OK, so I have this problem. I am hoping that somebody out there says, "Oh, I understand this. I do that too. You're not alone, Betty." Or better yet, "Oh, I understand this. I used to do it and here's how I stopped...."
Here's the problem, as demonstrated during tonight's dinner at my house. It all began when the phone rang while I was kneading gnocchi dough. Jennifer, who had been invited to dinner, was calling to say that her husband got off work early, and she wanted to know if it would be OK for them to arrive early.
OK, that's not enough to send me into a tailspin, right? I'm a mature, flexible adult....... it's only gnocchi, after all. So I instructed The Child, who had been ordered to answer the phone, to tell her that it would be fine. Then, to ease my feeling of guilt for not dropping everything, dough and all, to pick up the phone myself, I hissed at him to explain to Jennifer why I hadn't answered the everloving telephone myself ("because I was kneading gnocchi!")
Somewhere in my background I apparently learned that I owed the world an explanation, even for actions such as continuing to knead messy, sticky dough when my phone rang. It's as if I perceive myself as guilty until proven innocent. And I constantly try to prove myself innocent.
Additionally, I automatically, without the slightest thought, said yes to the question as to whether they could arrive early. Mind you, I had carefully planned and timed the meal preparation. Why did I so disregard myself that I immediately took on the burden of guests arriving while the meal preparation was in its infancy, with only a young child to entertain them while I scrambled madly about, trying to prepare pasta, meat (The Child and I are vegetarians), salad, garlic cheese bread and dessert with guests unattended?
The doorbell rang 3 minutes later. Shocked, I yelled at The Child to "See who the *&%# is at the door!" (Surely whoever it was would go away when they saw how busy we were.) With an audible gasp, my eyes popped out as I saw Jennifer and her out-of-work-early husband entering our house, which hadn't even been vacuumed yet! The Early Arrivals (hereafter known as the EA's) live in a suburb 40 minutes away, and this was Friday rush hour! She must have called from around the corner. Aghast, I half screamed , "Oh My GOD. I didn't know you meant you'd be here THIS early....."
My house is small, no, actually, it's SMALL. It's not one of those setups where the guests can contentedly sip wine in the vicinity of the food prep area, while the host(s) chat while calmly chopping cilantro. My kitchen could fit into most closets. And I had to use my tiny dining room table to roll out the gnocchi dough, so I couldn't invite the EA's into the cooking area. Instead, I directed The Child and the EA's into his (tiny) bedroom.
I have no idea what transpired in the bedroom. I was too busy frantically trying to throw things together in record time to accomodate the EA's. My carefully written list of what to do at what time went out the window. In my haste, I stopped forming the gnocchi pillows into their usual shapes, with the trademark fork tracks imprinted on each one. I just hacked them off the dough ropes with a fork, without regard to form or fork. I hurled them into the boiling pot, splashing doughy water all over the kitchen. Timing hopelessly off, I had to remove the bread from the oven prematurely to make room for the hastily boiled gnocchi which had been thrown into a casserole dish. The bread, the one thing I hadn't made from scratch, ended up being served with the middle still frozen solid, much to my embarrassment. Adding to the chaos, I accidentally dumped a huge pot of home made tomato sauce onto the stovetop, with some of it draining down into the bowels of the stove.
Eventually I called them in to eat. I had lost my appetite by this time, so all I could do was try to referee the eating of the EA's and The Child. The Child rejected the gnocchi casserole, so I left the table to cook "Plan B" (parents of finicky eaters always have "Plan B" food standing by) for him while the EA's ate. That was actually a merciful event, because it masked the fact that I wasn't eating, thereby eliminating the need for an explanation.
It gets worse. After the toffee dessert had been rejected by The Child, he shouted, "Let's go for a walk in the park!" (There's no "Plan B" for desserts.) So, with gnocchi-caked dishes still on the table, large amounts of perishable food scattered about, and spills and splashes everywhere, we took off into the park for an extensive outing in the deliciously cool evening, with the child riding his motorized cooler.
Halfway through the walk/motorized scooter ride, I realized how exhausted I was. In fact, everybody acted tired, yet when we got back to our house, we just kind of hung out and kept talking, and even after somebody said, "OK, we're leaving now," nobody left..... The Child kept asking first one EA, then the other, for help with a computer game, over and over.... there was something I wanted to watch on TV, and I had forgotten to program the VCR....I hate to say this, but I wanted the EA's to leave...... I tried to hide my impatience and fatigue...what can you say when you're eager for your guests to leave.....sometimes doesn't it seem as if your guests are afraid they'll insult you by leaving, when in fact you desire their departure?
Well, the EA's FINALLY left. The TV program I had hoped to see was finished. The house was in complete shambles, with hardened food bonded to every dish I own, food rotting from being left out of the refrigerator, the table heaped with dishes, dirty napkins, stray gnocchi, rejected toffee. The countertops appeared to be permanently stained with home made tomato sauce. The stove looked unrecognizable from burned stains. A mound of leftover gnocchi dough, hardened like neglected Play Dough, made a poignant statement.
I sat down in a chair in my bedroom, dazed from the experience. I panicked for a moment, and felt as though a robber had been in my house. Alarmed, I actually checked to make sure my wallet was still tucked away in my drawer. I felt violated, as if the very friends I had invited in for dinner tonight had robbed me of my self. Of course I know they didn't do anything offensive, in reality. They didn't show up early unannounced- they called and asked if it was OK, and I'm the one who gave them the go-ahead. They didn't force me to leave the kitchen in complete chaos while we went outside- I failed to be true to my self and my relatively newfound desire to have my house in order.
OK, now that I've told the story, please bear in mind that this sort of thing happens to me with alarming frequency. I tend to sell out, to disregard my self when in the presence of others. Once, in fact, I had dinner cooking on the stove when I stepped outside to take the garbage out and got caught in conversation with the wife next door. I knew full well that by the time I re-entered my house, I'd likely encounter a fire on the stove. Yet I stood there politely, in a stupor, while she rambled nonsense. I am the common demominator- it's not about the EA's, or my neighbors, or any other people. I seem to experience confusion regarding my boundaries, regarding appropriate social behavior and expectations, and regarding the value of my self.