinner.
We had done our duty. And it felt really good.