Woman versus food.

Farmers market

First, I should clear up a few loose ends, because things have been a bit disjointed around here lately.

A few of you are wondering, because a few of you have asked me directly, how my writing is going, if I’m still working on any of the books I’ve mentioned starting. So, here’s something I have learned in the last year or two: I cannot talk about what I’m working on and continue to work on it. I hoped a bit of peer pressure would help keep me going, as I am a deeply competitive person. But – and this may seem quite impossible, given all of the things I choose to share here – I am also a deeply private person, private being different from personal. This blog is personal; I find that my other work is best kept private. That answer will have to suffice.

But the dinner book, you may be thinking, surely that isn’t either personal or private. Well, true enough. But the death that particular project died is, in fact, private. I haven’t decided yet about attempting a resurrection; see below.

Fine, you might venture, but hey there, Miss got-the-whole-family-dinner-thing-figured-out, how about those weekly menus tagged on to the end of a weekly post; where the hell did those go and why aren’t they back as promised, along with another, linked blog devoted entirely to dinner? Yes, yes, all that’s been on my mind, too; again, see below.

The January art show – is that still happening? Yes, indeedy. It’s even posted on Facebook, so now I’ll have to deliver. But the specifics of the work are off the table for discussion; see above.

And the whole diet/cholesterol thing, whatever happened with that? Well, finally, here we are. I’m so glad you asked, because now we’re to the heart of it, to what has lately been heavy on my mind: food, and eating, and cooking.

Last week, for the first time in months (quite literally, five and a half months), I cooked dinner for my family. And we all sat at the table, together, with napkins and silverware, sharing one meal: baked eggs, green salad, and toast. And it was mostly lovely, except for the part about the science project that got turned in a day late (minus 10 points) because my son, who is just like me, waited until the night before it was due to get started. Although that was actually lovely, too, in its own way. I’ve missed my family; I’ve missed our family dinner table.

Now, perhaps, you are doing the math, thinking to yourself that there have been weekly menus posted here and recipes logged on dinner prompt more recently than five and a half months ago. Yes, it’s true; I faked family dinner from late May until late July, maybe even early August. It’s hard to remember exactly. But I didn’t actually cook and serve a family meal from late May until last week.

To some degree it was an accident of circumstance. Our well-established dinner routine fell prey to mayhem at the end of the school year, to summer, holidays, sleep-away camp, and birthdays; allegiance to the family meal gave way to life’s chaotic ups and downs.

But mostly it gave way to me; I abandoned our shared dinner table in favor of feeding myself, just me, leaving the rest of my people to fend for themselves with a freezer full of Applegate Farms organic chicken strips and English peas, some Annie’s macaroni and cheese.

It seems terrible, I know. But as I’ve told you often enough, I am actually the villain in our family story. I am selfish and self-centered. My months of no-cooking is a prime example. I abandoned family dinner in favor of reclaiming my own body, of recovering the physical self that somehow got lost in 15 years of being a mother. Radical self-care, I think that’s what Anne Lamott would call it, though perhaps I’ve misunderstood her meaning.

So I lived one life and wrote about another, keeping the dinner posts going as long as I could, even though we weren’t actually following them. I had put a commitment out there, and I really did intend to keep it. But if the full truth be told, in early August a bout of mild depression hit (which we may talk about someday, though not today), and I had to stick to the bare essentials for my own well-being. It is what it is; it cannot be other.

In any event, since the end of May, through a few ups and downs, I have cooked, and eaten, for no one but me: mountains of kale, arugula and spinach; boiled eggs and poached salmon; an occasional handful of almonds or slice of Ezekiel bread. Also, daily oat bran. And, to be honest, a cocktail or two. No, no one in my family wanted anything to do with any of what I’ve been eating; that’s why our family dinner routine disintegrated. Yes, my eating this new way has worked to serve its intended purpose, if you were wondering, to fix the whole lipid problem without pharmaceutical intervention. I am quite normal, right as rain, healthy as a horse, et cetera, et cetera.

As a bonus, I look in the mirror today and see myself, mostly my old self, anyway. I am, of course, now silver and not blonde, now sporting a forehead that could use a bit of Botox. Also, the C-section belly. But in the most general sense, today my reflection shows a body I recognize, my faulty and glorious gift, much the way it was when I was just me, beholden to no one else.

And I am the tiniest bit terrified. I want very much to keep myself, to keep this state of good health. But I long to return to the things that did, in fact, make me quite happy, namely cooking and serving nightly dinner for my family. I want to prepare one meal that we all share, food that will please and nurture all of us, each of us, equally. Radical self-care merged with radical lioness-mothering, Julia Child style. I don’t think this is too much to want, I just have no idea how to do it.

As I say often in my work life, there can be only one item in the priority list’s box #1. Either by decision or default, one item will trump the other, should you try to stuff two competing goals into a one-goal sack. Only one thing can be the single most important.

For almost two and a half years, starting in January 2013, my home list’s top box was caring for my family by preparing family dinner. At the time, I thought of this blog as a way to structure and clarify that process, to bring order to food and cooking for my family, to make plans and lists and compile recipes. That’s what brought some of you here, I know.

But things have changed. I have moved to a new way of understanding my family, myself, my writing, my health.  And I know, now, that I have to be in box #1, that I must put taking care of others into box #2. Perhaps there will again be a weekly menu plan and book to address those two things, in order, once I figure it all out. I hope you’ll stay tuned, either way. It’s good being with you here, even when things are a bit disjointed. For you I am thankful; Amen.

13 Comments Add yours

  1. Good for you. There is a reason that they say when you board an airplane, “in case of loss cabin pressure, put the oxygen mask on yourself and then help others around you…” Yep, you figured it out.

  2. Fred says:

    And I’m thankful for you, Jennifer. I enjoy your writing, perspective on life, wit, etc. Being in box #1…I like how you described it. Peace to you and yours.

  3. Michelle says:

    All is forgiven. As long as you keep writing about something.

  4. jgroeber says:

    Ah, you. This post is like a conversation I really wish I could have had with you, or someone as thoughtful as you. It’s a hard thing to come to on one’s own, our limitations, our desires, the importance of us. How can we learn this?
    So glad you came back to yourself, and that you kept sharing what you could with the rest of us.
    (And to know you faked it a little. Yipee! Because even though I now know each one is actually a very fat cigarette, I gave my children grilled hotdogs tonight with broccoli and homemade mashed potatoes… because they like them so much and I get sick of chicken and my husband wasn’t here for dinner, so why not? Except for the carcinogens. Sigh.)

  5. When we take care of ourselves first, that makes us better mothers, wives, daughters, friends. Kids notice. I remember one time when my daughters were in elementary school and I was doing the whole stressful juggling act of work and home, the younger one said to me, “Mom, go back to yoga.”

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