This Christmas, we had some out-of-town guests come to stay with us for a few days. Honestly, it was less than three whole days, but it felt like a month to me; as a strong introvert, hosting is one of the hardest things for me to do.
I like people, I enjoy being with people, I love going to visit others, but I need lots of down-time every day; I think I could be a hermit without much problem. When I was in college and the Peace Corps, sometimes I would spend an entire weekend holed up un my house, just writing and thinking.
Also while I was in the Peace Corps, I got a first-hand look at what hospitality really is: three different families hosted me during my stay there – for months at a time. When out and about in the Honduran campo, people always invited me in to their homes, offered me coffee and sweet bread, it didn’t matter that they had never met me before nor that I was not working with them. I recall vividly one instance in which I was riding on the bus and there was a heavy downpour. The people who were at their stop had to get off, rain or not, and they were all ushered into the nearest house to wait until the rain stopped. It didn’t matter that these people were strangers, they had a need and someone helped them fulfill it.
But though others did it daily to me, inviting people into my house was hard for me. I rarely had people over, but rather went to visit them. This was not terribly odd, as most women did not leave their houses often, and having them drag the kids out and down to my little two-room house was irrational, but when people dropped by, usually we sat outside. I don’t know why, having people in my space is something that is really hard for me. I knew that Chepe was THE ONE when I invited him over, often, and didn’t mind that he was in my space.
So, hosting three people over Christmas this year was hard, but they are Chepe’s close friends so I wasn’t going to say no, as well, it is good to push yourself into uncomfortable territory occasionally. Unfortunately, I also felt that my house was not putting it’s best foot forward in presenting it’s self, but with all the work to be done at Christmas-time, there was really nothing I could do about it (actually, now that all the craziness is done, it looks strikingly better). To say the least, it was a mess, and the bathroom was on the very dirty side. Feeling a little self-conscious about this, I mentioned it, kind of as an apology, to Maribel, one of our visitors. She just shrugged and said that she understood. I hoped that that was enough.
The following day was Christmas, we had plans to go to my father’s in the morning, and then have my mother over for Christmas dinner at our house and to exchange gifts. Maribel offered to wash the dishes while I was at my father’s (we don’t have a dishwasher here, as much as I wish we did). I said that she didn’t have to but also felt that it would be a little helpful if she felt so inclined. But when I got back from my father’s she had not only washed the dishes, she had also bleached the kitchen sink, cleaned the counter, cleaned the bathroom sink, as well as scrubbed the tub.
I have had other instances with my husband’s friends coming to stay, in which one of the women did the same thing, but in a way that stated quite clearly to me that she thought that my house was disgusting. I personally don’t think my house is gross, I like to consider it ‘clean but disorganized,’ though there are times in which parts get overly dirty, and keeping a kitchen clean with no dishwasher, two kids under age five, and my commitment to real food is hard or near impossible. I’ll admit, when I saw my kitchen this time, I could not keep the tears in and had to go for a walk outside under the pretense of filling the bird feeders.
I wandered down to the garden, which is out of view of the kitchen windows, and let myself cry. Christmas day here in upstate New York was in the lower 50’s, breezy and slightly overcast, but nice. The clouds were moving fast, wispy and multi-layered, purple and cadet blue. The wind chilled the tears on my cheeks, and it felt good. The thing is, is that every time that this happens, I always talk myself out of it eventually, this time much faster than any other – within the hour as opposed to by the end of the week. The conclusions that I always draw are that I make different sacrifices and have other priorities – and that is ok. Actually I am proud of it.
In no way do I want to make this an us vs. them situation, but cultural differences are at play here. You see, our guests were Latinos, this doesn’t answer everything in any way, but I have found that what I find important differs from that of the Latino women that we know. For example, whereas they want all of the dishes done after a meal, I would rather relax and socialize. I personally do not like to wash dishes multiple times of the day, it makes me feel like that is all that I do, and I’m not opposed to some dishes in the sink because the way I deal with food (whole, made from real, fresh, etc) dirties a lot of dishes but is worth the effort. Whereas this woman fed her daughter microwave mac-n-cheese, I don’t even keep that stuff in the house, my children eat real food. I have also found that for my mental health, I’d rather just let the dishes be and focus on other things, like my children, my writing, my hobbies.
I also pride myself in the time I put into my children. I don’t think I’m an invasive parent, but I am available when my kids need me. I spend time with Elizabeth in her schooling, do stories and nighttime/naptime routines with them, and I try to get down and play often. I talk to my kids a lot as well. In both instances in which I have felt as I did the other day, I later came to the conclusion that these women spent more time cleaning or playing on their phones than spending time with their children, or just letting their children play on electronical devices to a degree of time in which I refuse. (This can sound harsh, and I understand that while out of their own space, children are often not entirely themselves and can need some extra attention/cajoling to sleep/distraction, especially when there are tons of other toys that your child may or may not be allowed to play with. As well it was Christmas and Elizabeth had a bunch of new toys, some that she shared and some that she didn’t. But the first woman I spoke of, I have also seen her in her home, and drew the same conclusions there as well.)
Further more, I choose a different life-style than our guests choose. They live in the city, we live way way way out in the country. I grew up with thrifty shopping and recycling, donating used items that we don’t want any more, and reducing our ecological foot-print in the small ways that we can. Recycling takes up space, and requires cleaning out used plastic bottles and cans, which is unnecessary if you are just throwing them away. Composting takes up counter space with the bowl of vegetable peels. Taking unwanted items to the thrift store takes time and the space of storing it until you are ready to make your trip. These are all things that don’t have to be difficult nor mess up your house, but take a little bit more time and thought than just throwing things away. We all share one planet, I try to do my part to make it a clean place for my children to live in when they are grown, rather than just my house in this moment. I won’t apologize for that. If it seems to make a little clutter, then so be it.
By the end of the little while that I sat at the garden in the cool breeze, I decided that I would not apologize for what I prioritize, whether guests liked it or not, but rather, I would feel proud of my priorities, because I think they are important and worth-while. A mantra I often repeat to myself is, “When my kids are grown, they won’t remember how clean my house was, but the time I spent with them.” Indeed.
I headed back to the house, filled the bird feeders and went inside. Maribel was sitting at the table eating a tamal. She didn’t mention what she had done. When the guys were in the other room a little while later, I thanked her for washing the dishes, and she smiled and said, “De nada.” By the end of the day, I also deduced that she had done it as a humble act of gratitude for us hosting them, rather than because she thought my house disgusting. I had mentioned that the tub was dirty hadn’t I, and from another perspective it might seem that I was indirectly asking for her to clean it. Actually, as she was pregnant, I should feel grateful to her that she felt the motivation to do all that she did. In the end, I let go of the resentment and have internally accepted her gift to me.
Ultimately, the important thing is to know who you are, and to not apologize for it. Equally important is to allow others to be who they are. It is impossible to get along with every one, some differences are too great and sometimes it is healthier to avoid certain people, but either way, we can accept that that is who they are and how they are, and we can’t and shouldn’t desire to change that. It is ok to try to influence people’s actions to an extent. Is it acceptable to try to convince other’s to recycle? Yes, of course. But is it acceptable to ask them to change their religious beliefs or forget their culture heritage? I think it is not. It feels best when you are unapologetically you and to accept others as they are unapologetically themselves.