The mashed potato mindset

The soup pot, washed.

This morning I broke my vow to refuse to let the dirty pan sit there until the cook, who dirtied it, took the initiative to wash it herself. The resident young chef had made a delicious broccoli and cheese soup in biggest pot in the house. It was coated with a skin of melted orange cheddar, which, now after sitting sink side and full of water for two-and-a-half days, had begun to pale and ferment. I looked at it as I washed other dishes, those that I consider my responsibility.┬áThe thought of scrubbing that goo was unappealing. I had decided that washing that pan was “not my job” the day that the soup was made, and had vowed last night that I absolutely would not wash it. I had washed the other dishes on soup night–bowls, spoons, cups, chef’s knives and more–but my kitchen clean-up agreement includes that I will not wash cooking pots that other people dirty.

As I finished with the other dishes, I looked at the pot again and decided it was time to wash it, no matter who I thought should be responsible. I felt a sense of relief as I bent to the task, and a story popped into my head, one that my father told a few times when I was growing up. He would talk about a family in his neighborhood, in which the husband and wife apparently vied for power. One night at dinner, the man had become angry, seized a bowl of mashed potatoes, and hurled it across the room. The potatoes landed upside-down on the dining room rug.

The man figured that his wife was the cleaner-upper, so it was her job to take care of the mess. The woman was sure that, since her husband had thrown the potatoes to the floor, it was his responsibility to clean up his mess. Neither one of them took responsibility. They each refused, apparently believing that to do so would be to give in, to give up their power.

So, the mashed potatoes sat on the rug as they moldered and turned to mush that ate a hole in what had been a nice rug. The family went on with its daily life–children playing and going to school, mother cooking and cleaning, father going off to work–and ate dinner together each night, accompanied by what must have been the overwhelming smell of rotting mashed potatoes.

Thinking of this story as I washed the unsavory pot, I laughed at myself, because I could see echoes of that couple in my own behavior. While the situation was much shorter and milder, and there was no horrible smell or damage to household goods, I realized that I had been holding on to a mashed potato mindset. That was humbling. But then I realized, too, that I had let go of the mindset even before recalling the story. So, I decided to take this realization with me for future use, forgive myself for being a goober, and go forward and have a good day.

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