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Tammy Swift, Published January 11 2014

Swift: Houseguest makes house feel like a home

I like my space.

Deep down, I’m really an introvert. I’m not a big fan of constant activity and noise. I don’t really like drop-in visitors. I like to eat when I want to and go to bed when I feel like it.

So I have a terrible and embarrassing confession. When my 20-something niece asked me if she could stay with me for over a month to fulfill a physical therapy internship, I was kind of conflicted. And by “kind of conflicted,” I actually mean “horribly selfish.”

All I could think of was how it would affect me. Never mind that my niece, “Wanda,” is a bright, hard-working, accomplished young woman who is incredibly reliable, thoughtful and conscientious. Pay no mind to the fact that her visit would provide me with company throughout January and February, when I struggle most with mid-winter blues.

All I could think of was someone encroaching on my own precious turf. Would I need to keep the refrigerator stocked with something besides nail polish and expired milk? Would I have to pretend like I “got dressed” or “cleaned house” on Saturdays? Would I have to turn over the remote and start watching stuff like “The Bachelor” and “The Twilight Saga?”

In short: Would I have to stop living like Miss Havisham – all draped in cobwebs, stale cake and regret – and start acting like a civilized human being?

But blood is thicker than martyrs, so I forced a smile on my face. “Absolutely!” I said, with faux enthusiasm. “You can stay with me!” I joked that there might be some “light housework” and “cooking” as part of her rent, then silently prayed that she would think I was serious.

Before she arrived, I made all the necessary preparations. Actually cleaned house. Filled the fridge with food. Put fresh sheets on her bed and hid my most embarrassing self-help books under my bed.

On the coldest day of 2014, she showed up at my door. We hugged. Her cheeks were rosy-bright from the subzero temperatures. I opened my mouth and heard my own mother’s voice flow out: “Don’t you have a warmer coat?” Ugh, I had to watch this mom stuff. She’s an adult now.

As she unpacked upstairs, I cooked. I’m not proud to admit this, but it was one of the first full meals I’d made since moving into my townhouse months ago. It was actually kind of nice, listening to her bustle around upstairs and listen to TV while I prepared a folksy meal of tater tot hot dish. The house felt full and happy.

After the meal – a meal, I might add, that we ate at the dining room table LIKE RESPONSIBLE AND FULLY FORMED GROWN-UPS – she helped me with dishes. We laughed and talked. It had been ages since we’d had a chance to visit. She had spent the past few years attending college across the state; I’d been occupied with my own life. It was fun to hear her share the opinions and concerns of the young, centered adult she had become.

And you know what? I LOVE having her here. Not just because she cleans the kitchen better than I do and hooked up my Blu-Ray player (although that certainly is a benefit), but simply because she is there. She’s delightful, she’s thoughtful and she makes me accountable.

She makes me crawl out from under the hard, stubborn little shell I sometimes form around myself. With her around, I plan meals, bake, buy groceries, do more laundry and, in short, act like a human being.

And it’s all because of her – a niece called Wanda.

Tammy Swift writes a lifestyle column every Sunday in Variety. Readers can reach her at tswiftsletten@gmail.com.