When I'm at home and someone knocks on our door, my immediate inclination is not to answer it. Before I can even think about turning the doorknob, I have to assess the state of our living room and decide whether it's company-worthy.
Usually I end up frantically kicking dog toys under the coffee table, tossing jackets on the coat rack, straightening couch cushions, sliding my daughter's play mat into a corner and, if there's still time, folding the afghan and slinging it over the back of a chair.
It doesn't matter if it's the gas company meter reader or a Girl Scout coming to sell cookies, I need to present the idea that my house is somewhat put together. I'm pretty sure the inclination is part of a woman's DNA. In fact, I think it comes with the second X chromosome.
But forget it if I haven't showered yet. There will be no meter reading or cookie purchasing. It could be a fire chief trying to tell me I need to evacuate, and I would be holed up in the furthest upstairs bedroom thinking, "Yeah, RIGHT! Let me put on a pair of jeans first. And some mascara. And brush my hair."
I've been forced to get over my insecurities in recent weeks. One of our neighbors is helping us install new windows. And because he is the one with the expertise and equipment, my husband has made it very clear that we are available day or night.
The first time Dave knocked, I panicked. The downstairs was a complete disaster. We had gotten home late the night before and gone directly to bed, and signs of it were everywhere. The kitchen was clogged with a stroller, car seat and dishes I hadn't put away. The hallway had a basket of dirty laundry waiting to go to the basement. And I hadn't even kicked the dog toys under the coffee table yet.
I reluctantly answered the door, baby in one arm, the other waving frantically trying to explain away the mess, as if the more I flailed it, everything would magically disappear.
Being the easygoing guy he is, Dave just laughed, telling me not to worry about it, and hauled in his tools.
Even worse, installing the windows required moving furniture. Which, much to my absolute horror, revealed pine needles leftover from our Christmas tree.
"Oh man!" I said, mopping at it with my socks because my hands were full. "How embarrassing!"
Then Dave said something that was so freeing, it felt like a weight lifted off my shoulders.
"Why would you be embarrassed?" he asked. "It's a house, not a museum."
And, just like that, I relaxed. He was right. Our house is lived in. It's comfortable, welcoming -- a place you can put your feet up.
Now when someone knocks, I still give our living room a once-over, but it's not as frantic and dire as it used to be. So what if the meter reader sees my couch cushions a little askew? So what if a Girl Scout notices a dog toy in the corner? Who cares that the afghan was being used?
When I went over to Dave's house a few days later, where he and my husband were installing more windows, his wife answered the door.
After Laura invited me in, she immediately asked me to excuse the mess, pointing to a solitary basket of laundry on a nearby table.
"Oh, please," I said, laughing. "At least yours is clean and folded!"
It really is part of our DNA.