The 10 stages of having a house guest
A few weeks ago I was lolling around in an ocean pool with my sister-in-law and teenage daughter when the former lamented that it had been a few years since we'd all stayed in the same house for Christmas.
"Oh well," I said. "Next Christmas my new house will be built so the whole family can come to me."
Then I checked myself.
"Well, for a week. You can all come but only for a week."
My daughter was mortified.
"Mum, you can't say that," she exclaimed when my sister-in-law, visiting from New Zealand, went to get changed. "It's so rude."
I could see her point because it's a point made by someone who has never had to cook, launder, entertain and constantly restock toilet paper for a house bulging with people who you last lived with when your common traits were a shared surname and a face full of acne.
Honesty, and communicating clearly about what you can manage, is one of the benefits of being an adult, I explained. But she didn't agree which left me riddled with self-doubt because that's what almost-adults do - they slay you with their righteous logic even thought it is not yet underpinned by experience.
So, to reassure myself that a week is a sufficient stay no matter how much you might love your family and friends I've chronicled the 10 stages of having house guests.
They arrive - let's call them Stu and Louise - with a bottle of fancy gin, wrapped gifts and freshly bathed children including one not yet toilet-trained, and proceed to make the most delicious gin and tonics steeped with rosemary and pink grapefruit. As you relax around the outdoor setting and your kids and their kids play happily in the pool/treehouse/traffic you reminisce about your 20s and lament that you don't live closer.
The next morning your head hurts but Stu does a massive fry up on the barbecue although he neglects to clean the grill plate afterwards. Louise uses three Nespresso pods in her coffee and points out that you don't have the Arpeggio flavour which "everyone knows is the best". She uses your favourite cup.
It's day two and your kitchen island has become the dumping ground for everyone's keys, sunglasses and phones but you can't say anything in case Louise has a few too many champagnes on New Year's Eve and discloses your OCD tendencies, entertaining your friends with tales of the Tupperware collection you amassed while at university. Your four-year-old is beguiled by the Swiss Army knife on Stu's key ring, a bizarre accessory since he's the personification of urbanity having never been camping, let alone done DIY in the 20 years you've known him. When you discover your toddler has prised open a blade and is pretending it's a light sabre, you quietly pop it in a drawer to regift to your 16-year-old godson.
There are no glasses in the kitchen cupboard so while your friends are out visiting other friends you sneak into their room and find six, yes six, half-full glasses on the bedside tables. Worse, they've lit the new Palm Beach watermelon candle which any host will attest is purely DECORATIVE.
You have laundered 48 towels in as many hours and still no one thinks to hang up the wet ones after a swim. Your own bloke has happily adopted the new house rules and when you snap at him because you've just found a half-eaten Paddlepop behind the curtains and dislodged a sanitary pad from the guest loo he responds with: "Why can't you be more like Louise?"
Ah Louise! You and your oldest friend have been talking about the breakout novel of the year, Three Women by Lisa Taddeo, when she announces that she is most like Sloan, the slim, blonde, wife who likes threesomes. Having offered to babysit your friends' kids while they enjoy a "date night" (vomit) you spend the evening folding everyone's laundry, noting that Louise's Heidi Klums put your greying full briefs to shame.
Their kids have lived on sausage sandwiches, having turned their nose up at the Christmas ham - $300-a-kilo thanks to the Chinese and their bloody swine flu - and so you've whipped up some pesto pasta. Except they don't like pesto pasta. You momentarily wonder which of the blades on Stu's Swiss Army knife is most effective.
You do yoga in your room to relieve stress. From the downward dog position you spot a soiled nappy under your bed. Your own children stopped wearing nappies two years ago.
It's New Year's Eve and someone suggests playing Celebrity Heads, the game where the name of a famous person is stuck on your forehead and you have to guess who it is. You are tagged with Rebel Wilson, Dawn French and Melissa McCarthy. Sure, you've been binge-eating mince pies but seriously …
Finally they leave amid hugs and promises that you must do it all again next year. Days later you realise the expensive beach towel you received for Christmas has gone missing. Bizarrely, the Swiss Army knife has disappeared as well.