When we talk of our young homemaker lives, my grandma recounts her time living on a Florida base in old barracks converted into family homes. They were flooded with cockroaches. My grandma kept all the food, bread, flour, dried noodles included in the fridge. She kept every dish they owned crammed in the oven. My grandpa would spray every night right before bed, and still those damn roaches were everywhere. She would turn on a light or open a cupboard, and roaches would scatter everywhere. “It got to the point that I would rather squash one with my bare hand than to let it run off and breed.” I thought I appreciated the story and the hard work that went in to keeping a house functional. But I’m finding I’m wrong.
I’m slightly anal over my kitchen. I didn’t start out that way. We had a series of plagues that forced me to get better at keeping a kitchen. The first plague was ants. All summer they filed into the kitchen to gather food. Any spare crumb was an invitation. Dishes had to be rinsed, if not washed. All food had to be put away. One day I came home from work to find the counters covered in streams of ants because my male roommates left out a half eaten pizza. Disgusting. The next summer it was a plague of mice, which taught me to put food in containers. I needed a refresher course because the next summer came flour moths that got into crackers, noodles, cake mixes, chocolate, anything carbohydrate based. It took a year of tossing food, putting everything in containers, figuring out the store they came from, and killing them by hand to get rid of the little buggers. I thought I understood my grandma’s story.
I had one messy hold out. I used to routinely leave out the food from meals for a few hours until I could get around to putting it away. Then one night after a messy meal of fried rice, I got food poisoning. I was four months pregnant with Sean, still in the grip of morning sickness, when, after I put Evan to bed, I couldn’t stop vomiting. I finally admitted defeat and went to the emergency room in the middle of the night. When I came home to crash, I looked over at the partial roasted chicken, the vegetables, the dishes, everything that I had used to make dinner sitting on the counter where I left them. The milk was the only thing I put away. (After telling my OB/GYN the story, he insisted that the place where we got the rotisserie chicken from was to blame for the food poisoning, not me.) I vowed to clean the kitchen right after dinner, and DVD time was born. Nearly a year later, I learned to pick up lunch stuff when a few neighbors stopped by to stock my pantry with food and cleaning supplies. With a baby and a toddler, I chose to nap first, clean later. I was so embarrassed. But now I truly appreciate my grandma’s story.
Starting with breakfast, throughout the day, I leave things on the counters and the islands. Like the breakfast cereal. Or the sugar canister. And the juice and the juice cups. The dishes sit in the sink, waiting to be loaded. The paper towel roll migrates around the kitchen. I let the candy Aidan was playing with stay where he left it on the counter. It’s a cozy mess. A live-n mess. A I’m-busy-raising-children-to-have-a-picture-perfect-kitchen mess. It becomes a little annoying if I’m late getting dinner on and dinner is complex requiring some space, but it’s not too bad, just enough to make my mom roll her eyes when she stops by. Every evening, I sweep, mop, scour, and make the kitchen sparkle because it is where I cook.
Have I mentioned Aidan’s obsession with the kitchen? How he loves to pretend to cook? How he sees all the kitchen dishes and utensils and his play toys? How he ignores his own toy kitchen in favor of mine? Remember when I told you how he used to get on top of the island and wreck havoc, destroying my dessert trays and spilling sugar and oatmeal everywhere? Have I mentioned his habit of emptying out cupboards and drawers? Have I told you how he stuffs things in the toaster oven? All things annoying and cute and picture worthy.
While I was helping the older boys with their workbooks, Aidan snuck into the kitchen. He moved a chair over to the oven. He got up and looked at the coffee cake sitting there, waiting to be covered. Then he mangled it as he played. I didn’t even realize it had happened until the boys were through with their workbooks and I started on lunch.
While Evan and I read together for a half hour upstairs on my bed and Sean and Aidan played, Aidan returned to the kitchen. He moved a chair next to the sink. He found Evan’s soggy bowl of cereal, waiting to be dumped and cleaned. He found the cinnamon shaker. He noticed the sugar canister open and the juice pitcher sitting next to the sink. He decided to cook. He poured cinnamon into the juice. He dumbed the mushy cereal into the full sugar canister. He dumbed the sugar-cereal mixture into my water glass, pouring cinnamon into the mix. I was horrified by the mess. I ended up dumping everything and vowed to keep a better eye on my youngest tornado.
Until this morning.
After I was dressed and ready for the day, I went downstairs to crush the boys hopes that I forgot about workbooks. Because the last few days we’ve been practicing getting ready quickly in anticipation for school, the boys were ready for the day before me and were playing with their toys. I got the boys started on their workbooks and went in the kitchen for a drink. I noticed the floor around the sink was sticky. I noticed the counters were wet. I finally noticed the overturned juice picture which was nearly full of juice earlier that day. I wanted to scream. I stacked the dishwasher. I threw out the paper towel roll (and if I think about it, that roll saved me from a bigger mess). I wiped down the canisters, the blender, and the mixer. I wiped up the juice from the counter and floors. I mopped the floor and scoured the counter. I think I have a new appreciation for my grandma’s hard work.
I think I’m going to have to clean as I go.
Because I have a tornado who loves the kitchen.