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mopping woman

Ned’s parents are visiting for the weekend. They will be staying in our house for the first time. So it’s a pretty big in-laws-in-the-house-nervousness rite of passage for me. We’ve been doing a lot of cleaning.

One might call it a cleaning FRENZY.

Ned’s mother has notably higher standards of cleanliness than me. For instance, before hosting a party, she likes to be sure the windows have been washed. I, on the other hand, am just trying to make sure all my piles are neatly stacked.

So this was a pretty big week for us. It started with the cleansing of the magazine baskets on Sunday. By Tuesday I had laundered all sheets and towels and actually put all my clothes away. Last night, Ned miraculously rearranged our wee closet/garage/office to make it more closely resemble an office (office/closet). He washed windows and scrubbed the kitchen and bathroom. I dusted places I had never dusted before, swept and mopped several times (doubling the number of times I have *ever* mopped some of those wooden floors). We vacuumed at 12:30 a.m. It was literally back-wrenching: my back is seriously sore today from mopping.

An aside: after reading a NYTimes article this week hailing push-ups as the ultimate sign of health, I decided it was time to develop a push-up regimen. Later that day, Ned and I stopped to drop 20 in one of our regular lunchtime runs on the mall, and I discovered I could not reach the push-up standard for a 40-year-old woman. I declared a need for more upper-body workouts. Last night, my arms and back aching from mopping, Ned pointed out to me: “You don’t need to do push-ups or weights, just mop more.” Thanks. Maybe someday I can also incorporate baby-carrying for the ultimate Mom/Housewife-look-at-these-guns arms.

Back to the cleaning frenzy. The house looks significantly better than it did before. You would think that I would feel quite satisfied. But no. The dirty spots in the house stick out all the more. I was aghast to discover a small pile of dust in a corner this morning.

As we prepare to enter Holy Week in the church calendar, the world is heavy with symbolism for me. So, this morning, on hands and knees picking at dirt spots, I found myself thinking: “I suppose this is like Lent.” We throw things out, we strip things down, we fast, we pray: “Lord, cleanse me, a sinner.” We attempt to sin less. And our sins become even more apparent in the process.

Forgive me.

“I send greetings to those celebrating the Lunar New Year, the Year of the Rat.” — President George Bush

For some reason, that presidential message cracked me up when it arrived in my inbox Tuesday. I guess I don’t expect presidential lunar rat greetings (though the Chinese New Year is certainly worthy of a presidential shout-out).

Today is the first day of the Chinese new year. It is the year of the rat, the first of the 12-year cycle of animals in the Chinese zodiac. The rat is supposedly a protector and bringer of material prosperity. Rat is also associated with aggression, wealth, charm, and order, as well as death, war, the occult, pestilence, and atrocities. Yippee.

I am personally just worried that the rats of DC will decide, “It’s OUR year!!” and raise a revolt. Have mercy upon us.

Living in the city, there are some rats that dwell in the alley behind our house. I was disgusted when I first saw them one night, climbing the stairs of the two-flat right behind us. Actually, they were so large, I first thought they were small cats or an opossum or something. But no, those were rats. I saw them again another night and another night. I usually just looked away quickly in horror, but then one night I started to watch them. This one rat just kept going up and down the stairs, over and over. It was hilarious. We would look out the window and –oh!, there he was again! — up and down, up and down. We named him The Stairmaster, also The Exerciser. And you know what happens when you name something — it becomes a friend.

There appeared to be two rats, though my research on the species indicates that there are always many more, which is a somewhat disgusting thought. But the stairmaster and his friend — I think my next-door neighbors call him Fred — were not too bad. If it was just them, doing their exercise thing on the stairs, I could handle it. They were almost kind of cute.

We tried to live peacefully with the rats. This was in part because it is really hard to get rid of rats in the city, so I felt resigned to accepting them as neighbors. Whenever I walked outside onto our back patio/yard/postage-stamp, I would greet the world by shouting, clapping my hands, and stomping my feet (the joy of the Lord is my strength, you know) to scare any rats away. All of this may sound insane to my suburban or rural readers, and it is, but just substitute some cuter pesky creature — a raccoon, perhaps — and it may make more sense.

But it gets worse. Last week we were enjoying a peaceful evening at home when we heard what sounded like an animal outside — like a dog or cat that wanted to get in, except we don’t have a dog or cat (sadly). Then the sound was suddenly overhead, like some creature with significant toenails was running around upstairs or in the ceiling. It scurried around and then the sound stopped. I banged on the ceiling — nothing. It was not a mouse — we’ve had those before, and you certainly can’t hear them walking.

It was not a pleasant sound.

It may be time to seek vengeance on the rats.

I was living in fear all of that night, but we did not hear or see anything else. One week later, we still have not heard or seen anything else suspicious (at least not in the creature-in-the-house department), so I am just trying to convince myself it was a squirrel on the roof, or an auditory trick, or the dogs next door. I just pray the year of the rat is *not* the year the rats take over my home. Anyone have a nutcracker and an army of wooden soldiers I could borrow?