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.
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’. :)