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Girl Talk: Keep It Clean

Q. When I go to my friend's house I'm amazed everything is so clean. My house isn't filthy, but I'm ashamed to have her over. Why am I letting this affect me?

It's called envy, and if it makes you feel any better it's as common for my friends and me as night sweats and ice cream. (I still can't get over how my ultra-organized sister-in-law can give me hand-me-down toys and puzzles that still have all their original pieces.)

The scientific term for the envy you describe is "control envy." Okay, I just made that up, but I don't think researchers at MIT or anywhere else will quibble with this idea: Having a baby means accepting a loss of control over everything from what you'll be wearing (spitup happens) and where you'll be going (nap time suddenly switched from morning to afternoon) to your very identity (I am "Mommy," now what?). Your mastery over the toys and dishes is no different. Inanimate objects don't scrub themselves clean or put themselves away. Someone  -- that would be you  -- has to do it, and this depends in large part on your baby: the little person you can't control.

Instead of torturing yourself during playdates, thinking, "How the *&#% does she do it?," try asking, "Who the *&#% cares?" Easier bleeped than done, I know. But it helps to remember that even if your friend's house resembles pages from Pottery Barn Kids, she doesn't necessarily have the keys to total control. In fact, it's a safe guess that other parts of your friend's life are swirling in chaos  -- you just can't see them.

Once you accept this, your envy should shrink. To prevent it from growing again, you could enlist your husband to help clean up, or try to pretend that the mess is a sign of being an attentive mommy. Better yet, just meet at the park.