It’s never good news when you walk into the kitchen and find your child wiping the floor.
In this case, I had come in from the garden and found Abby on her hands and knees with a dish towel. I was filled with dread.
“What was it?” I asked.
You can’t know how horrible this is unless you know that ho taki is our house name for homemade chili oil consisting of crushed hot peppers, chopped garlic, sugar and oil. Lots of oil.
“The jar was slippery,” Abby said.
I surveyed the damage. The hardwood had a definite sheen but most of the oil had by then been sopped up, which made me worry.
“What did you wipe it with?”
“And where is it?”
“In the laundry basket.”
“On top of other clothes?”
“No, it was empty.”
That was a relief, at least. I walked across the kitchen to look for the basket. It wasn’t hard to find; there were oily footprints leading the way. And in the basket was not one other towel but two, plus two washcloths, stained red and glittering with chili flakes.
“Oh, Abby…” It was then I noticed she had oil all down the front of her shirt. This, she told me, was the result of slipping in the oil after slopping it all over. It was quite lively slapstick, she noted, and I had to give her credit for acknowledging that.
“Go hop in the shower and I’ll finish the floor,” I said. “Take the laundry basket with you.”
Our kitchen floor, you need to realize, is finished hardwood, as in “the finish on the wood is hard to see.” Bare wood and oil are a match made in greasy heaven, and as I looked down and saw the stain and the footprints, I had the strong sense that they weren’t going anywhere.
So I went somewhere instead.
Back out to the garden, I brought Deb up to speed.
“What’s the worst possible thing Abby could have spilled?” I asked.
“Okay, what’s the second-worst possible thing Abby could have spilled?”
After consulting with Deb about how to clean oil-slicked clothes without ruining the washing machine, I went back inside, dug out the mop and some cleaner, gave the floor a going over, rinsed the clothes and towels in the sink with laundry detergent, then put them in the washing machine.
After the floor dried, I saw that I was right about the stains. Washing had no effect. So I got a stronger cleaner. Nada.
Our kids have always been disasters in the kitchen. There was the time one of them microwaved a noodle cup without water. Rice cannot be transferred from pot to plate without falling into every crevice. And nothing travels so far and so insidiously, we’ve learned, as sugar.
I really can’t say much; I’m not the tidiest chef. Also, that summer I worked at Dairy Queen I dropped an industrial-size bag of milk on the floor, and, let me tell you, an industrial-size bag of milk covers an extensive restaurant surface area.
On the bright side, the kitchen is one of the best places to learn from your mistakes. Cooking errors are easily corrected, and no tragedy has ever been written about a ruined plate of cookies. Then again, there is sometimes fire involved…
Abby, though, seems especially prone to spillage. Her enthusiasm for soy sauce, for example, regularly surpasses suggested serving sizes and, oh, plates.
Frankly, she can be a bit of a disaster. In two weeks, she’ll be on her own for the first time, living and studying in Lennoxville. We’re excited for her new adventure away from home yet pleased we’ll be relatively close should disaster strike – food-wise or otherwise.
But most of the spills – literal and metaphorical – we won’t hear about. That’s part of growing up – making mistakes and not telling anyone about them, just dealing with them on your own and hopefully learning.
We’ve gone through this before, of course, but this is a big one; this is our last to leave home. And with her genetic condition, we’ve had to manage Abby in ways we haven’t with the other kids, overseeing her diet, making sure she has her pills and supplements, keeping tabs, hounding, pestering, pestering some more. Now, all we can do is have faith that she’s doing it on her own. That’s part of growing up as well – for us.
It will be hard at first to let go, hard not to text or call. No doubt we’ll be thinking of her every day – especially when we see those footprints.