No denying they’re brothers.
They are brothers, right? Not, like, clones?
I don’t know. I can only tell by the backgrounds anymore.
And the mediocre photography during Isaac’s formative years.
Well, the first day of Project No More Cooking was tense.
With only a minute spent making breakfast (toast), and no lunches packed (I just grabbed some leftover kale and ate it cold at school), I still barely, barely, got dinner on the table.
Perhaps I should use distance quotes. I barely got “dinner” on the table.
I splurged for the “gourmet” soup.
Not too many warm, smiling faces in response to the delectable meal.
In fact, Theo had to employ the shove, swallow, chase strategy.
Shove it in the mouth.
Swallow it as fast as possible, allowing minimal contact with the taste buds.
And chase it down with copious sips of ice water. (The cold water also helps dull the taste buds.)
We told him about The Missionary Prayer acquaintances of ours, lifelong foreign missionaries in the developing world, told us about: “Lord, I’ll get it down if you’ll keep it down!” He was not impressed.
Amos, at least, enjoyed the meal.
It’s a good thing today is an off day. I’ve already spent twelve minutes making oatmeal and packing lunch. And tonight’s pizza night.
I’m not sure what we’ll do when we have to have five whole days in a row of Mama’s Not Bothering To Cook Anymore food.
Yesterday may turn out to be a day my kids talk about many, many years from now. “That was the day Mom finally snapped.”
I heard one more complaint about food than I could handle, and I snapped. Yes, I did.
You, gentle readers, probably know how important food is in the [our last name] household. We like it, we eat it, we grow it, we spend lots of time making, enjoying, and talking about it. Our fondest memories from France involve food. Our best family time is around the dinner table. I’ve always made a point to get the boys in the kitchen with me. We care about sustainable agriculture. We’ll try anything once. We’re foodies.
But with all the time I spend on food, I still get complaints. All the time.
“Mommy, I don’t like mushrooms.”
“Gosh, I was hoping not to have to do quite so many dishes.”
“Mom, I’m trying not to eat so many carbs.”
“Why do we have to stay at the table for the WHOLE DINNER?”
“I’m really trying to cut back on fatty foods, you know.”
“Mommy, why do you have to make so many dinners with onions?”
“I wouldn’t have mopped last night if I had known you were making egg rolls tonight.”
“This cabbage is . . . not my favorite vegetable, Mommy.”
“I have to be at choir practice in five minutes, Mom. Why isn’t dinner ready yet?”
“I thought we were doing less meat this month.”
“I had to eat a yucky lunch at school today, Mommy, because you didn’t pack my lunch.”
“Whoa! How much did all this cost??”
“Why didn’t you buy chocolate ice cream?”
“Mom, it’s swim season now. Where are the carbs?”
“We never gave Isaac that canned stuff.”
“You’re not making dessert tonight?”
I realized that far too much of my life is invested in making delicious, inventive, varied, inexpensive, tasty, healthy, not-too-many-dish-dirtying food.
And so I snapped. Royally.
I am now on semi-strike. I will spend no more than fifteen minutes per day preparing food. Period.
Let you ungrateful wretches see how that feels.
I’m lying. It didn’t happen that way at all. But I have decided to do an experiment for the next month or so, involving drastically reduced food preparation time.
Here’s what happened.
Stephen, the ever-loving and thoughtful hubby that he is, said to me yesterday, “Hon, you know, you are working two jobs and trying to finish a diss while raising three children. Maybe . . . maybe we don’t have to have lamb shanks and homemade sushi and fresh-baked bread and homemade ice cream and, you know, fancy stuff, like, every night.”
At first, I questioned his sanity. (Yes I did, gentle reader. I am ashamed to say it, but I did.)
But then I repented of my error and I decided to take him at his word. He said, “You know, it’s not the end of the world if we have to eat frozen lasagna.” And so we will.
Okay, maybe not frozen lasagna. (Ick.) But I’ve decided to spend the next month prioritizing time over every other food consideration–over health, cost, taste, variety, enjoyment, everything. Fifteen minutes of food preparation per day, max. Total. For all meals. (Except on the weekend, because . . . well, because.)
So. I made a meal plan, and I went shopping.
That’s it. That’s what we’re having for the next week.
Breakfast is fruit, toast, yogurt, or cereal. If you want oatmeal, make it yourself. Peel your own damn banana, and don’t you dare ask me to cut it for you.
The cereal is also for days I run out of time before dinner’s ready. If it’s been fifteen minutes and we have no dinner? Cereal.
Lunch is sandwiches. Period. If you want healthy, I’ll throw a piece of lettuce on it.
Sorry, Amos, but this applies to you, too. If you can’t eat what we’re eating, you get the canned/jarred/shelf-stable crap. Suck it up, kid. (And, yes, I did get the liquid concentrate, for days stirring powdered formula might be too much for me. I dare you to give me grief about it.)
Snacks–pretzels or popcorn. No. I’m not making scones. No. I’m not making homemade cookies. And you might want to pick popcorn the days Daddy is home, because I’m totally counting the two minutes it’s in the microwave as prep time.
Tomorrow is tomato soup and grilled cheese.
Fridays and Saturdays are “proper” cooking days. I’ll do something easy-ish, but I won’t hold myself to the fifteen-minute limit.
Friday night is pizza night. If I go over on my time even once during the week, I’m ordering pizza. (Don’t you raise that eyebrow at me, Stephen. This was your idea.) If we stay within my time budget, I’ll make it, but only with purchased dough. This Friday is pepperoni pizza and carrot salad.
Saturday will be burgers, cole slaw, and French fries.
Sunday is back on quick-prep time. I got a cut-up chicken and some diced sweet potatoes and rutabagas. Five minutes to put it in a roaster and throw it in the oven. Done. (I can’t believe I never, ever bought a cut-up whole chicken before now. I can’t believe twenty cents a pound actually dissuaded me.)
There’s enough of the veggies to make soup for Monday. Five minutes to put the veggies in with the broth, five minutes to puree when it’s done cooking. I’m not even going to stir it in between.
Tuesday is steak sandwiches with mushrooms and onions. I hope chopping the onions won’t put me over on time.
Wednesday is roast with onions. If it takes less than ten minutes to cut the onions and put the roast and onions in the oven, I’ll also make green beans. Otherwise, no go.
This was the most important purchase. Spaghetti, jarred sauce, and frozen meatballs.
If I hear one complaint about the new meal plan, He Who Complains gets to make dinner the next night. Anybody, even someone with a Y chromosome, can make spaghetti and meatballs.
Well, okay, maybe not Theo. But the other two are on notice!
So there we are. I won’t keep track of cost this week, because I’ve got, for example, three loaves of homemade bread I’ll use, and a bunch of other leftovers we’ll probably use to supplement lunch.
But after this week, I’ll be interested to see how much this kind of eating costs.
Have you ever seen a sales technique in action?
How does it make you feel?
I’ve been wondering about this lately. I can see very clearly when someone is using a technique aimed to “catch” someone of another generation.
I’ve watched salespeople use the “I’ll give you a discount” technique on Baby Boomers. They’ll quote a price and wait for the Boomer to express dismay, and then they’ll drop the price by 10%. Someone my age will walk into the store and ask for the same thing, and they’ll immediately go to the “discount” price they quoted the Boomer.
(No, seriously. I’ve seen it happen.)
I don’t trust a salesperson that gives me a discount. But I get the feeling that a Boomer wouldn’t trust a salesperson that didn’t give him a discount. To me, it’s a manipulative technique; to someone else, it’s the way one should do business.
To me, it feels like trickery. To someone else, it feels like success.
I also get a little antsy about church services with names. “The Well.” “Celebration.” “Passion.” “The River.”
Someone seems to have convinced churches that catchy names will help them connect with people under the age of thirty. Maybe if I were still under thirty, it would work on me. Maybe I would be moved by it.
But I’m not. When I see a church using that technique, I see it as a technique, and it puts me on my guard.
And then I start to wonder what techniques people use on me that I don’t notice as a technique.
Humor. Intellectually, I know how manipulative humor can be. But I suspect that sometimes I’m being manipulated by humor and don’t notice it.
Self-effacement. Some forms of false modesty I can see through, and they make me snarly. (“Oh, I’m so fat!” [expectant stare]) (“Oh, I’m not very smart!” [expectant stare]) But I think I have an instinctively trusting reaction to those who can poke fun at themselves. I wonder if that’s a technique.
Can you think of others? Can you see techniques that seem to “work” on other people that don’t work on you?
Have you ever been able to see yourself from the outside, as it were, and see what tends to “work” on you? Have you ever watched yourself be manipulated?
No one wants to have to go to a funeral, of course. But since funerals, like weddings, tend to gather large numbers of family members together, it can be a good place for a family photo.
Of course, if you’ve got three or four people trying to get the same family photo all at once, it won’t necessarily turn out to be a good family photo.
This is Grandmom M, Mom & Dad S, K&K and their daughter I, and Stephen and I with our boys.
We were all as tired as Theo, but some of us could hide it better.
This is Grandmom M with all five of her great-grandchildren. Poor Isaac. “All right, let’s get Isaac and all the babies together!”
It’s good to have something to celebrate, though, even at a funeral, isn’t it?
I hope we don’t have to do this again for a long time. But we will, eventually, and when we do, there will be something blessed about it, even in the midst of sadness.
When I dropped Theo off at pre-school this morning, his teacher had out a pan of bubbly water and a can of shaving cream.
This prompted three thoughts:
1) I’m really good at teaching college kids.
2) He’s clearly going to have a really good day.
3) It’s kind of amazing that two simple ingredients can make for a really good day.
What two simple ingredients would make your day a really good day?
Don’t get all metaphorical on me. Or all sentimental and relationship-y. Seriously. Among things that can be placed on a table in a room, what two things would you want on the table in a room you’d be spending a good chunk of the day in?
I’m pretty sure my two things would be a skein of new yarn and a glass of Grand Marnier. Or maybe a good cup of tea and a new Jasper Fforde novel.
Of course, tickets to a U2 concert and a bottle of Veuve Clicquot would also work.
But I can’t seem to get those down at the neighborhood strip mall.
Wanna know what our official school plans are for this year?
I’m teaching two courses in Christology at [nearby private, church-affiliated college]. I’m having them read Thurman’s Jesus and the Disinherited, Prothero’s American Jesus, Julian’s Revelations of Divine Love, and Athanasius’s On The Incarnation, along with bunches of other articles and Biblical readings.
I’m also Finishing The Diss, Dammit.
Isaac is in tenth grade at [nearby private high school], taking Spanish, Pre-Calc, Literary Genres, US History, Chemistry, and Bible (poor dear), and is in three musical ensembles. I’m not impressed with the reading list in English, and I’m preparing to be good and appalled when Bible rolls around in the Spring.
Theo is going to preschool at the preschool at Stephen’s church. He’ll be in Miss Sandy’s room. They’re doing reading readiness, art, number awareness, and beginning handwriting. We’ll probably do a little homeschooling with him in the afternoons, since he’s the sort that needs lots and lots of activity to keep him from blowing up the parsonage. We’re still in negotiations as to which math program we might use (the anti-Saxon feeling here is strong, but One Of Us thinks he’ll take to it better than he will Singapore, the other strong contender). We’re using a reading list from The Well-Trained Mind for reading, and Draw Write Now for handwriting and art. He has lots of tree climbing, sports, and Just Being Silly planned for the year, as well.
Amos will be taking Advanced Infant Skills (Accelerated Track). Last year, in Beginning Infant Skills (Accelerated Track), we let him slide with a few B+’s (in sleeping, getting a diaper change without crawling away, and staying away from electrical outlets). We’ve let him know that we have higher expectations of him this year. He’ll be working on Motor Skills (Preliminary Steps), Linguistics (Directed Babbling), Engineering (Structures With Four to Six Blocks), and Health (Eating, plus Advanced Diaper Change Notification Skills). We’re trying to get him in a musical ensemble (Advanced Screechers), but there isn’t an opening for a Baby Basso Profundo at the moment, and I just don’t think he has the range for Baby Tenor.
What are you teaching, learning, writing, or otherwise working on this year?
I recently had occasion to witness yet another parent put her petty desires over the welfare of her children. It was a brief interaction, and the only one on which I could base my judgment of this woman, who was a stranger to me, but it was significant enough that I felt my conclusions were not unwarranted.
I started to hear a friend’s voice in my head, however. (In a totally normal, Not Insane, no-need-for-medication way. You know, like when you can hear what your mom’s going to say before you even pick up the phone?)
My friend never admits that women do anything wrong. His version of feminism requires the belief that all women, everywhere and at all times, are virtuous, thanks in part to what they have suffered at the hands of Everyone.
He often makes helpful points, though, this friend, and Lord knows I do enough dumb things in public that leave witnesses questioning my character. It’s certainly the case that making judgments about character based on a single interaction, or a small set of interactions, is a bad idea; and, theologically speaking, one wants to avoid trespassing on God’s exclusive jurisdiction, which is, of course, the judging of souls.
But this was one incident where I could confidently say that a woman made an honest-to-goodness, wrong, harmful, and even (here’s where I put on my theologian’s hat) sinful mistake. There may be context that explains, but none that excuses. I may (I do) have a religious obligation to extend to her the grace and forgiveness and powerful healing love that Christ offers, but pretending she didn’t make a real mistake won’t help that process along any.
The interaction reminded me of something that happened when I was ten or eleven. It’s one of those stories you never tell your parents. (Sorry, Mom and Dad! It turned out okay, though, right?)
I was spending the night at a friend’s house. (I think I’d done it several times, but this is the only one that remains in my memory.) Her step-father was away, but her mom and her half-sister, who was two or three, were home.
We were sitting up eating ice cream and playing games while her mom put baby sister to bed. When her mom came back into the room, she was putting the last few hairpins into a long, blond wig she had just put on.
“What do you think?” she asked us.
I can’t remember the details of what she was wearing, nor how her face looked, but I remember being transfixed by her hair. It matched her real hair in color and texture, and she pinned it about where one would put a headband. The front third of her own hair was curled and teased around it so that you couldn’t see where the hairpiece started.
Whatever she was wearing on her body and her face, she was utterly transformed, and it was both attractive and unsettling. I could tell that she looked “better”–that she had paid extra attention to her appearance–but I couldn’t bring myself to say so. There was something . . . not-better about the way she looked. I wanted to tell her that she looked pretty, but she didn’t. And I couldn’t.
I think I said, “That really looks like it’s your real hair.” I remember thinking it, but I don’t know if it came out of my mouth. I was too surprised and puzzled.
And that’s when it got really weird.
She said to us girls, “All right, [friend's name], I’m going to call your father now. You girls hush up so I can talk to him.”
She called her husband, my friend’s step-father, and she underwent yet another shocking transformation.
Her voice, which had been energetic and sparkling and conspiratorial, suddenly became cloudy, unfocused, and uncertain. “Bill? Did you just try to call here?”
A short pause, then a yawn, and, “Oh. The phone just rang, but then it hung up. Are you sure you’re okay?”
Another pause, a sleepy sort of sniff, and then, “Okay, well, I’m just going to go back to sleep here. I may turn the phone off if it does that again. You be safe.”
And then she turned the ringer off of her phone.
I have no idea how wide my ten-year-old eyes were at this point, but I hope my kids’ eyes never have reason to get quite that wide.
She turned to us and explained that she was going Out (I had no idea where that was, but I was a little nervous) because she really needed to Have A Good Time, and that we should just go to my friend’s room and stay there, and that we should go to sleep pretty soon. She would be back after we went to sleep, she promised.
I don’t remember the rest of the evening, nor the next morning. (Thank God, nothing memorable happened. I don’t know what two ten-year-olds and a toddler would have done if it had.)
I do remember being stunned, utterly stunned, when she left.
It was completely outside of my experience that a mother would leave her children alone at night to go party. I had never seen my mother do anything that had even a whiff of naughtiness about it, and I’d certainly never seen her lie to my father to get away with it. I remember marveling at what a simple, effective plan my friend’s mother had concocted.
That was the first time my little ten-year-old brain began to connect actions with character. The thought wasn’t fully formed, but it was there, trying to get itself thunk. “How did she get so good at being sneaky?”
Because it had all the markers of being a practice of long standing, although I couldn’t have put it that way at the time. She had thought several moves ahead, anticipated reactions and complications, made contingency plans. But, more shockingly, she had done it in full view of her daughter and her daughter’s friend, without worrying about its effect on them. (I do remember trying to think that thought, too. “Are we supposed to know about this?”) It was something that did not require concealment, whether that was because it was routine enough or acceptable enough I could not say.
I have since learned, of course, that some mothers do unspeakably wrong things to their children, whether out of ignorance or pain or illness or, yes, even malice. I’ve since learned that some mothers don’t have the emotional or mental or financial resources to care for their children the way my parents cared for me.
And, all things considered, this one wasn’t terribly bad. It was genuinely dangerous, but we did not suffer any material harm. It was just so very alien to my own childhood–one dominated by stable, loving, involved, sane parents–that it stood out as a unique experience.
But based on my wee, tiny intersection with dysfunctional families, I’m totally okay with saying this:
Sometimes parents get it wrong. Really wrong.
And sometimes when you see it happening, you can be really, genuinely certain that there is a pervasive pattern of getting-it-wrong that might be reasonable to associate with the erring parent’s character.
Of course, one incident doesn’t a pattern make, and one should always interpret even patterns with humility. I don’t see everything correctly, and what seems obvious to me might nonetheless conceal a vastly different truth than the conclusion I draw.
But sometimes you really do get a sample size that is sufficiently large to allow you to connect actions with character. Sometimes you can justly move from “She lied” to “She’s a liar.” From “I can’t imagine doing that to my child” to “There’s something wrong with her parenting.”
My friend’s mother did something she ought not to have done for the sake of a pleasure she could have forgone. This was bad. She was wrong to have left us the way she did. And she was wrong to teach her daughter that marriage did not require fidelity and honesty.
I imagined my friend warning me against making unwarranted judgments without knowing all the facts, and superimposed on his warning came my son’s voice, jokingly repeating the catchphrase of his generation: “Don’t judge me!”
My equally flippant rebuttal: I’m not judging you. I’m just watching your behavior and drawing logical conclusions about your character.
What I really fear is that my friend’s ostensible sensitivity to judgmentalism is actually a denial of the possibility of wrong-doing, and that this ostensible sensitivity has so cemented itself in our moral discourse that we have lost the ability to judge rightly the wrongs we ourselves do.
I fear that we refrain from judging others not in obedience to a higher calling but to a lower one. Judge not, lest ye be judged: you might want to do the same yourself, some day, and you don’t want someone holding you to account, now, do you?
Yeah. I’m judging you. And if I ever leave my children at home alone to go out carousing all night? You can judge me, too. Please judge me. Tell me so. My soul depends on it.