And then reality hit

Hosting Adventure Part One, Days Two through Four

“Guests, like fish, begin to smell after three days.”  –Benjamin Franklin*

*The Internet is almost always wrong about quote attributions, as is popular culture. But I haven’t the time or the interest for investigating. Take the Franklin attribution with a huge grain of salt, would you? Someone said that dreadful thing about guests. In my experience, which seems a bit kinder to guests, it happens around day two, not three, and it’s more that they’re blindingly annoying, not smelly. But I didn’t invent bifocals or lightning rods. Allegedly.

The first thing I learned in the past few days to always keep in mind that I’m an introvert by nature and should never engage in an endeavor wherein I will be with other people for the entire day. Or, for instance, for four days in a row without break. Or, for a more ludicrous instance, seventy-eight days. Or so.

This is not, of course, entirely about our lovely international visitor. She has a full-time job and leaves the house nine hours a day. My children have no jobs but still leave the house a few days a week for a few hours. And Spouse has a full-time job that has him traveling 14 out of 15 days this month.

And therein lies a bit of a problem. I had the lack of foresight to allow the universe overlay a new housemate with a houseguest with an absent Spouse with the last week of school. Silly me. Note to self: work harder to plan things out of your control. If not able, self flagellate, then try again.

So remembering that I should never agree to be an extrovert isn’t really learning something.  But I have learned that things we take for granted in our daily lives can be quite shocking to foreigners. I received a text on day two that Rosí, visiting this summer from the Dominican Republic, is terrified of elevators. Never been on one. Didn’t like it one little bit. I did not see that coming. I guessed about the washing machine and the dishwasher.

I did anticipate that she would be confused by the fact that my husband does our dishes and laundry, and that my father cooks all the meals at his house. She told Dad that she would never get married because she can’t cook well. He told her to find a man who cooks. Or to find a man who likes bad cooking. I told her she doesn’t need a man.

Guess which one of those suggestions will be useful to a young woman back in the DR.

Exactly. None of them.

As much as I prepared myself for differences from one culture to another, I thought the primary differences would lie across the Dominican vs. Californian divide. But after a few days of this arrangement, I’m beginning to believe that our largest chasm is that between 40 and 20. Between mother and unattached university student.

Let’s just say I apologized to my visiting father at least a dozen times for my…um…shall we say world view?…when I was 20. I don’t now, as a professional straddling two careers while staying home to raise my boys, shop for leisure. I don’t do anything to my nails. I don’t care about my hair. I have worn the same clothes since I settled into this size a year after my son was born (often for several days at a time without interruption.) And I don’t think this young lady has any interest in the things I find fascinating. So we’re evenly baffled by each other’s priorities.

Rosí and I are going to have a talk tonight because I think one of her primary sources of discomfort is that she doesn’t know if she can ask for things to be changed. She is very direct, which is a cultural norm for her country, but she also seems shy about being impolite. So she tries a food and says without cushion or caveat that she doesn’t like it, but later tells one of us that it needed salt. Goodness, woman, just ask if you can have some salt; don’t starve. She had a cup of tea at work that she described as being dreadful. But later when I made her tea, she said it was just as bad. Until I told her to put more sugar in it. That made her happy. But did she not know to ask for sugar? Did she think it would be rude? I have to tell her that asking to add something to food is okay.

Update: never mind. On her request, I made spaghetti. I freely admit to using jarred sauce. She asked if I forgot the salt, went to the cupboard, got the giant sea salt bottle, and added at least a teaspoon, if not more to her bowl of pasta. Um, she’s not shy. She just really hates anything without Wile-E.-Coyote-allum levels of salt. Fair enough. She just likes potatoes with salt and pasta with salt and crackers with salt. And cheese.

I think I might be in love.

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Is it a technique thing?

Okay, I seriously don’t understand how to do dinner prep with small children. Many of you have similar creatures, and many of you seem to be functioning at more than a basic level. So please: share your secrets.

Mine are young enough that without near-constant parenting, they make really poor (often dangerous) choices. There is always screaming if I’m out of the room for more than one minute. So I need to parent. I need to offer eyerollingly frequent reminders that “use your words so he understands” and “hands are not for hitting” and “you may do what you want with your own penis but you may not do that to his” and “no bumper scooters” and “tell him he can have it when you’re done” and “we don’t call names” and “get your penis off the toys” and “stop it or I’ll gouge out my eyes.”

My spawn are also young enough that they need a regular infusion of calories. Without food, decisions get worse, and the frequency and pitch of their screaming increases. So do my threats to gouge out my eyes.

So I need to make meals. Until there is a viable living room version of the Easy Bake Oven, I have to leave the room to make meals. Often I cook the night before and just reheat. I resent this, for after bedtime is my time and I’d like to read, write, exercise, or stare at a freaking wall without admitting that this job is a 24-hour-a-day kind of thing.

But even stepping away to scoop and reheat leaves small people screaming and hitting and grabbing and knifing (okay, not the last one, but it seems as though). If, heaven forbid, I try to wash a bit of produce, cut it, throw something in a pot or pan, and plate it when it’s all ready, my children are bloody, bedraggled, and writhing in a pile of all the belongings I used to hold dear. I don’t make nine-veggie quiche or anything. I’m not segmenting oranges and candying the peel. I crock-pot a chili or soup or I bake a casserole or I cook carb/protein/fiber in separate pots and just throw it all on a plate.

And yet within five minutes someone squirts someone else with a hose and someone screams and exacts revenge, and someone climbs on my desk and throws off all the tax papers and the carefully stacked scholarly articles (yes, I print them…sue me), and someone asks to make lemonade and rips two million lemons from the tree and gets juice on the floor and demands agave and then spills the whole lot, and someone pees on the floor, and someone rams a scooter into my ankle, and someone begs for popcorn, and someone tracks mud through the house, and someone torments the cat, and someone starts throwing LEGOs, and someone goes outside to get the mail but leaves the door open for another someone to wander out…

In five minutes.

I’m not kidding. That all happened tonight while I tried to make stir-fry and rice.

Someone once told me (demand credit in the comments if this was you) they’d like to see an episode of Top Chef where the quickfire challenge was to create a delicious meal from what was in the fridge in ten minutes WHILE having to stop every 30 seconds to break up a fight, being away from the stove for an unpredictable number of minutes, and stopping at the midway point to wipe someone’s ass. And the wall they poop-painted trying to “help”.

How do you make a meal when your children are young? I have no earthly idea how people do this. Do other people have a partner or a helper or a prison guard in the half hour before dinner? Do you serve crackers and cheese every night? Do you tie the children to various doorknobs through the house and tell them the last one to free herself get a pony?

Do I need to bribe? Threaten? Order takeout?

HOW do you do it?