Last Sunday night, I decided to take an at-home vacation. I thought, What can I do to possibly make life simpler this week? And since all of the other complexities, complications, and obligations were ones that I couldn’t eschew, I decided not to cook. My mother brought me up with an old-world European mentality, and I have been cooking since I was 21. I mean, really cooking – not opening cans and using frozen vegetables and rice mixes. But sauces “from scratch,” and slow-cooked stews, roasted game hens, poached salmon and such. I can remember my mother sitting at the kitchen table in an apron… shelling peas, cutting the tips off green beans, mashing potatoes with a fork. We were the only kids who begged our mother to buy us Swanson’s TV dinners. I didn’t have pizza until I was 18, and I still remember the night that my college boyfriend Michael introduced me to Burger King and Nathan’s. I was in fast-food heaven. My daughter, Ellie, has acquired this nutritional legacy, and even David and Ben like to cook. And Ellie packs lunches for Larry. Yes, I confess: I pack a lunch for my husband every day – wanting him to have something healthy as opposed to a deli sandwich.
My poor Ellie. This legacy is somewhat of a curse.
My sister didn’t get the anal compulsive culinary gene. As a matter of fact, she is the anti-domestic goddess: On Christmas Eve, she came into my kitchen demanding to know why dinner was taking so long.
“My oven isn’t great,” I explained. “I have it at 400, but it’s only at 325. It just sucks.”
“Oh, for God sakes,” Bobbi said irritably. “It’s at 729. What’s the matter with you?”
A brilliant woman: She was looking at the oven’s digital clock. Sad, but true.
So, I defied the gods this past week, needing in some way or other to give myself a break from domestic duties which have become overwhelming as I care for my family – and Ben who has been on winter break since the middle of December. With Ben in L.A. for the week, I admit, it was easier to take this stance. If the truth be known, it’s really caring for my parents that’s the overwhelming part.
Like so many of us “of a certain age,” I don’t sleep well at night. I am, and have always been, a victim of the over-cranking brain – and now, when I awaken at 3 a.m., tossing off the covers, drenched in perspiration (some women refer to these episodes as “power surges” – sorry, but they’re hot flashes, and that’s the bottom line), my mind starts racing, and then as I begin to freeze as the body heat ebbs, I grab my pillow and a throw blanket, head to the couch, turn on the TV, and watch infomercials until I am bored into sleep again. I’ve calculated that I’ve had an extra three hours of freedom each day – what with not grocery shopping, not cooking, and not doing dishes. And despite the sleep deprivation, I find myself more rested, calmer, not pressed for time. I am nearly heady with freedom.
This “freedom” allowed me to visit a friend yesterday – someone whom I always enjoy talking with, someone who is a great mentor, who shares stories with me, who inspires me to write and makes me think…and thinking is really the most difficult aspect of writing. You must have a book written in your head before it’s down on paper. About 15 minutes into conversation, he asked, “Would you like a glass of wine?” It was just after 3 p.m., and without hesitation, I said YES – with such enthusiasm I surprised myself. When was the last time I drank mid-week in the middle of the day? At that point, I was feeling nearly hedonistic.
So, there it was: An epiphany. What are some of the little things we can do when life gets in the way, and we really need to let things go? I can’t forsake my parents and their daily needs – but it was, unequivocally, their daily needs that were beginning to enervate me. It became apparent that I need to substitute some time – give back the hours I spent caring for them to myself without making anyone else a casualty. My sister confessed that she spent a few hours this past week watching Law and Order re-runs. We’re in this together with our parents: She also needed to just stop.
Coming home on the subway during rush hour (after the wine), I switched subway cars three times. I guess it was the wine that allowed me to do this with abandon, not worrying what the other riders might think as I exited at a stop only to enter the next car/same train. But in the first car there was a woman on an imaginary soapbox ranting about Obama, and then in the second car, a man with a large stick and an empty Dunkin Donuts cup asking for money because there is a war in the Middle East (I didn’t get that connection), and in the third car, a man who slept across three seats, and then awakened only to harass passengers. I was mugged four times in the 1970′s. For whatever reason, I attract lunacy. And so I changed cars until I found one that wasn’t threatening.
Last night, when I awakened at 3 a.m. and took to the couch, I wondered what my mother ever did to liberate herself from the daily grind. She was the quintessential product of her generation: a woman caught somewhere between her apron and burning her bra, tantalized by The Feminine Mystique yet all too tentative when it came to liberation. When I wrote my first novel in between a full-time job and domesticity, she replied (upon hearing that it was accepted for publication), “I wish that I had time to write a novel.” It angered me then. Why wasn’t she happier for me? Prouder? I have come to realize that her response was from her gut. In her world, she not only didn’t have time, and felt she had no right to even steal time. So, between the afternoon wine, not cooking, and refusing to feel threatened albeit by people who can’t help themselves and are barely surviving in this arctic cold let alone with the demons in their heads, I decided to take care of me. I invite you all to think of one thing you can do to make your lives easier this week, to do what you need and aren’t simply “supposed to do.” It’s liberating.