“What about the kids?”, my wife asked.
“What kids?”, I replied.
“Your kids.”, she told me. “Our kids. Remember them?”
“Uh huh.”, I answered. “What about them?”
“I’m not sure we can go away and leave them here alone?”
“Well, there’s no way I’m taking them with.”, I informed her.
“What if they burn the house down?”, she asked. And there it was, her obsessive fear of the house burning down. It was almost impossible to overcome. It was her belief that a fire would start in the kitchen as a result of the misuse of the kitchen appliances. Therefore, it stood to reason that if we were home, or if at least one of us was at home, the house would be saved from destruction. She had established very strict rules regarding the use of the kitchen appliances, which she routinely enforced by patrolling the kitchen like a a game warden, keeping a watchful eye for perpetrators and those she suspected were about to violate her rules.
She regularly ventures into the kitchen just to check what temperature the oven is set on, and if it is higher than three hundred and fifty degrees, she turns it down. It means nothing to her that the directions clearly stated to cook at four hundred and twenty five. It is not permitted. The choices are to cook it thirty to forty minutes longer, or eat it under cooked. And every fifteen minutes, like clockwork, she makes the obligatory trip back to the kitchen, opens the oven door and checks on the status of the food inside, lest it be burning, and in the process aggravates and agitates anyone who is cooking at the time.
The broiler is completely off limits. It has been deemed too dangerous for us to use as she fears the five hundred degree temperature it cooks at the most. Stove top cooking is only permissible if the burner is set at no more than a number six. Frying is permitted depending on her level of paranoia, and had been very close to being outlawed altogether. There was an incident. Nothing significant, but for my wife it was confirmation of the impending doom that can result from unauthorized cooking.
“Is somebody cooking something?”, she asked late one evening.
“I don’t know.”, I answered.
“Well”, she continued, “I smell something burning.”
“You always smell something’s burning.” It was uncanny really. She could smell something burning before it actually started burning. It was one of her many gifts, a sort of ‘something’s burning’ savant. “Nothing’s burning.”, I told her. “No one’s home except the two of us.”
“I have to go check.”, she stated as she got up out of bed.
“Well?”, I asked as she returned from her trip to the kitchen.
“You have to check that you turn the burner off!”, she exclaimed. “You dropped something in the bottom and left it on. At number eight! Its never to go above six. We’ve been over this. Five would be better, but I’m trying to be reasonable. The entire kitchen is filled with smoke. Next time you might just burn the whole place down.”
“I hope not.”, I replied. “I don’t think I’ll live long enough to hear all of the lectures.”
“This is why we can’t go away.”, she continued. “None of you pay attention to what you’re doing. The kids are too lazy to check and you, well, you just can’t remember what you’re doing anymore.”
“Well then”, I suggested. “We’ll just have to order in.” I went into the kitchen to check the extensive smoke damaged created by a crumb sitting under a hot burner. It was not filled with smoke. I was hard pressed to find any smoke at all. There was however, to my wife’s credit, the faint odor of something having been burnt, and in the bottom of the burner, there was, oh hell no, a solitary penne noodle. It was burnt. It was badly burnt. I gave it last rites, the best funeral I could, with full military honors and a burial at sea.
We can still fry, despite her misgivings, however she did implement a buddy system. There must be two people in the kitchen at all times, with one of them assigned to ensuring the temperature settings are within limits, and that everything is turned off when completed.
“I think she needs help.”, one of my daughters disclosed as she stood there as my cooking buddy while I made chicken parmigiana.
“She’ll be alright.”, I told her. “She just worries about safety.”
“She’s out of her mind.”, she explained. “Its an electric oven. There’s no flame or fire. Does she think that the food is going to spontaneously combust?” It was hard to argue with that, and I agreed to speak with my wife.
“I need to talk to you about something.”, I said as I entered the bedroom.
“Are you done in the kitchen?”, she asked anxiously.
“It will take thirty minutes to cook, and the oven is set at three hundred.”, I said. “Its under control. Are you alright with that?”
“For the time being.”, she replied.
“Good. I think you need to relax the cooking rules a little.”, I advised. “Its making everyone a nervous wreck.”
“I can’t help it.”, she said.
“I know.”, I reminded her. “But we really are pretty careful. I just don’t think we can ever meet the expectations you’v e set for us. We’re going to make mistakes, but in all of the years we’ve been cooking, there has never been a fire.”
“That’s because I’m always running into the kitchen and checking on everything.”, she informed me.
“No.”, I replied. “Its because we really do know what we’re doing. I just think you can let up a little.”
“How?”, she asked.
“Well, for one, stop running into the kitchen to check on everything all of the time. You can go in the kitchen to make a tea or something and check on stuff, you know, make it less obvious. And stop telling the kids what to do and how to do it. They’re not little kids. They’re all grown up.”
“So, the kids are complaining?”, she inquired.
“Ya, they are.”, I answered.
“And what about you?”, she questioned.
“Well you can check on me as often as you need to, and you can give me shit whenever you feel like it. Just like its been since the day we got married. Can you live with that?”
“I suppose.”, she said. “But the broiler is still off limits.”
“Agreed.”, I replied.
“Don’t you think you should go and check the chicken you left in the oven?”, she asked.
“On my way.”, I told her. She was surprisingly calm, and I hoped that she would be okay. Over dinner I brought up the weekend trip again.
“Alright.”, she said. “We’ll go to Niagara On The Lake for the weekend.” I was, to say the least, pleasantly surprised.
“I’m glad.”, I told her. “And I think it will be good for you.”
“Well”, she continued, “It took some work and some planning but, my mother will come and stay with the kids until we get back.”
“Okay.”, I replied. “That’s sounds like a plan.”
“Ya, and they will be ordering in all weekend.”, she advised me.
“Really?”, I inquired.
“Ya.”, she went on to explain. “We will be removing the circuit for the oven when we leave. They won’t be able to cook with it all weekend.”
“Well its nice to see that you have overcome your fear of the house burning down.”, I told her as sarcastically as I could.
“Ya”, she stated, “It wasn’t really as difficult as I thought it would be.”