The other night, I said something my mother used to say all the time when I was growing up. “The kitchen is closed!” It was out of my mouth before I even realized I was saying it.
The kitchen is always such a big part of a home, isn’t it?
It’s where you gather around to share a meal. It’s where, in the eleventh grade you’ll sit with your mom on the linoleum, and share a pint of ice cream, and talk about a boy who broke your heart. It’s where your little sister will choke on a Jolly Rancher one Halloween evening; giving you the chance to test out the Heimlich Maneuver, you learned the summer before. It’s where a single mom, totally exhausted and overworked, will dance with her children to Fleetwood Mac. It’s where, after wiping down the counters, and putting the dishes away, at 10 p.m. on a Wednesday evening, she’ll turn off the lights and declare to everyone within earshot, “The kitchen is closed!” Which we all understood, meant, “Don’t mess it up!” It’s where, she’ll rush out one morning, a patient on her mind, and it’s where a fire will catch.
The kitchen is where little fires are put out, and big ones can happen. It’s where our lives get lived. Where little bits of our mothers get absorbed into ourselves when we’re too busy to notice. I’m not concerned I’m turning into my mother. That’s not what this is about. She is in me, as much as I ever was in her. We don’t really turn into our mothers after all, but we do so often take parts of them, and make them our own.
I often feel like my kitchen is always a mess these days. I’ll wash up and not five minutes later one of the boys will have filled the sink with cups and missing spoons. As much as these little messes annoy me, its where evidence of our living can be found. Like the messes, we make with flour and chocolate chips when we celebrate our wins or console our losses. Our daughter will often bring her blocks into the kitchen and pour them out onto the floor. She’ll play at her father’s feet as he cooks dinner, building towers to the clouds for her unicorns to climb down. His favorite podcast about aliens, space, or Big Foot, will play as the sun fades, and I sip a glass of my favorite wine. Over dinner, we’ll discuss the highs and lows of our day. Sometimes dinner rolls into a meltdown over math homework. It’s where the kids will put the groceries or silverware away in all the wrong places and I’ll search for a wooden spoon purchased in Greece and wonder how the sugar got put in with the tupperware.
On a busy morning where we’re all just a little bit grumpy, I’ll discover someone (usually me) forgot to run the dishwasher and we’ll eat our toast on paper plates. The kitchen table is where my husband and I will sit and discuss our future, where we’ll break the news to our kids their dad is deploying, or tell them we’ll be moving in the middle of the school year. The kitchen is the first room we’ll unpack in a new home and the last one we’ll clean before we move out.
The kitchen is where we’ll shake our heads at our teenager and laugh at a joke. It’s where dreams are told and plans are made. It’s where we’ll wonder if we’re doing this parenting thing all wrong, and realize we survived our mothers’ kitchens and our kids will too. Years to come, we’ll see where they’ve made the bits of our kitchen their own.
It is where I’ll think about writing and ideas will emerge over sudsy water. Where I’ll run to write these words, remembering a time when I used to write poetry so much more often than the random haikus that have shown up here. It was in the kitchen, I decided I wanted to begin to exercise my poetic muscles again.
And so here I am.
Though I fear, my muscles have atrophied, I’m flexing them here just the same because this is a reflection on a kitchen and it is mine.
On Saturday mornings the kitchen is always open.
You make the eggs, I pour the coffee.
“Use the small mug.” You say
“You never finish.”
I plant a kiss on your cheek,
you love me despite my discarded, half-drunk, big mugs of coffee.
On Saturday nights at half-past ten,
after we’ve wiped down the counters, and put away the dinner dishes,
I’ll holler at the kids, “The kitchen is closed!”
Just like my mom used to do.
We’ll go to bed,
snuggled in between is a daughter turned-furnace.
The floorboards in the hall creek
two sons are on a recon mission for a lucky charm.
One grabs the bowls, the other pours the milk.
We don’t say a word
drowsy smiles on our faces.
You take my hand in yours
because in a house like ours
the kitchen is where the love gets poured.
Nicole Olea’s love language is communication. She does this best using her keyboard as a freelance copywriter and editor. Before her current gig working in social media management and eCommerce marketing, Nicole Olea was a professional volunteer, sharing her skills with various non-profit organizations who paid her in hugs. For the last 20 years, she’s lived a quasi-nomadic life, moving across the country and the Atlantic with her active-duty husband and their three kids. She’s awkwardly stumbling toward her goal of becoming a saint. She’s got God-sized dreams and wants you to have them too!