Sam and Ella, or Lessons Unlearned

[Warning: There is no inner-realization, finding of one’s self, or character building in this blog entry. It is just a recounting of some uneventful happenings. No wisdom is passed on. No truths are discovered. You should probably stop reading now.]

I don’t think life lessons usually get learned unless someone has experienced loss or suffering. Obviously, we learn the biggest lessons when we miss great opportunities, when someone close to us dies, or when we make huge mistakes. If we survive, we tend to emerge somewhat damaged but significantly wiser. Our hindsight and regret help shape our future decisions and allow us to grow as individuals.

But what about the little lessons? There are loads of bite-sized morals that we learn every day, and yet we repeat the same mistakes over and over again. For example:

  • Eating too much Halloween candy will make me sick
  • Not rinsing the blender right after use will make it impossible to clean
  • Drinking water right before bed means waking up in the middle of the night to pee
  • Facebook arguments lead nowhere and only make me miserable
  • Etc., ad nauseum, and on and on, et al,  ibid., x1000000000000000.

This weekend I went grocery shopping and somehow managed to forget one bag in the trunk of my car overnight. I didn’t worry too much, though, since the bag contained cereal, gluten-free bread, and canned tuna.

Oh, and one family-sized package of deli roast turkey.

The weather’s been rather cool recently, holding steady in the single digits (Celsius) during the day, and dipping below freezing at night. That’s almost like a refrigerator. Normally, I wouldn’t have given it another thought, except that the next morning the temperature had risen to 11, and by the time I discovered the missing bag, it had gotten up to a balmy 15. Any sane person would have thrown that package of turkey out right away, so of course I opened it up, peeled off a slice, ate it, and waited.


Nothing happened. 24 hours later, I was still fine. I have since eaten a sandwich containing the same turkey slices, and so far, so good. (We’ll see if I have to edit this later.)

I do NOT recommend that you try this the next time you leave perishables out by mistake. I know better than to do what I did. I’d completely freak out if I saw either of my kids try it. I fully deserve to have food poisoning right now, and yet I’ve been spared the agonies of a good bout of gastro thanks to dumb luck and possibly some unpronounceable preservative ingredients.

Everything I know about hygiene, bacteria, health risks, not to mention my own disgust with cooties and germs, ought to have been enough to make me throw it away, and yet my unwillingness to get rid of a brand-new, family-sized (that’s at least twice the normal size, y’all) unopened food product led to me making a risky decision that fortunately turned out okay. Will I be so lucky next time?

Wait, “next time”? I’m doing this again, am I? I think we all know that the answer to that is probably. If this ever happens in the future, I’ll most likely do the same thing until the day I actually get salmonella and find myself on the “Both Ends” diet. Then perhaps I’ll have learned my lesson and rethink my frugal ways. Until then, who knows what other crazy food risks I’ll take? I’ve got some questionable Brie and Coutances in my fridge. If cheese is already a mold, is moldy cheese really that bad?

I’m kidding, I’m kidding. (Sort of.)

Running Away

I’m about to get on a plane. I’ll be gone for two weeks.

Travel has always been a big part of my life, starting as a child when my family and I would take 14-hour flights from Washington D.C. and spend sweltering summers in South Korea, visiting an endless parade of relatives. Unless I’ve miscounted, I have 35 first cousins and a bagazillion more distant ones.

My mother would dutifully shuttle us from house to house, some in the middle of the hectic metropolis, a few by the sea, and one or two in the countryside. These rural visits traumatized me, as the houses we went to were inevitably surrounded by well-fertilized fields, and at least one of them had no flushing toilet. (My older sister’s got a great story about an unfortunate mix-up between a bowl of noodles and a chamber pot.)

As a kid, I never appreciated these trips. It felt tedious and exhausting to see aunt after great-aunt after great-great uncle after great-great-great grandfather (we visited some of their graves in the mountains; to this day the sight of twisted Asian pine trees and magpies fills me with dread). One year, after a particularly long, hot day of endless family and culture clashes, I had had enough of the heat and the comments from aunties about my weight, and I told my mother I was never visiting Korea again.

Of course, I went back a couple of years later, but this time only with my younger sister. We had no clue what we were doing, so our itinerary was greatly simplified. Instead of trying to see every single person in the family, we managed to keep it to maybe four different houses. With no real parental supervision, my sister and I had a relatively decent time, eating icy desserts, drinking banana milk, and laughing at the way they censored racy song titles on album covers. You remember Right Said Fred’s hit, “I’m Too Happy”, don’t you?

Eventually, I finally went alone. It was the first time I fully enjoyed myself there. I went to restaurants, shopped, spent time with my cool cousins, skipped the ones I didn’t know that well, and realized that the country I’d previously found unappealing was actually quite the opposite.

Before that trip, traveling seemed like a burden. All I wanted was to stay home for a whole summer with nothing expected of me. After that trip, I finally understood that I, too, could travel for vacation, not just obligation. I simply needed to travel alone.

Fast-forward to now. Hubby and I have been married for a while, we’ve traveled together, taken solo trips, gone on vacation with his family, had kids and taken them places, and visited my parents both in Korea and DC. If we’re lucky, we’ll keep doing this until they tell us we can’t.

Traveling with Hubby and the kids is great, don’t get me wrong. I know we’re incredibly blessed to be able to take the trips that we do and show Thing 1 and 2 different parts of the world. But I definitely feel an exhilarating sense of freedom when I travel alone. I do what I want. I am responsible for no one. I accommodate no one. No one stresses me out with their last-minute bathroom emergencies right before boarding on a discount airline that never waits.

Until yesterday, I was counting the days to this child-free, husband-free vacation, anxiously waiting until I could sit in this airport wine bar and have a glass of white to inaugurate my holiday.


But then last night, we had an impromptu family dance party before dinner. After dinner, Thing 2 practiced piano without complaining. Thing 1 read to his brother without objection. Hubby and I laughed long and hard about nothing in particular. For an evening, my little family was perfect, and I felt such pangs of regret at the idea of leaving them for so long.

Fortunately, I had the foresight of taking a video of each child at his whiniest, so if I really miss them while I’m gone, I’ll have a great reminder on my phone of why I’m taking this trip in the first place. I’m grateful for this vacation, for my husband who let me leave for so long, for my parents whose generosity at my birthday paid for the ticket, for my friends whom I’ll visit across the pond (oh, yeah, I’m not going to Korea), and for the opportunity to come back home with my batteries recharged.

Bon voyage.


 

 

 

 

 

 

Things Fall Apart

My glasses broke.

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I’ve had them for almost 10 years, so I suppose it was time for a change. I was hoping the change would be due to me finding amazing new frames, not me being rendered blind because of a missing screw and the surprising ineffectiveness of Krazy Glue. Regardless, it is time for me to get a new pair and possibly a new look. Of course, the idea of this makes me uncomfortable for several reasons:

1. I have an enormous noggin, to the point where a friend gave me the nickname Melon Head. It is hard to find frames that actually fit my wide face without the arms getting bent outwards. When I bought my beloved (now-broken) Diors all those years ago, the girl who sold them to me outright laughed in exasperation at how many pairs I had to try on before we found something that worked. This gives me very little hope for my next pair. I do have contact lenses that I’m using at the moment, but they don’t hide the circles under my eyes the way that a good pair of spectacles can.

2. I am straight up crap at change. (I suppose, statistically, that this means I am crap at 75% of my life.) If I initiate a change, be it glasses or career or parenting approach or what have you, there’s so much fear, second-guessing, blame-shifting, and excuse making that goes along with it. If, heaven forbid, a change is imposed upon me, even if it’s good, I get livid at the lack of control I have over the situation. Yeah, I got issues.

3. I bought these glasses when I still felt young. In 2008, I had no children, was barely in my 30s, and my prescription was probably not as strong as it is now. (I’m overdue for a change, I know.) When I walked into the office wearing them for the first time, my equally young coworkers adequately oohed and aahed, envied the “student” discount I received, approved of my newfound love for subtle bling, and made me feel uncharacteristically trendy. I know it’s dumb, but in a way, giving this pair up seems like surrendering the last vestiges of my youth.

4. Glasses are expensive.

I realize I’m creating a big deal out of something that isn’t life-changing. Some people’s mid-life crises involve buying a new sports car. Maybe mine is just some new frames. If I stop and get some perspective, I know that I still have my health, an awesome family, the means to pay the bills, and better friends than I deserve. I shouldn’t equate what I wear on my face with my identity or my age. It’s just glasses, not a limb.

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I may find that a new pair of frames is exactly what I need to embrace my 40s (which I assume is better than blindly grabbing for them). New glasses could represent a new outlook, new beginnings, new experiences, a new attitude.

I hope this still rings true when I’m looking at life through progressive lenses.

Will Power?

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It’s Canadian Thanksgiving weekend! I’m not entirely sure what the deal with this holiday is, but I’m certain it’s not quite as entrenched in revisionist history as is the Thanksgiving of my childhood, a.k.a. American Thanksgiving. That being said, it is still a great opportunity for remembering to be grateful, spending time with family or friends, and best of all, eating until muscular failure.

The only problem here, of course, is that I’m trying to lose weight.

For the record, I’m always trying to lose weight. I think I was born on a diet. The last time I was in my healthy weight range was probably when I was 17, for about a day, and that was after a summer of life guarding and right before the Freshman 15 (40). Sadly, a semester or two of cheap Molson Ex and takeout chicken souvlaki with cheesy garlic bread made short work of my perfect figure, turning me into the squeezable (but lovable?) person some of you know me as today.

Last night we ate dinner with Hubby’s family, forgoing the traditional turkey and opting instead for some gorgeous Lebanese fare. I piously ate some tabouleh and other veggies, but only to balance out all the shish taouk, kefta, pita bread, wine, baklava, and mango flip I inhaled, not to mention about a metric tonne (Canada doesn’t do the Imperial system) of salmon mousse and crackers before dinner. I left their house feeling incredibly stuffed, sleepy, and full of goodwill towards my fellow beings.

Until this morning, when I stepped on the scale.

Up until yesterday I had been making such progress, slowly but surely getting back to a point where I was comfortable in my own skin. This morning’s numbers threw me off, making me want to give up, ditch the salads and stock up on dirty ol’ Pop Tarts. Why was I so incapable of controlling myself? Why did I make such bad decisions? Why was I born into a skinny family as its only round member? I felt like a failure.

Fortunately, this feeling only lasted a little while. I reminded myself that a) most of that weight gain was water, salt, and poop, and b) I am an active, human-shaped person who generally eats healthily but loves to discover the world through the food it produces. I’ll probably have to remind myself of this 100 more times before bed, but it’s what I’m hanging onto to get me through, and for now, it’s working.

Does this mean I suddenly love my body and feel great about myself? Of course not. I wish I were thinner, prettier, stronger, less ravaged by gravity and gravy, and more like the beautiful people of the world. But I also know that wishing and comparing get me nowhere.

There will always be people who eat better than I do, who choose to work out instead of veg out, who skip dessert but not the gym, and as a result have the abs and arms I only dream of. I admire these people, and though I will try not to compare myself to them, I’ll definitely look to them for inspiration the next time I’m faced with the choice between kettlebells and kettle chips.

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I might even make the right choice.

 

Serenity Now

TNT

When I was a teen, and even into my 20s, going through heartbreak or disappointment, having dumb arguments, hearing about social injustices, witnessing tragedies, or any other sort of negative emotional expenditure, while not fun, made me feel strangely alive. Part of me equated the rawness of the pain, the flush of anger, or the self-indulgent wallowing with being real, deep, and, I suppose, artistic. As a closet wannabe goth, being profound was a life goal, and Robert Smith was my idea of emotional perfection.

Unfortunately, when I got mad, I’d lose my ability to speak in full sentences. I was reduced to saying things like, “Oh, yeah? Well, you suck, you…you sucky suck.” I know some people whose eloquence increases tenfold when they are cussing someone out, and while you don’t want to be on the receiving end, their blistering diatribes are nothing short of genius to behold.

I’ve gotten better at arguing since then, but I do it much less than I used to (though some of you may think otherwise!), even though there is no shortage of upsetting information out there. It’s pretty much impossible, unless you’ve reached a state of zen incomprehensible to me, to read the news, Facebook, anything, without regretting not having clicked on the cat videos instead.

We get angry at the news. We get angry at people responding to the news. We get angry at the way others cope with responses to the news. Then maybe we get angry with ourselves for the rabbit hole of anger and fear we allowed ourselves to go down. It’s exhausting, so an eloquent argument, while now is something of which I’m more than capable, is the last thing I feel like having.

Today has been a hell of a day, news-wise. I’ve been angered and saddened by what I’ve read and seen, and frustrated by things that make no sense and I feel powerless to change. I’ve thought about tuning everything out and living in blissful ignorance for the rest of my days until the world blows up. Would it be such a terrible thing to be out of touch with current events? I’d have fewer distractions and would be able to devote my finite emotional energy to my family, my friends, and the little world I live in. After all, my kids are already a lot to deal with, and I have a back porch that needs defending from a billion spiders.

Alas, my need for mental peace is at war with what I feel like is my responsibility to know what’s going on.  I’ve taken mini-breaks from news and social media (which I highly recommend), but ultimately my desire to not be a total self-centered ignoramus brings me back.

So how do I successfully keep from going crazy?

I’m not entirely sure that I do.

Maybe I’ll spend quality time with my loved ones or take a walk. My general go-tos are prayer, exercise, distraction, denial, volunteering, and escape. All of these have worked some of the time, but none have worked for me all the time. (Or maybe a better way of saying it is:

60%

I had to throw this in there- it’s been in my head for weeks. Totally inappropriate, I know.)

But I persevere, because, for example, if I pray long enough, I find peace of mind, until the next time I lose it. Then I’ll pray again. Or I’ll binge-watch Netflix until I run out of episodes, then I’ll find a new show. Repeat.

I don’t think there’s a permanent fix for it, just a whole lot of trial and error.

I’m not the greatest at seeing hope through the fog of despair, but I’m working on it. Maybe it’s normal to have to balance our tenuous happiness with joy-stealing realities. If there is a remedy for “the world is a cluster-eff” depression, it probably involves helping other people and keeping on keeping on. In the meantime, tonight I’m going to play with the kids, watch TV, eat some chocolate, have a glass of wine, and then pray like the dickens that tomorrow is a better day.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Confession Time

Parenting can be rewarding, sure, but it’s also really hard. Today I wanted to encourage those of us who are parents, want to be parents, or don’t want to be parents, with some words of wisdom to get us through the tough times.

Unfortunately, none came to me, so all I have is this list of confessions for your consideration. After all, confessing is good for the soul.

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  • I have used the fridge door to hide behind while flipping my kids the bird. (Hopefully they don’t look at my feet when I do this- otherwise they’d see the silent but aggressive stomping that goes along with it.)
  • I have lied to their faces about toy stores being closed at 2:00 p.m. on a Saturday.
  • I’ve hidden their gadgets and pretended not to know where things went.
  • I’ve spent their birthday money from Grandma and Grandpa on wine and ice cream.
  • I’ve locked myself in the bathroom and let them fight while I played Candy Crush on my phone.
  • I’ve stolen their chocolate and blamed it on their dad.
  • I’ve talked about them behind their backs, sworn at them under my breath, and secretly laughed at their screaming when a spider fell on them.

There are many more confessions that I dare not put in writing, lest child protection services finds out, but needless to say, there’s some room for improvement.

I know that each day I manage to keep the kids alive and somewhat hygienic is technically a win, but as they get older and more complicated as individuals, I want to get better at not just coping as a parent, but thriving as one, and helping them thrive as well. Sometimes it’s easy, like when they play peacefully together and tell me they love me. Other times I want to run far, far away where no one under 18 can ever follow.

But I do love them, ultimately, and I want to do right by them. They are amazing and have enriched my life immeasurably. I just need to remember this during the next tantrum. Or even right now, as Thing 1 came up to me and farted on my leg as I wrote this. No joke.

One last confession- I just sat on him and returned the favour.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rage Cooking

I’m on the floor. It’s been unseasonably warm, and the kitchen tiles are cool, if somewhat gritty, against my skin. I probably should have swept before starting to write this, but I’m lying here in the hopes that 1) I will stop sweating, and 2) this new perspective on my kitchen will somehow inspire me to start cooking dinner.

I love eating. It is my favourite activity in the whole universe. However, preparing food more complicated than a bowl of cereal triggers a toxic combination of anxiety, stress, anger, and resentment in me, the source of which to this day I can’t pinpoint.

Last weekend I watched a friend make dinner, which I was then lucky enough to eat: delicious zucchini, potatoes, grilled lamb with home-made aioli, and apple crumble for dessert. I compare the beauty, grace, and confidence with which the food was prepared to a ballet, but one that I’d actually enjoy.

It was incredibly satisfying to watch the deft chopping, casual yet deliberate measuring of ingredients to find that elusive “to taste” sweet spot, and the sensual drizzling of olive oil from a bottle half-stoppered by a knowing thumb. What’s more, everything was made while engaging in relaxed conversation, between sips of wine and several parenting breaks. (Oh, and somehow in the middle of all that, a cheese and crudité plate miraculously appeared.)

That all seems impossible to me. I can’t make a sandwich without having to leave the room and count to 10. I know some folks claim that cooking relaxes them, but, much like women who say pregnancy was easy and made them feel beautiful, they’re crazy. Or lying. Or both.

Yet clearly it happens, because these happy chefs continue to conjure edible magic that I greedily stuff into my face hole. Naturally, I wish I could cook as well as they do. I wish I could do anything with such instinctive expertise. What I envy the most is the enjoyment they get from doing something so well they don’t even have to think about it.

If I’m honest, the only thing I’m THAT good at doing is eating.

So now it’s time to start dinner, regardless of how much I’ve tried to put it off. Maybe if I see it as a game, or an art project, I’ll realize how much fun it can be. Then perhaps it’ll be me one day, preparing an exquisite banquet and loving every minute of it.

But not today. Right now, I can already taste the rage.

Rage cooking