Friday, May 17, 2013

Stop Apologizing

“I don’t believe in twisting yourself into knots of excuses and explanations over the food you make. When one’s hostess starts in with self-deprecations such as ‘Oh, I don’t know how to cook…,’ or ‘Poor little me…,’ or ‘This may taste awful…,’ it is so dreadful to have to reassure her that everything is delicious and fine, whether it is or not. Besides, such admissions only draw attention to one’s shortcomings (or self-perceived shortcomings), and make the other person think, ‘Yes, you’re right, this really is an awful meal!’ Usually one’s cooking is better than one thinks it is.” Julia Child

This passage from My Life in France really stuck with me. Maybe because, like most women, I overapologize. Someone will bump into me in the street, and I automatically say, "I'm sorry." Ironically, when I’ve done something wrong, it’s hard to apologize, but when I’m falling short of the expectation to be the perfect mother, homemaker and woman, I can't keep the explanations in my mouth. “I’m so sorry the house is a mess.” “I’m so sorry dinner isn’t ready yet.” “I’m so sorry I don’t have vegan cupcakes made from raw organic ingredients for your child.”

When I read Julia's above thoughts, I realized it is annoying to have to reassure someone that they are okay, so why should I put guests in that position?

With my antenna up about this issue, I started noticing it in other people. I have shown up at a friend’s house, who said, “Oh my god, there’s cat hair everywhere, I haven’t dusted in weeks, and oh, God, that's my son’s dirty underwear in the corner.” I definitely would not have noticed any of those things had she not pointed them out. Even if I had, I certainly am not inclined to judge anyone else’s housekeeping, and if I am, isn’t that my problem?

So unusual is the unapologetic host that she makes quite an impression when she does appear. A friend reported to me how, twenty years ago, when her son hurt himself on the playground, an acquaintance invited them to her house to bandage him up. The house was disastrous—dishes piled in the sink, toys and clothes strewn everywhere, outrageously messy—and the hostess didn’t apologize or explain. According to my Grandmom, my cousin Adelaide was always happy to host a party, no matter the state of her home. “She would have dustbunnies the size of cats, and they didn’t bother her in the least.” 

Both incidents were reported with admiration, disbelief - like how could you possibly be relaxed and unbothered by other people seeing your mess? I'm working on this skill, and because I have a living tornado, in the form of a toddler, I get plenty of practice. I can straighten up the house five times a day and still have a disaster scene. Why bother?

So, fair warning, if you're coming over for dinner, you might find a messy house and a mediocre meal, but you'll also have a happier, more relaxed hostess. And aren't you coming over to spend time with me, not to judge me? Maybe I can inspire you to worry less about your dustbunnies, and then your mess could inspire someone else. Let's start a chain of unapologetic imperfection.


Jennifer R. Hubbard said...

I'm glad I'm not the only one with cat hair and dust everywhere. :-)

Chris Brady said...

Thank you for this post Julie. I am leaving for a trip to Ireland today and as I ran up the stairs for the fourth time since 7 am I noticed all of the dust, dog and cat hair and thought, I have to clean that before I go. I think it will be fine gathering there for another few days.

I don't feel the need to promote my shortcomings as a homemaker and cook to my guests by apologizing. I typically find that true friends accept you warts and all. And who cares about the rest of them?