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Sunday, July 3, 2011

German Lessons (July 3, 2011)

The German lessons may be sticking. How much of their language can I speak, you ask? Maybe ten words. No, I’m not referring to German language lessons. I’m talking about life lessons.

The lesson began yesterday morning. I was out front, pulling weeds and clipping branches, trying to manage weeds that had suddenly trippled overnight.

Was I starting with yard work because cleaning the inside of the house is so boring? The house cleaning I thought I’d do on Thursday and Friday had been…postponed (!?) until Saturday morning. (I just can’t get excited about cleaning!) Whatever the case, I had a busy morning ahead. I planned to do a little weeding out front, some weeding out back (if time allowed), tidy up the living room/kitchen, put away the haystack-sized mountain of laundry, and wash some dishes. I had several hours before our afternoon plans. Plenty of time.

I was out front with the hedge-clippers and green-recycle can when a car cruised slowly up our street. I stared at the driver, mentally transmitting this message: don’t even think about breaking into a house on this street. I’ve seen you now. (Usually I’m much friendlier than that but there have been a number of break-ins around here in the last couple of years, so the neighbors are all being extra vigilant.) The same car drove back the other way a minute later, and again I stared hard at it. Our street is only one block long so drivers don’t use this street accidentally. If a potential burglar was casing the street, I wanted him to know that I was hip to his agenda and if he intended to do something sketchy, I would use my hedge-clippers in a way he wouldn’t forget. When he pulled the car into my driveway, I called “Hello?” in a somewhat suspicious voice. Finally I figured out who it was. They were our German relatives, who had arrived at midnight and who probably wouldn’t emerge until that afternoon, as they were so overcome by jet-lag. Wow. They’re…early.

I quickly snapped back to the here-and-now, and ran over to give hugs and say hi. Laughing, I said, “See those weeds over there? No you don’t. I was weeding so that when you arrived later there would be no weeds. So pretend there aren’t any!” Hubby’s cousin said he hadn’t wanted to just drop by and had called but the two phone numbers he’d been given hadn’t worked. He offered to come back later.

“No, no,” I said. “Stay! Visit! Hang out!” I threw the gardening gear in the general direction of the garage and led them into the house. A quick scan of the living/dining/kitchen area confirmed that Santa’s elves had not visited my house while I was weeding, and that the clutter, floor crumbs and dishes were still there. “Welcome, welcome,” I sang. Although I’d rather welcome them into a clean house, I knew instantly that I needed to make our visitors feel comfortable. There was time when I’d have done almost anything to make a terrific first impression and would have worried whether it was clean enough for visitors. Hubby’s cousin hadn’t been to America in more than twenty years, and his son never had visited. But what I’ve finally learned is that making a great first impression is not about how spotless your floor is. It’s about how warm your welcome is. Years from now, will your guests recall how clean your house was or how friendly you were? I think it’s the latter. My guess is that visitors remember whether they felt welcomed, not whether every surfaced gleamed. You could have the cleanest house in the world and still make someone feel uncomfortable if you aren’t friendly, or if you spend too much energy being uncomfortable with the imperfections of your home. So my advice is to ditch the self-induced pressure to have it all ship-shape. If visitors arrive early, take it as a sign that it’s okay to show people your imperfections. Showing your human side is the way you show someone that it’s safe to show theirs. Make a joke about the mess. They’ll be more relaxed, and so will you.

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