Christmas gatherings evoke mixed emotions for introverts like me. Along with the rest of Bruce County’s population, I do enjoy celebrating festive occasions with family and friends. There does come a time in the evening, however, when I become “over-socialized” and require personal space and solitude to recharge my batteries. (Susan Cain confirms this legitimate need in Quiet, her recent bestseller about the introvert personality.) But how to achieve this disappearing act without appearing rude? One cannot simply plead fatigue after dinner, yawn dramatically and publicly put on those new red pajamas waiting under the Christmas tree.
My strategy was not only simple; it made me look like an unselfish martyr, willing to sacrifice conversation for duty. I volunteered to wash the soiled pots, greasy pans and a tall stack of fancy dishware deemed too delicate for the automatic dishwasher. Even more generously, I would insist that no one needed to help me. “Just sit where you are and enjoy that too-loud talking, raucous laughter, a continuous, headache-inducing rendition of the Little Drummer Boy (a rum a dum dum,) and those six kids running and climbing noisily over the furniture, shooting their rubber dart guns at one another.” I thought that previous sentence but didn’t actually say it.
When I make my selfless pronouncement, at least three of the visiting wives give their husbands a subtle elbow-in-the-ribs nudge, implying ‘Why can’t you be like Bob?” I shrug modestly, while ignoring the men’s murderous stares.
But one Christmas, everything changed. My son’s new girlfriend (and my future daughter-in-law,) suddenly decided to join me in the kitchen. For purposes of this tale, let’s call her Gillian. (Why not? It is her name.) We all know that when a son marries, his parents reclaim a bedroom and gain a daughter-in-law. Much has been written about a mother-in-law’s relationship with the bride, but little about the father-in-law’s experience. I readily acknowledge that Gillian and I get along just fine now but … and this may sound trivial, she and I initially and strongly disagreed over how to wash dishes.
The correct way (I am biased here) is as follows:
—scrape the dirty plates and pots into a garbage can
—clean out the sink with a bit of bleach/water and rinse
—fill said sink with hot water and add a squirt of liquid dishwashing soap.
— submerge the items to be washed and scrub thoroughly with a cloth
—rinse the now-clean objects under hot water in a second sink and set on the drying rack.
So, when our son proudly brought his girlfriend home to meet the parents, all went well until the inevitable happened. Making an effort to impress the old man, she offered to help me with the after-dinner clean up. I chose to dry and stood at the ready with a fresh tea towel clutched in my hand. Gillian efficiently began to wash the plates but was doing it her way. As I looked on in shock, she picked up a first plate from the counter, held it under the hot water tap to get rid of the food remnants, rinsed it under a trickle of running water, shot a squirt of dishwashing liquid on its wet surface and scrubbed vigorously. Finally, and with a flourish, she rinsed one more time and handed me the now-clean item. Then quickly on to the next plate.
I had to intervene. “Why don’t you just fill up the sink and wash them properly? I inquired sort of gently.
“Putting dirty dishes into a sink is like foolishly choosing to sit in a bathtub and wash in your own dirt. That’s why I always choose to shower.” She smiled sweetly, but also a bit defiantly. I immediately thought of the many hours I had spent luxuriating in my old refurbished, four-legged, cast iron bathtub. Apparently, I was guilty of washing “in my own dirt” but wisely said nothing.
Later that night, my son came to me, anxiety written large across his face. “Dad, I am hoping to marry that girl some day but your dishwashing habits could be a deal breaker for her.” I was aghast! I wanted nothing but happiness for my son and, more importantly, I wanted that bedroom back again. Mediation was called for.
Gillian and I worked hard to resolve the issue that had threatened harmony in our home. I encouraged her to continue her strategy of pre-washing under the trickle. In turn, she graciously consented to submerge my mostly-clean dishware in a sink full of soapy hot water to complete the task.
The next Christmas, with yet another large gathering of friends and family, the two introverts retreated to the kitchen, worked together perfectly in sync.
PS Note to readers: To enhance the dramatic impact of this story, some of its details may have been somewhat exaggerated.