There’s nothing more unwelcome than an early guest. This is abundantly more true when you have kids. Being a parent sees you socialising much more in the home – and however much you may try to avoid it, you will inevitably have to host. But as any parent knows, there’s nothing you can do that can’t be undone by a small child (to paraphrase The Beatles) – you can tidy all you like, but they will mess it up again in seconds. You will have no choice but to guest-proof your house in the last five minutes. Here’s how:
Before you start
1) Park the kids. TV, IPad, playpen, whatever it takes, people!
2) Create a smoke screen. If you do this part right, you can skip most of the following steps. The important thing is to create a first impression. An illusion. A front. Basically, you need to distract your guests with booze. Tea and biscuits if you must. Whichever – you need to do a cursory wipe of the table (sweeping all the clutter into your hell drawer to despair over later), slap a plate of biscuits or chips’n’dips on it, get that kettle steaming or that cork popping. Keep them talking in the kitchen and buy yourself time to perform any steps you missed when you “pop to the loo”.
3) Double up on your deodorant. These will be a very sweaty five minutes.
The Five-Minute Plan
Check your face. What is your level of undeadness? I’d rather be caught with a full nappy bag on the sitting room floor than without mascara.
Check for dirty nappies – the above notwithstanding, this is pretty much a bare minimum, especially if your guests are non-parents, or have older children and may have forgotten how it is possible to change a nappy and be so distracted immediately afterwards by kiddy madness that you can forget to put the bag in the bin.
Hide your Calpol caches – no visiting parent is going to want to see evidence of a recent (possibly current?) temperature. A non-parent will just think it’s odd to have baby medicine in every possible location in the house, like geocaches.
Hide the nit shampoo – precautionary or not, the suspicion will be planted in their – now incredibly itchy – head.
Hoover the main thoroughfare. Even if you hoovered only that morning, the kids will have helped themselves to biscuits and done a Hansel and Gretel on the entire living area. Scuff up the hoover marks with your feet so it isn’t so obvious that you only did the main walkways.
Hide all washing up – if necessary mix clean and dirty in the dishwasher. Curse your family for their inconvenient need for breakfast.
Sweep all toys with a brush into an impromptu den made of a towel flung over a laundry airer. “Oh, yes, they’re so sweet, they love to create their little worlds in their den.” Hold hands over children’s surprised mouths.
Force all clothes into laundry baskets. If they are full, drawers will do. If they are full, dress your children in them. “What do you mean, you’re too hot, darling?”
Seal up the Room of Doom. For the rest of your rooms to be tidy, one must pay the price. Whether a whole room or a cupboard is the receptacle for all your desperate junk from the rest of the house, paint its door shut, barricade it or create some kind of “lady in the attic” fear about it. No one must open that door. Ever.
Check loo. Change towel, wipe kids’ toothpaste spit off sink, pick up randomly abandoned child’s pants. Squirt some cleaner down the loo and scrub if required, thinking dark thoughts about people that never clean the loo but are the main cause of the need arising. Issue a lockdown on everyone’s bladders and bowels.
At the appointed time of arrival
Flick TV off (“My kids? TV?”), shove hoover behind door, pop cork and secretly hope they’ll be late. And you know what’s even better than a late guest? An absent guest.* Then you can enjoy the temporary calm of your superficially tidy house without the strain of maintaining the pretence. You get the credit without the clearing up afterwards. And next time, it’ll be their turn to host. *Not every time, obvs!
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