Friday, October 28, 2011

Nuggets and a Salad

Two years ago, my husband and I celebrated our 10 year anniversary with a trip to the California Wine Country.  The details around this trip make a good story in and of themselves, but that is not the focus now. We had three or four days of doing what we wanted, talking without being interrupted, and eating a lot of food and drinking a fair share of wine.  
On the weekend that we were in California, my dad and step mother were visiting my step brother and his wife.  We were texting back and forth with him when he sends a random text.  I wish I could remember the exact words, or had access to it.  But that phone fell into a toilet at the Portland airport last year and all evidence is gone. 
The gist of the random text indicated that my step brother and his wife were now vegan.  Now, I’ll admit that I didn’t exactly know what that meant, but I had heard of it, and after living the last 15 years in the Midwest, it was definitely off the grid. I had been cautioning them to take very good care of themselves because they have accumulated five or six or twenty cats, which is weird enough.  But if one of them died, that would leave the other one living alone with all those cats and that might be cause for an intervention. 
Anyway, we were lazing away the afternoon at a quaint little restaurant eating squid and drinking wine.  I think we were about to order a side of burger with cheese soup. Well, maybe we weren’t but we could have been. We were texting back and forth asking questions, shaking our heads, and enjoying a good laugh out of this.  I hadn’t yet sharpened my awareness to pay attention when I start having smug thoughts and getting laughs out of situations like this.  
No animals or animal products.  I kept asking questions and my dad would answer, appearing uncharacteristically patient. I now know they were trying to absorb the change also.  My stepmother and stepbrother are private people.  They process things inwardly and give information on a limited need to know basis.  My dad and I talk out loud as we process.  My stepbrother dated a girl for about 7 years and one day, while visiting home, he is showing me pictures from a recent trip to Guatemala.  There are many pictures of a woman, whom appears to be more than a friend.  I asked him if Amy had seen these pictures and he said No.  I asked what she would think of them and he said he didn’t know.  He left and I asked my stepmother about it and she said they broke up. WHAT?!?!?!?
So, this is how we are introduced to major changes in his life. Like becoming a Vegan. Over the past few years, they have lived about three hours from us and they visit whenever my parents visit so they can get a free meal at a nice restaurant so we can enjoy quality family time.  My stepbrother has always been a foodie and would eat anything.  He introduced us to many restaurants in our town and foods like Kobe beef and carpaccio and sushi and whatever that raw fish that supposedly cooks with lime juice is called. 
So the vegan thing was kind of a big deal. 
It became a bigger deal the next month when we were planning their Christmas visit and Christmas dinner.  My parents come from Mississippi and they drive up from Iowa.  My husband and I cook the meals, and try to cater to everyone’s schedules and particularities.  This usually comes within a week or two of Thanksgiving, in which we also host my husband’s entire family.  We had the youngest kids and very busy lives.  I am tired thinking about it. 
I was attempting to explain some of this to my aforementioned father, whose lesser qualities include, but are not limited to, impatience and conflict avoidance. Trying to explain that planning for this one meal would take up the better part of two holiday season weeks prompted him to say, “Then we won’t come.” 
Not exactly the understanding and help I was looking for.  Of course I wanted them to come, so I said of course I could do this and would never want them to cancel.  
I put my all into the Christmas dinner.  I didn’t cook using butter or put cheese in the salad.  No animal secretions.  I bought horseradish hummus from Trader Joe’s and found avocados in December and made guacamole.  I didn’t cook in chicken broth and I bought a nut based sour cream.  I made a salad with a million veggies, roasted portobella mushrooms, had spinach, asparagus, and potatoes without butter. My step brother  brought a delicious squash soup.
And my husband made his famous prime rib.  You can only get this meat during the holiday season and it has long been a family favorite. He is a chef by trade and meats are his specialty. There was just a little glitch.  Everything was ready before the prime rib. So we ate the soup and salad, and saved the veggies to go with the prime rib.  
You see what’s coming.  After the appetizers and the soup and salad, we were full.  Steve had worked so hard and loved doing this for everyone.  It was hard to watch.  My dad and my stepmother and I all had some of his prime rib, but not because we wanted it.  We wanted to honor his effort and his skills and his gift.  
But the vegan Christmas dinner was one of the best holiday dinners I have ever had.  Yes, it was a lot of work.  And I was overwhlemed which made me look crabby about it at first.  I felt so good, like my body had just been tended to with such love and care.  I didn’t feel full or yucky.  
I felt like I had to keep this to myself.  For starters, I didn’t want to eat crow pie with a side of apology.  And I didn’t want to hurt my husband’s feelings.  And it was a lot of work.
I have wanted to make changes for myself and my family in the food arena for awhile.  It is very, very hard.  It is hard to incorporate children whose favorite foods are neutral colored and a meat and potatoes Midwestern husband.  I honestly have no idea how to do it.  When I try to make something healthy for myself, I often make something else for them, served with a side of resentment. Cue the ones who will say don’t make something else for them, they can eat what is served or not eat at all.  I have one child who is on a medication that suppresses his appetite all day, and has to eat his days worth of calories between 4 and 8 pm.  And of course they wont starve if they miss a meal, but I WILL go crazy listening to the moanings and cryings of hungry children for hours.  
I have tried really hard the last week with cooking for everyone.  After somewhat of a flop Wednesday night, my husband was sick of my food  recognized my frustrations and offered to cook chicken parmigiana for dinner Thursday night.  Yes, he can move effortlessly through the kitchen with a meat and frozen veggie and pasta.  But the chicken parm is special.  We picked the last of our tomatoes and he made a homemade tomato sauce that was to die for.  
Reading about Lindsey’s cleanse yesterday was intriguing, especially the part about how much better she felt.  It was on my mind all day yesterday.  As I ate my chicken parm dinner last night, I realized the only thing I could have had if I were to do this cleanse was the tomato sauce and the broccoli (if he would have held the butter).  As I watched my children eat their chicken without sauce and their white pasta and white bread melted with mozzarella (and their broccoli, Yea!), I worried about them and felt guilty for them eating this way.  At the same time I worry, sometimes when I fix something different, I make a side of pasta just so they will eat something.  Ugh! 
I am struggling with wrapping this post up in a neat little package.  I have no answer, just musings and questions, and trying to share a part of my journey. 
I am running to the store to get ingredients for this sweet potato, kale, and black bean salad.  And maybe some frozen chicken nuggets for the kids. Sigh.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Erasing the Lines

I remember hearing a speech about education either before I had kids or when Chloe was a baby.  Back when education and parenting were all theories that worked to perfection.  Back when I knew it all.  
The speaker was a father of four school age kids.  He opened with a cute little vignette.  He said his world was opened by the birth of his first child.  By having his own child, he finally, finally knew what kids were like.  And then his second child was born.  He was humbled by this experience, but was ultimately grateful because if he hadn’t had that second child, he wouldn’t have known there were two different kinds of kids in the world.    And then his third child was born, and, again he had to remold his ideas of categories for kids.  As an educator, I guess God didn’t think he was getting the message.  So, it took a fourth child for him to realize that, like snowflakes, all children, and all people were unique and operated in the world with their own internal compasses.  
I chuckled appropriately at his quaint introduction, smugly wondering if I was more qualified to give this speech.  
Ten years later, I have learned to heed caution when I have smug thoughts like this.  I have learned to brace myself and proceed gingerly.  I have learned to recognize an, often painful, lesson heading my way just as I can recognize the almost imperceptible cooler currents of August air letting me know Old Man Winter is always watching.  
Turns out, it was OK that I was smug that day.  I have always had a visceral understanding, and a subsequent appreciation of the differences in people, all their strengths and shortcomings, and how the world needs it all in order to function. To this day, I find it hard to take a stand on any side of most issues, given my propensity to understand, believe and feel both sides.  (Oh yea, except for my husband’s side.)  
When I was kid, I always wrote stories.  Or rather, I started many stories.  But my favorite part was planning the stories.  I would spend hours writing the descriptions and histories of the characters, or describing the houses and places that would eventually be in my story.  I would create an entire world and setting.  Often I was bored after that with the actual story line.  So I would move on to create another story.  
My newest lesson is a fun one, not painful.  (She says thankfully.)  It’s like starting a new story.  The lesson is basically an extension of all people are unique and special and should be honored for who they are. The new lesson incorporates complexity.  I think all people are much more complex than I have given them credit for in the past.  
This new discovery is a grass roots one, starting with myself and my family.  My kids go to a wonderful school where many adults know them intimately.  It’s not just their classroom teachers, but many specialist teachers (art, gym, drama....etc) and the associate director of the school.  They are opening my eyes to the complexity of my children.  I hadn’t realized how I had already put them in boxes that they may spend a lifetime trying to escape.  Even armed with the knowledge that the world does this and how much I fight it, I have come to the realization that I have done it.  
My oldest daughter’s greatest gifts are her persistence, her vibrant personality, her interpersonal skills, her artistic, musical, and writing abilities and her problem solving skills and her can do, will do, let’s do mentality.  I praise these all the time.  
My son’s greatest gifts are his athletic prowess, his mathematical and reasoning skills, his happy disposition, and his ability to charm anyone around him, making him much loved by anyone, adult or child, who comes in contact with him.  
My youngest daughter’s gifts are a little harder to articulate.  She values her relationships and is intensely loyal.  She is very slow to warm, cautious, and always follows her own internal compass, regardless of the external stimuli.  Her mind is always moving, processing and she needs quiet and alone time to process.  She will not talk to people unless she has something important to say, and does not like talking in front of groups of people.   She is athletic, very independent, loves drawing and writing, and is tough as nails.   
Last spring, I was talking to my son about the fitness test and talking often of the goals of the Presidential Award.  My oldest daughter finally came up to me and asked why I expected that out of Chaucer but not her.  Hmmmmm.
Last winter, my oldest daughter had an accident that ended up being painful for weeks.  She had to have an unexpected “procedure” at the hospital and it took lots of pampering and attention on our part.  My husband and I kept quietly wondering why it happened to her, rather than one of the other two, who would have been much tougher and less work.  The principal of the school called to say that in her 40 years of being in the school, she had never experienced such a tough kid.  Hmmmmmmm.
Last spring, some things were occurring in the second grade.  My son’s teacher started sharing some of them with me, and I brushed it off, saying he was always happy and, luckily, he didn’t get caught up in that.  She said, “Well.  I don’t agree.  I have found him twice crying in the bathroom.....”   Hmmmmmmm
My son has a reading disability and has to be pulled out of class to get extra help.  They  scheduled his tutor during art time because he had not appeared to care much about art.  He came home terribly upset because “Art is the best place to mix colors and poetry together.”  What?  Hmmmmmmmm
Sally’s first grade teacher came up and said she so appreciated Sally volunteering to give her “presentation” first.  She was so impressed at how well Sally carried herself while speaking in front of the class.  Hmmmmmmmm.

An assistant at school told me a beautiful story about Sally searching for days at the book fair for books for (the assistant’s) grandaughter.  Sally brought her books several times, often not saying a word.  She had this incredible awareness and was nurturing that relationship differently than we understood.  Hmmmmmmmmm
I am excited about my new discoveries.  I am giddy about erasing the lines I have inadvertently drawn around myself, my children and all those around me.  I am thrilled to discover the complicated complexities that are often hidden and obscured.  
Mostly, I am anxious to discover what limits I have put on myself and the opportunities that exist outside of the box.