21 June 2011

Survival tactics

It’s travel season, and for those of us with many grubby sprogs and little grubby money, that means it’s time to go a’visitin’. I think our top vacation spots these days are Grandma’s house and your house. So look out, ‘cause here we come. ;)

We’ve been vacationing via a’visitin’ for a few years now, and have thus learned many, many interesting and useful things, each appropriate to our age and sex. Dad has learned a lot about garage organization and guns. Each child has learned a lot about dress-up or fishing ponds or sleeping bags. I, for my part, have learned perhaps the most important lesson of all: A home-bound woman’s kitchen is an extension of her; don’t touch it.

Hoo boy, this is a big deal lesson. But it is actually very difficult to enact it in real life. You know how it is: You are in a friend’s house and she is busting her tuckus trying to feed not only her own people, but yours. You stand by and watch for a time, but your conscience starts nagging you. Your friend sure is working hard, and there you stand, doing nothing. Soon, you are feeling guilty, and those guilty feelings start to out with nervous giggles and a few, “What can I do to help?” When your friend smiles at you and says that she’s got everything in hand, you try to believe her, but your guilt starts bordering on anguish. She’s working! She’s working so hard! For YOUR FAMILY! This is WRONG! You MUST WORK TOO! AAAAAAAAUGH!

And about then is when you grab a spoon and start stirring something or, even worse, a rag and start wiping down the refrigerator door. Step away from that rag, friend. It’s just not worth it.  

Nooooo, you're not.

When it comes to another home-bound woman’s kitchen, it is nearly always the best, most tactful policy to do nothing whatsoever in that kitchen. Speaking for myself, when I know people are coming to my house during meal time, I put a great deal of thought into planning exactly how, when, where, and what everyone will be eating, and then formulating a War Plan Red on how the food will be prepared. I typically expect that the visiting folk will be occupied with Other Things when it comes time to enact my plan, so I very seldom calculate in their participation. Hence, when someone, anyone, starts dancing around like gas on a skillet, wanting something to do, finding something for her to do is difficult. Trying to help someone “help me” usually pushes dinner back a good half hour, by which time everyone under the age of 10 is crying, and everyone else is standing in the kitchen door looking pathetic.

As I’ve become more competent in my kitchen, I’ve worked at including what women will be in my preparation plans, but this doesn’t always pan out. Even women who are very skilled in their own kitchens (and, likely, even more skilled than I am in mine) aren’t always able to assist in the creation of a meal around here. This is, I think, due to having what my own dear sister-in-law has referred to as a “one-butt kitchen.”  Funny how even a sprawling, state-of-the-art masterpiece-theatre kitchen usually only accommodates one home-bound butt.

Because, like I said, a home-bound woman’s kitchen is an extension of her. She knows it very, very well. A resident visitor doesn’t know it any better than she knows her friend’s unspoken thoughts. You might think you’re safe to put that spatula in the drawer full of spatulas, but what you don’t know is that spatula is only for hummus, and thus belongs in an entirely different drawer. Put it “away” and it will be lost for weeks.

Step away from that spatula, friend. No touchie the spatula. Trust me on this.

HOWEVER! Having been on both sides of those guilty feelings, I know that you absolutely must do something, or you’ll combust. Make that something one of three things:
1. Keep your friend company. If you’re not doing anything to get in her way, then it’s OK for you to be in the kitchen. Just relax over in the corner and talk to her. She likes you. And if you’re lucky, she might take pity on you and let you toss the salad or give the potatoes their spa bath.
2.  Play with the baby. Stress is a crying child in the midst of War Plan Red. Egad. When someone, anyone, everyone starts crying, deal with it. If you find the task hard because you’re too strange a stranger to whomever is crying, quietly find A Way. Be creative. Be brilliant. Be all that you can be. Your friend will love you for it all the more.
3. Find something else to do entirely. This is especially true if you are visiting a friend at the same time as someone in her family. Always, always defer the out-of-the-way corner (and always the stirring spoon) to your friend’s sister or her mother-in-law or her cousin. And it may also be necessary to bug off if the number of women who want to be in the kitchen is odd. It stinks, but it’s important to be cool with being the odd woman out. And if you’re bored as a result, find some kid who’s crying and play with him.
It is possible that after everything has been eaten and you’re sure the cooking phase is over, you might be able to help with the dishes. But even here, proceed with caution. Nothing is self-evident in the kitchen. And there is only one right way to load the dishwasher.

Of course, there are circumstances wherein you absolutely must help in the kitchen, but I think those are few and far between. Then again, I only know what I know. So, you know. Good luck, friends, and happy visitin’. :)


The Ketelsens said...

I feel the same way about my kitchen! I am tempted to copy this and post it in my kitchen. Thanks for making feel like less of a freak for refusing help in the kitchen.

Elizabeth said...

I'm trying to be better about accepting help and doling out chores in my kitchen, but half my problem is that it's all worked out in my head, like you said, and verbalizing it just takes so long and if you aren't familiar with my kitchen, I have to tell you where to find the things you need.... sigh. I do love this season of "a'visitin'". Isn't it grand? :)

Mrs Gregory said...

No, no; please, come help me in the kitchen. Especially if I have morning sickness. Seriously. I don't care one whit if I never find my spatula again.

Gauntlets said...

Mrs. Gregory, :D. I'm absolutely certain that the season of morning sickness is one of those aforementioned circumstances wherein visitors must take over in the kitchen. In my house, folk who visit when ... let's just say when my dance card is full, would not eat if they did not cook for themselves. :P

Melrose said...

Gauntlets, this post had me laughing so hard I was crying! HA!! I agree with Ketelsens, this one is going on my fridge! :D

Untamed Shrew said...

You nailed it. My house is very large but was built over 100 years ago, when well-to-do people in this area typically had servants. Hence, my kitchen is truly a one-butt kitchen. The sink is opposite the pantry by 2 steps. The refrigerator is opposite the stove by 4 steps, making an X (as in, X marks the spot where you best not be found). But there is a chair-high radiator in the corner, and it's got your name on it, Gauntlets. (Or Rebekah? anybody? anybody???) :o)

greatgaunts said...

Yep. Because I keep these people alive from this little rectangle of linoleum. Personal space, people.

But, to willing hands, I will always pass off peeling the potatoes. Hateful task. Just agree to ignore that this one-butt hasn't managed to keep at the scrubbing as well as I ought. Which is probably enough to scare off all visitors! :P

jenny said...

Oh I have always felt so bad when I've tried to politely say,"Not a thing, thanks" when asked the most dreaded question "what can I do to help?" But no more! I too have a one-butt kitchen and it seems only my mother and myself know how to maneuver it successfully. Thanks for this freeing post! :)

Delawaremamma said...

Yes Jenny! I think my own mother would be the only other living soul I would let loose in my one butt kitchen. She can cook a meal without asking me where anything is and she only visits a couple times a year! More if I've just delivered a new grandchild.

My "Morning Sickness" always hits me around dinner time so it's a miracle my own family gets fed let alone company that pops in during these first few weeks. Ugh!

I admit knowing all of this I still feel guilty if I can't help the lady if the house prepare the meal in some way.

Amie said...

You can be in my kitchen but only if I am parked on the couch (or in the bed) I don't play well with others. :)

Cheryl said...

"Just relax over in the corner and talk to her."

Speak for yourself, Gauntlets. I am one of those cooking-challenged sorts who can't talk and cook at the same time. Talk to me too much and you may be putting your very health at risk. Seriously. Cooking scares me and I gladly welcome anyone who wants to pitch in. As long as you don't talk. Because if you tell me about that great chocolate cake you made for your hubby's birthday you may very well end up with chocolate sauce instead of catsup in your meatloaf. So just peel those potatoes, honey, and when the meatloaf's in the oven we'll go out on the patio for a nice chat, 'kay? :-)

Reb. Mary said...

This one really made me snort :D

Leah said...

"Play with the baby. Stress is a crying child in the midst of War Plan Red."

Amen to that one. Any of you who want to bring your butt over to my kitchen and do this are more than welcome!

Chris and Jane Kirk said...

I have been blessed with a larger kitchen then some, so all are welcome to bring ah - well come over and help out in my kitchen when ever you would like. Oh and there are plenty of children around to play with as well. At this point they are often in the kitchen, because were mom is the children want to be as well.


Rebekah said...

Oh man. I owe you the hugest apology ever.

Gauntlets said...

No. I'm pretty sure I made it clear that you can do whatever the heck you want.