Don’t Forget to Polish the Legs This Christmas

The best gift you can give your mother is cleaning her living room — exactly the way she wants it.

Don’t Forget to Polish the Legs This Christmas
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Every year, my mom hosts Christmas Eve at her house, with dozens of guests and pounds of food. It’s a big event and it’s a blast. If she’d chosen to exploit my young and wild escapades in order to turn us into reality television billionaires, I have no doubt her shindig could blow all the Kardashians’ Christmas parties right into the Pacific Ocean. Normally, my job is to wrap presents (including everything my dad didn’t wrap), go to the liquor store, and curate the cheese board. But last year I completed the Big Task: cleaning the living room.

I had offered before but my mom (Susie) prefers to do it herself because, as she says, “I just know how to do it and how I want it done so it’s just easier if I do it all myself.” This used to drive me fucking insane, but now that I’m older (and recently moved in with my boyfriend), I’ve never understood her more.

A freak winter storm forced her to take me up on my offer; the power had gone out the night before due to high winds and rain. (No, this isn’t a climate change story… but also isn’t every story a little bit of a climate change story these days?) It was very dramatic — and, crucially, had Susie running way behind on her to-do list, so she finally allowed me to take one thing off her plate.

It felt like both an honor and a challenge, but I’d been living on my own for 14 years and believed I was ready. I vacuumed; I swept; I shined the wood floors; I floofed the pillows; I Windexed the china cabinet’s glass panels (inside and out, natch). I carefully dusted the paintings and frames on the wall, as well as all the family photos and the various trinkets that live on the living room’s end tables. The plants were dusted. The blinds in the adjoining sunroom were dusted. Every lightbulb inside every lamp was dusted, lest a single speck cast a shadow onto the wall prompting our guests to spend the rest of their lives telling everyone they know what a mess Susie’s living room is.

I did it all and, dare I say, I maybe did it a little better than Susie. (I know she’s never gotten the plants to stretch a little taller by telling them what an important day this is.) I was excited to present my gleaming masterpiece and beckoned my mother into the living room.

Susie walked in, looked around for a millisecond, squinted, and informed me, Miranda Priestly style, that I “forgot to polish the legs.”

“My legs?” I asked, more confused than I’d ever been in my life.

“No,” she scoffed, as if “polishing the legs” had been the first thing she taught me after I learned to walk. I “forgot” to polish the coffee table legs, the side table legs, the legs on the wooden chair, the legs on the piano, and, it felt like, the legs attached to the Christmas spirit inside our souls. I nearly ruined Christmas Eve.

So, this week, as we prepare for another December 24th bash, I sat down with my mom to reflect on this unfortunate mishap, and discuss the importance of polishing your legs.

Do you only polish the legs for Christmas Eve?

No [laughs]. When they get dusty.

So the issue is that they’re dusty, not dull?

They’re both, they’re dull because of the dust. It’s over a 100-year-old home, it gets dusty. And the ghost in the attic is going to want it clean. [The ghost lives in the basement, but my mother refuses to accept reality.]

Are you going to ask me to polish the legs this year?



Cause you obviously enjoy doing it.

What are you talking about?

Well, maybe you don’t but you’re writing about it.

Fair. What’s your favorite wood shine?


Any specific type of cloth?

Soft cloths.

Has anyone in your life ever noticed that the legs weren’t polished?

No; I don’t think anybody would say anything because it’s not polite to notice somebody’s dusty legs. But… people also don’t usually come in and say, “Wow nice shiny legs on that chair.”

So, why do the legs need to be polished?

I know it’s dusted, and it looks nice. That’s the way my mother always had it too, she polished the legs of her furniture.

Did Nana use Pledge?

Probably. Yeah, that’s probably why I do.

Do you have any specific techniques?

You have to go with the grain of the wood.

Really, that makes a difference?

Probably not, but you asked for something.

Did I do a good job cleaning the living room last year?

Yes, you did.

Will I be entrusted to clean the living room this year?


Is that what really matters, if a woman knows how to clean?

Lauren, don’t even go there. That isn’t something I would ever say and you know it.

As I write this, I’m sitting in that very living room, mapping out my plan of attack for this holiday’s cleaning. My mom just finished shining the lightbulbs in the dining room and has announced she’s moving onto the family room next. However, I’ve spotted four glaring, unpolished dining table legs…

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