Cooking Conundrum

March 23, 2015 § Leave a comment

So we recently had a conundrum in our family:

My family likes to eat delicious meals. I don’t like to cook.

As I explained to my husband, the source of my aversion to cooking is the perfect storm of:

1) I don’t enjoy cooking. Perhaps I might if it was by preferred choice and only on occasion when I was feeling adventurous. But the tedious obligation of preparing something new every night makes me want to run for the hills. My inner psychologist tells me my aversion stems from my formative years watching a working mother juggle family meals with a busy work day, but you can’t blame your mother for everything, right?

2) I am not especially good at it. I seem to have misplaced that element of my DNA that naturally inclines me to blend spices and to intuitively know proper temperatures and cooking times. My grandmother has it. My mother has it. Where is the research proving that trait skips every third generation?

3) I can rarely please everyone. The feedback is hardly inspiring when someone is always complaining about what I have produced. The odds simply don’t fall in my favour with a family of six, four of which are children with oscillating preferences. It’s a miracle I can keep all their favourite foods straight, let alone keep track of them when they take a sharp turn: “You used to love tuna melts, what happened?”

So those are my excuses explanations.

Anyways, back to the conundrum. Recently all of this came bubbling to the surface, resulting in a family meeting and a new system for supper delivery.  My husband stated in an I-don’t-know-why-its-so-difficult sort of tone, that he and his siblings used to take turns cooking dinner, each one having their designated night to cook. Eureka!

I quickly began the math. Seven nights in a week: One for each kid, one for Dad, one for Mom, and one for eating out.

<cue the operatic hallelujah and heavenly spotlight>

The kids were thrilled. “We get to choose and make supper?!”. The only ground rules were that it needs to be reasonably healthy, and the supper choices need to be made on Sunday nights so I only have to grocery shop once per week.

And so it began.

Night one: my 5 year old chose spaghetti. Fairly straightforward, even went quite smoothly! Daddy was at work late but he prefers low carb meals anyway, so everyone was happy.

Night two: my 7 year old chose shepherd’s pie. A little more work for mom supervising, but many teachable moments and maternal visions of his future wife thanking me for showing him how to cook.

Night three: my 12 year old chooses his favourite, chocolate chip banana pancakes. And the waters start to get rocky. Healthy choice? Mmm, pushing the envelope. Also,his brother has given up chocolate for Lent and refuses any other flavour of pancake. The situation is precarious in its precedent-setting potential. Are we allowed to opt-out if we don’t like what is served for supper?  So the negotiations begin and we are able to stabilize the rocking boat, landing on a non-chocolate chip option for his brother and adding a third clause to the ground rules that there is no opting-out of dinner: you eat what is served.

Night four: my 10 year old chooses panzerottis. Again, a little higher supervision requirement than what I was hoping for, but balanced by own gastro-inclinations (I love panzerotti).

Night five: my husband makes grilled cheese for part of our group, while I enjoy pizza with my eldest during his birthday party (fair enough, I thought, given that I also put together fruit and veggie trays for the party)

Night Six: I prepare chicken legs and vegetables. While it was not greeted with the same enthusiasm as chocolate chip pancakes or panzerottis, there was minimal griping.

Night seven: leftovers.

Not bad for our inaugural week, but as we head into week two, the boat has started rocking again.

Tonight my 5 year old selected omelettes, which is only favourable to ¼ of the kids. Can you guess which one? She took the blows all in stride as her siblings griped and complained about having to eat omelettes, desperately suggesting any other alternative they could come up with to avoid having to eat what was on their plates.

As I began to defend her to her siblings and encourage them towards kindness in their comments about her efforts, I realize that she is skipping away from the table unscathed, content with her newly mastered culinary skills, and her full belly.

And she has delivered her own teachable moment. To me.

The New Balance.

February 11, 2015 § Leave a comment

When we were preparing to move to Seattle, I would tell people over a tea or coffee that it was the children I suspected would have the most challenging time. My husband knew people at work, and I would be fine anywhere, but it was the children who would have to walk into a brand new school environment, not knowing a single soul, and work out for themselves where they fit in.

The children have had their speed bumps and hurdles, but for the most part have managed beautifully, much better than my husband or I expected. My husband struggled a bit at first to find his personal bearings in a much larger company but seems to be navigating fairly well now. And then there is me. The one I thought would be fine, is not. I have been tripped up most unexpectedly.

Meeting new people through school, church and community – easy and enjoyable. Getting everything unpacked and the roots put down for the kids (doctor, dentist, etc.) – check. Figuring out what to do with my SELF. Work in progress. I say SELF because as far as filling time goes, no problem. As a mother of four, there is always lots to do…for others. Also as a mother of any number, it is very easy to get lost in ensuring everyone else is looked after, and misplace your own identity, your own purpose, your own passion.

From what I can tell, many mothers struggle with “balancing” what they call “work” and “home” (I see it more as “self” and “others”). There seems to be a paradigm that these two things must be separate.

When I look at my own family example, I see clear division of the workload. My husband and I each carry our share of the demands of a large family. Where it becomes “unbalanced” is when you look at the context of each side of the scale. Imagine both sides of the scale being of equal weight, but one side consists of apples, and the other of oranges.

When the kids were very young my husband and I used to argue repetitively about who had the greatest amount of “SELF time”, each one accusing the other of having more. Truth is when your children are newborns and toddlers, neither of you get that much personal time, but be re-assured that it is only for a season.

Now that we are out of diapers, sippy cups and strollers, from a task perspective, I would call it a wash. While sometimes managing a large family can still be overwhelming, my husband and I do a good job of conquering what needs to be done, and still find time for each other. However, when you look at the context of those tasks, the scales seem to have been blown off their centre.

My husband goes outside the house to work every weekday, and travels frequently. This means he gets less time with our children than I do, occasionally mourning moments in our children’s life for which he would have liked to be there, but he goes to great lengths, often at personal sacrifice, to be there when it counts and then some.  The job that he goes to is his personal choice, intended to provide challenges to better develop his skills and experience and advance his exposure to new areas. His travel, while admittedly exhausting sometimes, has gifted him with tremendous adventures and sights he would have never had the opportunity to experience on his own dime.  Many of the daily grind obligations common to most humans we know are looked after for him, such as buying groceries, preparing meals, sorting, cleaning, folding of laundry, house cleaning…you get the idea.

Myself. Well now, that’s a bit tougher to describe, cause it rather resembles the glue that holds everything else together. That last list of items that are looked after for my husband (and also our four children), that’s my job. Responding to tech support calls for their life routine from the lot of them, at any hour on any day, also my job. Ensuring that everyone is on their schedule (some days demanding much greater effort than others), another line in my job description. Volunteering at my kid’s school, that’s me too. And time with the kids, yes I get loads and am grateful to have it, but too many sweets will lead anyone to a sugar crash.

Do you see the pattern? My “work week” is curiously absent of self-betterment and skill developing challenges. A bit too heavy on the laundry and dishes side to be considered Dharma-infused.

Now please don’t get me wrong, a great part of my fulfillment is to see my family happy. I wouldn’t have embraced this “job” if that weren’t a significant piece for me. I cherish being my kid’s mother and my husband’s wife. Best gig I ever had!

I love it in the same way that my husband loves being a Dad and husband.  And in the same way our kids love us as parents. And how we all love being a family together.

We aren’t talking about love.

We are talking about SELF fulfillment. Dharma. Purpose. Passion. Whichever term you relate best to. I am referring to the quality of tasks you busy yourself with each day that all mesh together at the end to become your life.

Now I have to tread lightly here, because all of those terms I just mentioned, they are not anyone’s responsibility but my own. It is not my husband’ job, or my kid’s job, or anyone else’s job to ensure my SELF is happy. That is also my job.

And I certainly don’t expect every day to be consciousness-expanding enlightenment, but there is a New Balance in order.

The epiphany that led to this post, is that is important to pay attention to more than just division of work. Running down a To-Do list is easy.  The quality and context of those line items however, must always provide room for SELF.  If it doesn’t, the train switches tracks very quickly from feeling “of service”, to feeling resentment. That is no good for anyone.  I once read that in many cases the Mom is the barometer for the rest of the family. The metaphor runs along the same lines of the popular expression: Happy Wife, Happy Life.  The idea being: If Mom is off kilter, that energy transfers to everyone else. I feel that goes for both sides of the equation: husband AND wife.

So my lesson learned today, I’m setting some goals. Each week, I intend to walk a few steps in line with my life purpose, and the highest good.

Not indulgence.  Not, “I’m going to eat that second brownie cause I deserve it” kind of stuff. More like, committing to an hour of “study time” reading a book that will teach me something I want to learn, with the same unwavering devotion I give my family. Cause they weigh the same. That is the New Balance.

It’s a bit late for resolutions, but that is mine.

Namaste.

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