Like a lot of mothers around the world, my old neighbor Margaret has had it with dishes in the sink during this pandemic.
In a last-ditch bid for order, Margaret wrote a handmade sign urging her family to put their dishes and glasses in the dishwasher, and posted it on Facebook. A day later, she posted a photo of a full sink, lamenting “My sign is being ignored.”
Most of us haven’t had this level of togetherness with our kids since they were pre-schoolers. And though most of us are making the best of the situation and getting by, most of our kitchens are in a perpetual state of overdrive and chaos.
It’s true what they say about kitchens: they’re the heart of the home. They’re also impossible to keep clean with family members underfoot 24/7, whipping up batches of chocolate chip cookies, making avocado omelets and indulging in ice cream in the middle of the afternoon. All of this togetherness is apparently making some of us very hungry.
The thing about leaving dishes in the sink is they’re evidence. If you don’t want family members inquiring who raided the ice cream at 2 p.m., put the bowl in the dishwasher so no one knows. At least this is how I operate when I indulge and don’t feel like explaining myself.
I grew up in a family where we were expected to clean the kitchen for our mother every night. My father firmly believed that the cook shouldn’t have to clean so two of my sisters and I cleaned the kitchen nightly beginning at age 8, 10, and 11.
One of my sisters handled the dishwasher, while the other was on counters. I did the pots and pans, which sounds easy until you consider mom cooked for nine people every night and liked to use every pot in the kitchen. We did a good job, leaving the kitchen in tiptop shape for the breakfast rush and school lunch prep in the morning.
My father deplored a messy kitchen, particularly dishes in the sink and nearby dish drainer. He insisted that the drainer be emptied nightly, taking people to task for leaving items in it.
I inherited my father’s disdain for dirty dishes in and around the sink. When I was a reporter, the worst thing was going into someone’s house and seeing dirty dishes from the night before in the sink. It was gross, and just didn’t make a very good first impression.
Today, I make a point of making sure my sink is clean if I know someone is coming over to work on my house. It’s the least I can do, sparing them having to look at the remnants of last night’s meal.
I’m what you might call a binge cleaner. When I clean the house, I go all-in, striving for it to be immaculate. I don’t want anyone underfoot or getting in my way. I certainly don’t want anyone walking in after I’ve mopped the floors and leaving behind footprints. (This includes the dog.)
Since our lockdown began about six weeks ago, I’ve been trying my best to clean around people, which is impossible. But then it occurred to me that even restaurant kitchens are closed for a few hours each day, allowing cleaning crews to do their jobs.
With this in mind, I announced that the kitchen is closed from 1-3 p.m. on Monday for deep cleaning. When someone screamed down from the second floor to protest, I repeated my announcement: “Kitchen’s closed. It reopens at 3.”
I cannot convey the relief I felt closing the kitchen. For two blessed hours, I had the room to myself, putting away wayward pots and pans, placing knives in their slots in the butcher block, storing away serving spoons and spatulas, removing clutter from counters and even swabbing the cabinets with lemon oil.
Closing the kitchen gave me the time and space to reclaim it and clean it to my standards. And though my kids initially rebelled, they understood my need to do things my way. They’ve been living with me for years, so they understand that I’m a little obsessive. And to be honest, I think they were relieved I didn’t ask them to help.
I’m thinking of getting a “Kitchen’s Closed” sign, and expanding my cleaning hours to include another day or two. If nothing else, it will guarantee me some alone time and give the kitchen the rest it deserves.