It made for a pretty sweet parenting pleasure to arrive home to a house where I could see the vacuum wheel tracks running across the carpet like directional signs saying ‘This way to clean!’ And to smell the fresh red chile pork in the kitchen. ‘Are we at your mom’s?’ I asked the girls’ dad. And there was our little Ri smiling and gnawing a fist as her wind up swing rocked her back and forth. Yes!
Eva, our first, and only, nanny, not only took care of our baby, but she cleaned and cooked while we were at work. It seemed a luxury for us thirty somethings, but I was teaching full time at the university, and I had my classes on only two days. So it was only for a few days a week that Riana, and our house, was in her care.
One night we came home to homemade tortillas. Warm and soft, wonderful little food blankets piled under a linen towel. We may have sat down for a meal, or just sat down to eat the tortillas, gentle enough to give Riana a few torn-off pieces. And luckily . . . we didn’t.
As one of us was about to tear off a piece for her to grab with those pudgy little fingers, we were chewing on the tortillas ourselves. “My tortilla is . . . crunchy,” I said quizzically. “Like, really crunchy.”
My ex agreed and said, “It’s like sand.”
“Or . . . glass?” I asked.
It is amazing how agile we become in the face of danger for our little one. We threw down our tortillas and pieces and ran to the kitchen where we found broken glass in the trash. I carefully pulled my hand across the counter top where Eva would have worked, my fingers traveling slowly behind the dish rack, canisters, and other counter items. Low and behold, my skin picked up itty-bitty shards. “Holy shit.”
When I called and questioned Eva that night, she evenly, and matter-of-factly, explained that yes she had broken a drinking glass onto the counter, and into the flour she was mixing for the tortillas. She was very sorry for any worry she had caused. “But, Anne Marie, I promise,” she said. “I picked out all the pieces.”
Well, no she hadn’t I tried to explain imagining Riana’s bloody gums and dribbles of red coming down from her little lips over the baby chin bump and making their way down her fat neck. Of course, that never happened, nor did we ever see Eva again.
I love food stories. I love food. I love how it makes us who we are, how we react, behave. It becomes us, or we become it.
As the girls were here at my house recently I cooked for them, we cooked together, shared meals. It occurred to me that we not only have food stories, but we have food behavior, too. In fact, when the three of us witness each other expressing even the tiniest tad of tension; when one of us appears to be experiencing just a little twist in those damn knickers, the first thing we say to one another, always, is: “Have you eaten?”
Our relationship with food is detached–in my family anyway–from our relationship with eating. The three of us love good food. I love to cook and bake. The girls are learning on their own, I am glad to know, as they took only a bit of interest growing up.
As a high school girl Riana made the most perfect snickerdoodles I had ever eaten. Ever. And I say this as a former baker, and they are one of my favorites to make, and to eat. “How did you do it?” I asked.
“Just followed the recipe,” she said. She has never ever made them even distantly resembling the perfect cookie she made that one time. She gave up trying. For Riana, it was seriously a one hit wonder.
Now Riana teaches herself, and she revels with great joy when she succeeds at her jam or cookies. Riana’s partner is in the restaurant business, and he loves to cook good food. Ri surrounds herself with people who are similar in that way. She is an appreciater. We all need appreciaters.
Bridget, upon hearing me talk about how I dedicate a day of my weekend, every weekend, to cooking and baking for myself, for the week. she asked, very kindly, but somewhat confused: “So, you spend an entire day cooking?”
The notion seemed earnestly foreign to her. I think it was both the amount of time it takes, and the amount of time I am willing to give to making sure that I have great food in the fridge and at my fingertips, that confounded her.
She lives in New York. She has a tiny kitchen. She is out more than in as getting from anywhere to the next place, and then to home, in the big city, often requires a lot of time on the street, or under it, as the case may be. Scheduling home time for cooking is not a priority.
Bridget also has a partner who loves to cook, so she, too, is an appreciater. I may not have raised good cooks . . . . But Bridget has committed to learning how to make a pretty decent Al Fredo sauce. This is all. One sauce. And this desire evolves from nothing more than the fact that she, like the three of us, is a picky eater, and she is not wealthy. She has to eat, she can’t always eat out, and her boyfriend is not always available. And she LOVES Al Fredo.
But eating? That idea of “having to eat,” is the real story for us. We agree that food is good, but eating? Eating is an activity that, unfortunately, can fall to the wayside. The three of us stay busy. Hours may go by. Before we know it, we find ourselves asking the question, of ourselves, ‘when did I eat?’ Or, we find a loved one asking us, with a bit of sting in their voice, “Have you eaten anything?”
I offer up my own guilt in the matter, and their father’s. We used eating as a weapon, and that is sad, but perhaps, not that uncommon? To use eating, or not eating as is more often the case, as a message, a red flag. A way to say, I’m pretty . . . . fill in the blank. Pissed off. Upset. Anxious.
If the girls’ dad and I had a row anywhere near meal time, which pretty much could be any of three times a day; and I was cooking, and I usually was; he would walk from the room, or leave the table, saying, “I’m not hungry.” Good food went bad.
It is most decidedly impossible to eat food that has become a tool of disdain. Even if I, and/or the girls, trudged through the chow that was set down before us, post or during the fight, or even if it was not an outright fight, but definitely a tense mealtime episode, it simply became hard to swallow. And the leftovers?
They sat in the fridge for days having lost any sensual glory. No matter how good the food once smelled, what aromas and expectations it had once sent to taste buds or to stomachs. Now it just smelled of dis-ease. Until it became part of the garbage. And even there it was probably rejected.
It is, in fact, the swallowing that becomes impossible for me in my greatest stress. My swallow button turns off in the same protest as if to say, “I’m not eating that! I’d rather starve.” Bring on a funeral, a divorce, selling and buying a home, and that switch disconnects itself with an invisible swipe. Pounds drop. “Shit, I gotta eat!” I’ll say to myself, over and again.
The girls have the same symptom, and neither of them have any room for a poundage drop as they’re both thin. But as a trio we are aware of this in each other, and they will hear it from me, and I suspect they hear it from each other. “Eat!”
Yes, yes, I experienced the ‘Divorce 30’. I learned that it was a thing: that women, I don’t know about men, usually lose (maybe can also gain?) in the neighborhood of thirty pounds as the whole divorce thing proceeds.
Jeez. Even I worried; my sallow cheeks, sunken eyes, waif-like limbs, and OMG size six jeans. My doctor, in particular, was worried. “Just eat, Anne Marie,” she said. “Anything.” This coming from a woman of staunch and enviable good eating habits. When she gave me permission to eat cookies, if that was what it took, I knew it was serious. Brownies or gummy bears. “Well, nuts would be better,” she told me. “Just eat.”
I did. Little tiny meals. A handful of nuts. Half a power bar. A carrot. Jeez. I was delighted, I must say, when it was all over, and I took the whole lot of size six clothing to Goodwill. Wiped my hands of that mess, and was back to my normal weight. “Just eat.”
Is this where the mantra between the girls and me, evolved? And the question when we notice that tension: “Have you eaten?” If the response is ”I am not hungry,” and the behavior is pretty, well, crabby, we pretty much know that trouble is in the vicinity and aforementioned knickers are duly twisted.
I’m glad we have a fail-safe, and I find redemption in the fact that they are both wonderful and active artists who use their artistic abilities to work through the same disdain, anger, sadness or tension that may also take away their appetite, or simply distract them from eating. So we’re okay, the three of us.
I do not remember using food as an expression of anything but hunger as a child. I do not remember ever saying, “I’m not hungry” to my mother and it being a way of telling her or a sibling that I was pissed off. Nope, not me. I ate, ate well, ate often, ate a lot, and ended up weighing a bit more upon high school graduation than I do now. Quite a bit more. Think “Brick House.”
Needless to say, I was blessed with two parents who both loved to cook, and bake, and did so quite well.
My dad was most proficient at soups and sauces. Navy bean soup. Beef au jus that he served with salted bagels. Split pea soup with pink chunks of ham floating like little ships of flavor. Chipped beef – oh the ooey gooey of it. YUM! He was also a butcher’s assistant as a boy, and into his adulthood, so he knew cold cuts and cheeses, and Oscar Mayer simply had no place in our refrigerator.
Mom was the casserole queen. Tuna noodle anyone? Or roasts! Pork, beef, and the turkey at Thanksgiving. And the muffins, cakes or snickerdoodles! And as far away as my father stayed from packaged meats, my mother stayed that close to the boxed mix. She had nine kids and a house to keep. Boxes and cans, frozen and packaged goods? Bring. It. On.
In wondering how it is that our food behavior evolved, I think often about the absolute cravings for everything healthy I experienced while pregnant with Riana. I was eating fruits and veggies I didn’t even know that I liked. And one that I ended up not liking.
Grape juice. Didn’t know that my body was unhappy with it until morning sickness came on while in the parking lot outside work. And just as my boss walked by, and greeted me, I heaved up a purple river. He smiled weakly as I stood in the subsequent purple puddle. Poor thing, I am sure he thought, shaking his head.
Riana tells me, to this day, she hates grape juice. Go figure.
With Bridget? I craved everything absolutely un-healthy, especially potato chips and red licorice twists. I made me, and my dentist, happy during those 40 weeks. And is that why Bridget is my sugar bug? Not that licorice is her thing, but holy Toledo that girl can put away the candy.
As a mother I feel a responsibility for my daughters’ food. I cook and bake like a maniac before their visits. I am all about feeding them now, and when they were growing up. I love this part of my role, this part of my motherhood. I love it the way my own mother loved it. Or at least did it lovingly and with a song, though I don’t ever remember her actually saying, “I love to cook for the ten of you.” But I remember her singing!
As responsible as I feel to make them food, what is my role in making them eat? I don’t remember stories of eating disorders as a kid. I remember the oddity of learning that Mary P., a gal in high school, one of the smartest and thinnest I seem to remember, was suddenly hospitalized. The rumor mill of a small Catholic high school was bitter and feverish, saying that she had only eaten lettuce for a few months.
What an odd thing I remember thinking. Why lettuce? Anorexia and bulimia were not topics of conversation or articles in magazines back then, not until later, so we really had no basis upon which to draw to understand this beyond its presented facts. Lettuce diet. Hospitalized.
Well, for all of the food stories there are, and there are so many, I guess my point is, “Just eat.” Down and out? Just eat. Nervous or sad? Just eat. Eat a little something. And when you notice someone you love getting a little bitey–perfect adjective–if it’s one of us, ask the question. “Have you eaten?” and offer a handful of nuts, or a smoothie. Just beware of the glass.
Side note: yes, they did call me “Annie Bananie with the Big Fat Fanny,” as a child. Nothing more to say.
And the poem? Well, please find the partner poem to this piece, “Three Variations of Raspberry Jam,” in a subsequent blog post.
The image is simply a Google find.