Basically, lots over-sharing and "cooking for one" recipes for anyone who might be hungry and heartbroken.

Friday, 21 December 2012

Single Parent to an Inner Child. (I know.)

For as long as I can remember, I’ve been especially attached to significant occasions, important dates, remarkable milestones, all that sort of thing. I was born nostalgic and (perhaps for that reason) I was the unofficial Minister for Creation and Curation of Memories in our family. I used to take books like Holiday Traditions Around The World (that’s a fake composite title, but it’s also the actual name of about 150 real books on Amazon) out of the library. I’d scour them for ideas, picking and choosing the ones that tickled my fancy, mixing and matching and interpreting them to suit myself. I came up with important! new! traditions! which I insisted on incorporating into our celebrations year after year. Every year the preparations became more complex and baroque. (This was all very well when I lived at home, taking full creative and executive responsibility. Ten years on, I’m pretty sure my mother still lovingly curses my name every year when she has to get up at 4am on a Sunday morning to wire hundreds of blossoms and chocolate to the “Easter Tree.”)

So. What does this have to do with anything? Well, I turned 30, generally considered a bit of a BFD. I expected that I'd have a lot to say about it, but I find that I don’t, really. Almost every meaningful date or happening in my life so far has been given the full melancholic/existential angst treatment in one notebook or blog or another. I generally fret and/or wonder about the same things every time, and I’ve gotten to the point where I already know what I’d say if I was going to say anything much about it. So, I won’t. It was a nice day in the end. A few people went out of their way to make it special for me, and it really was. If I was going to angst about my birthday, it would probably have a lot to do with what I’d imagined I’d have done/achieved/decided by 30 and haven't. And if I was going to do that, it would probably embarrassingly and inevitably involve something about children. So it’s a good thing I’m not going to write about that or it would make the following confession especially maudlin.

I’ll admit it. I am a single, childless, 30-year-old woman who reads mommy blogs. I don’t know if it’s escapism or masochism, but I have a reader full of professional mommy bloggers. (have you noticed that they all also seem to be professional freelance photographers as well?) Hardly a day goes by that I don’t pop in for a dose of glowing mothers and adorable children doing neat crafty things in perfectly styled surroundings. Sometimes I just like to look at the fluff, but sometimes I get a little wistful. One of the main criticisms of these blogs is that they create an unattainable, unrealistic ideal of parenthood which only serves to make mothers feel bad about themselves if they don’t measure up. I think there’s a point there. I know enough about actual parenting to realize that the reality involves a lot more poop and screaming and sleep-deprivation. I know that a lot of the time, perfect is beside the point. I know for a fact that real life is hard and complicated and full of unforeseen challenges and I know that for real parents, sometimes good enough is actually pretty damn heroic.

Wait, what’s my point? Oh yeah. So, sometimes I read these mommy blogs, and I feel a little sad that I don’t have any adorable little children or professional grade photography equipment. I think about my days as a teenager dreaming up wonderful traditions for my family and I think about what a fun and creative mommy I would have been. (I don’t even have kids and I'm already falling prey to the Mompetition, oh god.) I think about how much I’d love those little guys, what good care I’d take of them, what lovely, lavish dinners I would cook for them. (yeah. It’s really easy to win the Mompetition when your children are hypothetical.)

My point? Lord, my point! I’ve been writing this post in my head for a week and this is where I keep getting embarrassed because it starts sounding...well, you’ll see.

Home Alone was on television. I cried. I mean, I always cry, but it was more than the usual Home Alone crying. It was I-usually-save-this-kind-of-crying-for-therapy crying. I can tell you're laughing now, but in between the comedy capers, that movie actually holds some excruciating moments of loneliness.1  I had a clear image of the broken-hearted little six year old who actually lives inside me, all alone, trying her very best to take care of me the only way she knows how, with chicken nuggets and toast. I started thinking about my imaginary children and the great care I take of them in my hypothetical life. I started thinking about that lonely little part of myself, who exists in my actual life, and really deserves to be taken better care of.

Okay, so we all have an inner child, but at this point I started digging around for my inner grown up. I mean, I've just turned 30. Seriously, I’ve got to have one in there somewhere. And honestly, what is she up to? Isn't she supposed to be running things around here? So I poked around, and I found her. And she was exhausted. She was fed up. She had locked herself in her room and she was saying:

“Leave me alone! Will you just give me a f*cking break? I can’t cope! This shit is hard! Working 75 hours a week with the flu while trying to process the grief of the loss of your love, your best friend, an extended family you adored, your home, five years of your twenties, your dreams, your hypothetical children AND your precious flesh-and-blood dog (for no understandable reason beyond “You've done nothing wrong, but I just don’t want you anymore” ) is REALLY REALLY HARD. I don’t have the energy for your needs right now. Go away! Just...get yourself some toast. Whatever. You’ll be fine. Now SHUT THE DAMN DOOR.”

This is probably be the most exquisitely self-absorbed expression of self-pity ever, but I really felt sorry for myself. For the six-year-old crying herself to sleep half-hungry in a heap of toast crumbs and for the thirty-year-old who has had enough and just doesn’t want to deal anymore.

I wouldn't tell a single mother at the end of her rope that she had to cook perfect blog-worthy gourmet meals every night of the week. But I wouldn't tell a lonely little girl she that she didn’t deserve a good dinner, either.

So. My point. Finally. If the whole focus of this experiment is to learn how to love myself better, then how do I take care of the needy part of myself who has to be cared for AND the exhausted part of myself who feels she has nothing left to give?

I decided to take my self-indulgent imagination literally and brainstorm. What if I did have that hypothetical child? But what if I wasn’t a perfect blog-mommy. What if I was me? Sad, exhausted, angry me? What would I do?

I’d settle for good enough. I wouldn’t leave the poor thing home alone to scrounge chicken nuggets and stale crackers. I’d find quick easy ways to get a little quality nutrition into her before we both collapsed into bed, hoping that tomorrow would be a better day.

That was a lot of paragraphs to get to my really-not-really-recipes. But here are the three solutions I've found work well to help me feel like I’m not criminally neglecting myself.

  • Spinach. It would be nice if I would sauté up loads of fresh, seasonal veg on the 4 out of 5 days I eat pasta, but sometimes (a lot of the time) I just can’t. No problem. You don’t have to be Popeye to know that every loving parent tries to get as much spinach as possible into their offspring. I’m so proud of this discovery: I take two huge handfuls of baby spinach and put them into a strainer. Once my pasta is cooked, I pour it into the strainer. The boiling water instantly cooks the spinach perfectly, without any extra effort. Ta da! (Hypothetical) Mom of the Year! 
  • Eggs. When Ramen is all I can manage, I break two eggs into it and stir it with a fork. This turns shitty college food into Real Protein Food. If even the act of boiling water is too hard, (don’t judge. Sometimes it is. We’re being real here.) then I crack two eggs into a mug and put them into the microwave. Less than three minutes, and ta da! Real Protein Food. (which can be put on toast.) 
  • Hot Chocolate. No, wait. I buy the most fortified whole milk I can find. Then I put it in a mug, in the microwave. I make some toast. I take the milk out of the microwave and I stir in some Cadbury’s cocoa. I butter the toast. I dip the toast in the cocoa. It’s not everyday food, but I get protein, calcium, vitamins and iron. And toast. Sometimes I make a point of gently putting myself into a warm flannel nightgown before I sit down to my supper of cocoa and toast. I tell myself a story where I’m inside a Victorian children’s novel and I’m kept company by a rocking horse and a velveteen rabbit. It works.

1 In a super shallow way, I can't tell you how happy it makes me that Macaulay Culkin is older than me. But two seconds after I feel happy about that, I remember with crystal clear precision the Christmas of 1990. I was at my ugliest, most awkward stage of childhood: a bundle of buck teeth and social anxiety. We went to the mall to see Santa. I sat on his lap and, trying to impress this man that I knew was not Santa but assumed would be making some judgment of my character, I asked for a Precious Moments Bible and a word-search activity book. The-Man-Being-Paid-Eight-Dollars-an-Hour-To-Impersonate-Santa saw right through me. I could sense him rolling his eyes beneath his stick-on-eyebrows at the goody two-shoes of the year. With what I was sure was bemused pity and disgust he patted me on the shoulder: "yeah, yeah right...okay. A bible. Sure." Now, I was being a bit of a poser, but the thing is, I actually did really want that bible. For a present, Mall Santa was giving out a promotional Home Alone poster which was a map marking out the booby traps from the film. There was a large tarantula printed on the corner, so I couldn't bring myself to put it up in my room.

Sunday, 9 December 2012

An Awkward Silence

I borrowed this from the hilarious and very talented

You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should've behaved better.
~Anne Lamott

I’ve missed writing here for the last little while, but I was feeling a little paralyzed. My ex sent a kindly-meant text message out of the blue which let me know in a roundabout way that he was reading the blog. It was a surprise because I’d asked for no contact, and also because I just didn’t expect him to find it, at least not so soon. It’s hardly “Dear Diary” and hardly a secret, but I hadn’t gone out of my way to put the existence of the blog out there. Obviously I could just write about all this in a private journal, but’s important for me to write for an audience. Maybe that makes me an attention whore, but that’s the way it is. Imagining a group of people listening to what I have to say not only eases my loneliness, it also keeps me from the worst depths of self-indulgence. I don’t know who I imagine this audience to be exactly, but I know for sure that I hadn’t imagined it including my ex-fiance.

As anthropologists, psychologists, and physicists agree, and as we pretty much all know
by now, observing something changes it. (I believe it’s considered brilliant to make some witty reference to Schrodinger's cat at this point, so let’s just pretend that I did.1) And the truth is, it changes things for me, knowing that he is reading.

I try really hard to write with honesty, from a real place. I try not to wallow in misery, but I also don’t shy away from talking about the really hard things I’m feeling. I don’t believe in using the internet as a slam book, and I never intended for this to be a venue where I would dissect in detail the private workings of my failed relationship. It is important to me that I write within the bounds of my own conscience and instincts around another person’s privacy, but it’s also very important to me that I can write freely within those bounds. If I start to fret that I'll cause someone pain, or if I start worrying that my words will be analyzed and taken to mean things that they don’t, or if my ego demands that I not let on to the person who left me that I am having anything but a wonderful time on my own, my writing is going to suffer. It’s a fact. Most of all, I never want to use this blog as a way to passive-aggressively communicate with my ex. I am the one who asked for no contact. If I have something to say to him, I know I can pick up the phone and say it to him in person, if I want to. The preceding paragraph may be a slight exception to this rule. 

So after getting that text, I spent some time wondering what to do
. I thought about pass-wording the blog. I thought about quitting the blog I really didn’t want to do either of those things. Even in the few weeks I’ve been doing this, the writing (and the cooking) have become important to me. And I kind of need both of them for this to do me any good. If I don’t cook, I have nothing to write about. If I don’t have to write about it, the truth is, a lot of the time I won’t bother to cook. Witness the last week, where every single day my dinner has consisted of rice with butter and cheese, or toast with butter and cheese. Ridiculous.

So. I’m going to just keep writing here. I am going to try to stay true to my experience, no matter who may or may not be reading, and what happens after that is out of my hands. I won't insert barbs where they don't belong, but I won't blunt my truth, either. The fact is that whenever you write anything and send it out into the world, you no longer have control over who will read it, what they will think about it, or how it will affect them. You just have to let it go.

1 As I am writing this there is a tv special about blimps playing in the background, and I admit that I always mix up the Hindenberg disaster and the Heisenberg principle.