I’ve never been a great cook. I’ve made my own dinner for about 18 years now, but I still fuck about in the kitchen. I just don’t really care for cooking. So when I became an au pair for a family with a busy and stressful life, I did everything to avoid having to cook. I just didn’t want to make a fool of myself. I was staying in Italy, and Italians are PICKY about food. I could never live up to those standards. When the moment came where I was responsible for the cooking, I asked everything. What spoon should I use? What pot is best for this? How much salt should I use? Until I finally saw the effect this had on the mom in the family, she sighed and told me to figure it out myself, she was just happy to not have to think about it right now. It took a few times before the message landed. She wants me to cook because she has a lot on her mind. Cooking was stressful because the two toddlers in the household always complained about the food. And she was fed up with it. I figured out that it didn’t matter what I made, she just wanted me to carry the responsibility for the food, so the complaining was not about her cooking but about mine. It seems like a small thing to some people, but I could totally understand.

Once that message had landed, I had no problem whatsoever. I knew I could cook. I knew how stuff worked. I knew what to use. I didn’t really care that it wasn’t up to their standards because they asked me to cook. That’s fine, but I’ll do what I can. No more, no less. No, what I made was not particularly good, but the family ate dinner at the time it was planned, and mom was a little less stressed and, of course; fed.

It takes just a moment to let a lesson people have tried to teach you for years finally sink in. Now I see that I did it with everything; how do you want me to load the dishwasher? Where do I put these clean dishes? What should I use to clean the floors? And even the question “What can I do for you?” to a person you see and know is overwhelmed. They can’t tell you what they need. They need everything! They need you to fucking figure it out by yourself. You know what needs to be done, do whatever you can and want to do. I don’t care.

It’s so interesting to me that now that I see it, I can’t unsee it. And it’s so strange to me now that I didn’t see it sooner. I saw the videos online about emotional labor, but never thought I was doing it myself. I always saw that behavior in the partners of friends who were complaining about them. Never for me. Now that I see it, I’m ashamed of what I asked of people. Or well, maybe not ashamed, because I was never doing it on purpose and I genuinely thought I made it easier and nicer for the other person to be as ‘flexible’ as I was. But I’m very happy I finally learned my lesson. The lesson in becoming a true adult; someone who knows how to fucking load the dishwasher and cook dinner.