Chicken Soup: delicious healer, wise teacher

My daughter is not generally a fussy eater. In order to maintain this, when I notice her turning her nose up at certain foods, I try to mix things up a little and get her involved in the whole food provision process. Last time this happened was early in the year when we were both on holidays. I noticed some resistance to my usual no-fuss dinners, and thought I’d take the break as an opportunity to try something different. A week or so beforehand I had been unwell, and a lovely human had brought me chicken soup to make me feel better. I asked my dear progeny if she would like to help make chicken soup, and – being a fan of both chicken and soup – she eagerly agreed. We spent some time looking at recipes online, chose a a good one and worked out what ingredients we would need. We trundled down to the shops, and daughter took great delight in going off on her own to find ingredients in the supermarket (she is a big girl, after all). When we got home, my helper washed veggies and lugged the big pot out of the cupboard, then went off to play while I did the dangerous sharp and hot bits. She would reappear occasionally to steal some bits of carrot and dry noodles and to have a stir, and we would tell each other how good it all smelled. At last, it was ready. There was heaps. I filled old takeaway containers and tupperware and lined them up on the bench to cool – and there was still enough in the pot for dinner and lunch the next day. It was a balmy evening and we sat outside on the back step to eat. The soup was delicious and all was idyllic… until, after a few mouthfuls, daughter spoke.

“I don’t really like this.”

Needless to say, I was a bit sad. All that effort! All that excitement! All that soup!!

She had a good try and managed to get through half a bowl (mainly by eating the noodles), but I’m not a fan of forcing the poor thing to eat stuff she genuinely doesn’t like, so I eventually relented and made her a vegemite sandwich.

The lesson I took away from this little episode was about expectation. We form expectations about all kinds of things, big and small. But life so rarely delivers on them – and it’s easy to be left feeling deflated, disappointed and/or pissed off. I know some people who try to avoid all expectation as a way of practising detachment, but that doesn’t work for me. I end up expecting myself to not have expectations (oh, the irony!), and getting frustrated when I inevitably fail. Instead, I try to acknowledge and manage my expectations. They aren’t always realistic, and if (when!) something falls short, I am able to see that maybe the problem was with my expectation, rather than an error or shortcoming of the person/event/food involved. This isn’t a mechanism to enable self-blame. Instead, it’s a way of keeping things in perspective, and of taking ownership of what’s going on in my head rather than externalising responsibility.

This is one of those life lessons I have learned repeatedly, and will continue to forget and learn again and again. Like my chicken soups, the lesson is slightly different each time. And, if I’m lucky, the end products of both will be increasingly delicious.

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Superfood

A quick internet search of “superfoods” brings up page after page of information about blueberries, chia, acai, broccoli and a gazillion other foods that will, apparently, do any and everything good for your health – from keeping you regular, to curing cancer.

But here’s a little secret: Superfoods don’t exist.

Obviously there are some foods that are better for you than others, but the idea that eating a particular grain or berry will significantly alter your health is a myth. To me it seems only a smallish leap from blind faith in superfoods to the outrageous claims I read in an article recently that injecting bi-carb soda can cure childhood asthma. No. It cannot. And the fundamental fallacy behind this kind of thinking pisses me off to such a degree that I am not even going to provide a link to the article – it was just so much twaddle.

But I digress. That is only a small part of what this post is about.

This week is Mothers’ Day – another commercially hijacked occasion to offer a token expression of our gratitude to the woman who bore us… in the sense of ‘carried’ rather than ‘makes us bored’ (!). The combination of superfoods and Mothers’ Day has led me to consider another concept: Super-mum.

I use this term quite a bit – in an ironic sense – usually to describe myself when I achieve a new level of parent-fail. Like the other morning, as I bundled my daughter into a cab to the airport at 4am and she asked with exquisite politeness, “Mummy, can I please have some shoes?”. Total Super-mum moment. But a day earlier, I actually did it. For real. I pulled it off, and it was brilliant. I got us out of the house, to daycare and work EARLY. I buckled down at work and got a ridiculous amount of stuff done. I earned a compliment from my boss, who doesn’t give compliments. I ran errands during my lunch-break and still had time for coffee with a friend. I left work 20mins late, but was only 5mins late to collect my daughter. I kept my cool on the way home, even when we missed our bus because we had to stop in at a pub for a toilet emergency. I didn’t nag or fuss. I was patient and cheerful. I averted about 7 tantrums in half an hour without giving in to frustration. When we got home, I handed over to my husband and popped to the shop to get a few essential items, and I got back before dinner was cold. I was amazing.

For one day.

And here’s my point – most mothers I know do it every day. To be honest, even though I lose my temper more than I would like, I actually manage to pull off days like that fairly often. But I’m not super. I’m just doing what needs to be done.

The fact is that most people today live a lifestyle that is demanding in a very bizarre way – we are ‘busy’; we rush around like ants, trying to ‘get things done’ – usually things that are indoors, computer-based, not quite ‘real’. When I stop to think about it, it strikes me as quite odd – and makes me realise that being busy is a choice. I chose to be busy the other day, and it paid off. I was focused and productive. My daughter was one of the first to arrive at her creche, and the last to leave – but that’s ok. It doesn’t happen often and she’s no worse for it. Choosing busy isn’t always the right way to go – and I often avoid it. But it concerns me that a lot of mums, a lot of parents, a lot of people in general, don’t stop to think and make the choice – they just barrel on with a ‘have to’ attitude. It’s a difficult habit to break, especially when we are surrounded with the expectation that we want and need to have it all – a partner, a family, a career, a home of our own. In order to succeed in a mainstream sense, we are expected to be super.

But super doesn’t exist. Not when it comes to heroes, not when it comes to food, not when it comes to mums.

I love blueberries, broccoli and linseed.

I also love chocolate and red wine.

I love my mum.

And I love my daughter, more than I thought it was possible to love anyone or anything.

I also get frustrated and annoyed by her, and I know the feeling is mutual.

The thing is, life is about balance. It’s not about super achievements and ultimate failures. It’s not about striving for perfection and self-hating when we inevitable fall short. Rather, it is about enjoying the incredibly finite time we have. It’s about pleasure without guilt and responsibility without resentment. Appreciating the little things, and taking the big ones with a sense of humour.

So next time a headline screams at you about a superfood or a supermum, just remember – super is a state of mind. And don’t forget to call your mum for Mothers’ Day. Why not call her next week too, just for the hell of it. Or better yet, send her a punnet of blueberries soaked in aloe vera and sprinkled with bi-carb soda.

That’d be super

Egg on one’s face

I have lived out of home for well over a decade, and I have been making meals for more than half my life. I couldn’t even begin to guess how many omelettes I have made in my time, particularly over the last few years of having a small child and part-time work. Some nights creating even the most humble of omelettes is almost more than I can manage! You would think that this would be the kind of meal I could make with my eyes closed and one hand tied behind my back and yet sometimes (perhaps more regularly than I would like to admit) they turn out looking like the mess above. This is not the only area in my life where I should know what I’m doing and yet regularly make an apparent hash of things.

I am consistently 10-15 minutes late for work. This is because I always hit snooze on my alarm one too many times, because I have always stayed up just a little bit too late (or had a little too much wine) the night before. On the odd occasion when I do get to bed at a respectable hour, make it through a night of unbroken sleep and get up when the alarm first rings, everything else just falls into place – we get ready BEFORE we leave the house, we make it to the bus without running, we get to creche without drama, I get to work on time, I leave work on time, we get home in time for a proper dinner (not just an ugly omelette), we go to bed at our respective bedtimes ready to do it all again tomorrow. It seems so easy. TOO easy. Yet I have never managed to do it on two consecutive days. I have never managed to do it twice in the same week! Why haven’t I learned?

Similarly with parenting. I am newer to being a parent than I am to most things in my life. Still, I have close to 5 years of experience and by now I really should know the basics. In fact, I do know the basics – don’t let your child get overtired &/or very hungry; don’t get mad at your child if she’s playing up because she’s overtired &/or very hungry; have realistic, age-appropriate expectations of your child, especially when she’s overtired &/or very hungry. I know the basics, I just don’t live the basics. Time and again I will find myself engaged in a loud verbal battle with my near-hysterical daughter, having fixated on some minor misdemeanor of hers (snatching, not saying please, etc) whilst having conveniently neglected to remind myself that she is only 4years old, she had half a cruskit dipped in yoghurt for dinner, she has gone all day without a rest and it is now 8pm. Why. Haven’t. I. Learned??

Well, the truth is, I have learned. I’ve learned an awful lot, and I am still learning. I have learned that there are patterns of behaviour that are ingrained, whether through nature or nurture, that are extremely difficult to change – but there are ways around them. For instance, I remember being unfairly scolded as a child – but I don’t ever remember being apologised to for it. I have learned to be mindful of my reactions to my daughter’s behavior, and when I overreact I apologise and explain to her that sometimes I get tired and cranky too. I am learning to stop and think before I snap – I am, after all, the adult in the situation. I have the ability to apply self-control, even if I sometimes forget to.

I have learned that, while punctuality is important, there are other things in my life that I value more highly than being at my desk by 8:45am – things like sharing a glass of cheeky red and a long talk with my housemate; my husband reading aloud to me late at night, putting on silly voices to make me giggle; sitting by our daughter’s bed in the wee hours, soothing her back to sleep after a bad dream. These are the things that carry meaning in my life, small things, memories that I treasure.

I have learned to be kinder to myself, especially when I don’t meet my own expectations.

And I have learned that I know how to make delicious omelettes. They may not always look like they should, but they are quick, easy, tasty and nutritious. And, like so many things in life, the wonky bits can always be hidden under a layer of cheese…