I have a love/hate relationship with holidays as it comes to family dinners. Sure, some of this is the result of distant, fractured or toxic family relationships, but I find that holidays tend to bring out the lowered expectations of me as a blind person. More than once, I have found myself banished from the kitchen because it is “too small” or there are “too many people” or “nothing needs to be done” (even as I notice that everyone else has a role to play in the family dinner). It is a pretty lonely yet awkward place, because I feel like I am just there to eat; standing up for myself might be problematic because I think I know why this is being done.
Does this come from a good place? The answer to this is usually “yes.” No one in their right mind would want a blind family member to cut their fingers while slicing vegetables for a salad, or scrape their knuckles on the cheese grater. But these events CAN happen to sighted people, too, so what is the big deal?
I don’t have all the answers about the best way to stand up for myself. Sure, I could say something, but how do I say it beyond “I’m not a helpless child… give me the potatoes”? I could invite people over to my house, but the last time that happened, the entire family took over my kitchen and it didn’t even feel like mine anymore.
The end result of lowered expectations in a family setting does, unfortunately, perpetuate a problematic dynamic in which the blind family member(s) are viewed as less than competent in other ways, too. If we are incapable of slicing carrots or boiling soup, then there is no way we can be viewed as competent employees, students, parents, or spouses.
Are there things we do not succeed at? Of course! But that in general has little or nothing to do with lack of sight. It is most likely due to our experiences, desires, or shared humanity. Mistakes happen, so let us make them, and don’t think of us as less-than-capable, especially the next time you slice your finger open while cutting a carrot.
As a fellow visually impaired person, I’m sorry you feel like you are under valued in the context of preparing holiday meals. This having been said, I wish to respectfully play devil’s advocate. There’s no doubt you can perform all the actions of a sighted person in the kitchen. You couldn’t have survived all these years without knowing how to cook. But without vision, you need to know where things are located relative to one another. Having said this, most kitchens at holiday meal time consist of people rapidly moving pans, pots, and cutlery on to any available surface as they’re frantically working in close quarters at the last minute. Against this backdrop, is it reasonable to expect people to tell you what they’ve moved, what they’re replacing it with, and where everything is in relationship to everything else? What about the fact that most people simply don’t verbalize all this info as a normal course of business? I’ve had many sighted people tell me that learning how to explain what is being done takes time, and they’ve readily admitted to forgetting some critical details until they’ve gotten used to it. Isn’t it foreseeable that an unattended sharp or hot item could be placed in your vicinity without you knowing and increase the likelihood of an accident? Please keep in mind that I’m not saying you should never work in a kitchen with other sighted people. I’ve prepared meals together with my mother on many occasions and we’re usually able to stay out of each others way. That’s because we have a mutual understanding that I only do well in the kitchen when I have ample space to work with, and when I know that items I place in certain areas don’t grow legs and walk away. Meals for extended family, on the other hand, are just an extreme set of chaotic circumstances. I guess what I’m asking in a nutshell is whether there is ever any validity to the argument that others can do things more conveniently, and whether there’s ever a time when such argument has no further limiting implications for us outside of the situation in which it is used.
Thanks for reading. If you celebrate it, I hope you have a happy Easter.
Hi, John! Thanks so much for stopping by!
I don’t disagree with your “argument”, in principle, because it does make sense. But it is incredibly demoralizing to be the only person at a family gathering not doing something (ANYTHING) to assist in meal prep. Even something like sitting at the dining table and chopping vegetables for a salad or mixing fruit punch or carrying platters to the table would go a long way to not making me feel like a lazy loafer. Even when I offer to assist in these ways I am often told that nothing is needed, while everyone else is running around.
No disrespect read into your comment.
And happy Easter to you!
Holiday prep exclusion hurts. The actions of others in the busy kitchen can say more about them (their fears, assumptions, etc) than you.
Do you like to cook outside of holidays? How about getting creative in showing people you are capable–can you offer to make one of the sides or a cheese plate or dessert or whatever and prepare it advance? Then when you arrive with the item in tow, you can reply to those who comment how you prepared it. Or maybe you pitch in at clean-up to wash or dry stuff, wipe down surfaces, etc. just trying to think up some ways to get in there.
It was unclear to me if you had said more than offering to help. After an event, if I feel like I should address something, I do so one-on-one at a quiet time with specific examples and my suggestions and expectations for future situations. Great insight has come from these moments and while not everyone comes around, those who do understand learn how to include and accomodate instead of discourage.
Holidays can be so stressful!
But wouldn’t boycotting holiday meals be so much easier? 😛
Unfortunately, the worst offenders on this front are much more likely to “ooooh” and “ahhhh” at anything I DO to contribute as though I am a trained monkey, and are less willing to treat me like the adult I am.
Fortunately, at this point, we don’t have to worry about this for a good six months :S
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The kitchen is the one place I retreat to and feel comfortable in. During big holiday meals I get excluded too, there’s just so much happening and my family only wants so many women in the kitchen. The most I have ever been able to help is setting the table. It is really frustrating and I wish I could say something uplifting.
I know! You are always welcome to have a holiday dinner here. 🙂
Would hosting a holiday dinner make a difference? Where you know the kitchen and what’s going on around you?
Anyway, hugs and love, and Happy Easter.
I am seriously contemplating a trip out your way for Christmas… so even if we don’t do the holiday meal thing, we have to tag up!
But in a certain way, it feels good to know that it’s not just a blindness thing, though it’s sometimes easiest to think of it that way :S
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Well, you and Ben are more than welcome to visit. I know it’s not just a blindness thing, my Aunt is he lord of her kitchen and must do everything. I don’t mind help in mine, but I am so scattered in how I cook it’s hard to help, and Adam says that I am a tornado and refuses to step into the kitchen when the am working. Big hugs though, since it does feel bad when your honest help is shut down.