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Posts Tagged ‘Am I just making things difficult for myself’

Look what we found in our yard yesterday!

Three deer

Don’t water them; they proliferate.

We have an over-abundance of suburban deer in our neighborhood. They roam the yards, eating trees and plants. Yes, they are very picturesque. And I know and understand that we humans are trespassing on THEIR land, and not the other way around. But even knowing this, and even feeling guilty/sad for the deer and their lack of forest/meadow land, I find them irritating. They eat our trees down to the bark. They eat any vegetables I dare to plant. They poop all over our yard.

My husband has taken it upon himself to chase them away whenever they take up residence in our yard. He went out to this trio last night, waving his arms, and they COMPLETELY ignored him. He must have gotten within five feet of them and they didn’t care. So he turned the hose on them. They all stood up, but that was the extent of their botherment. And rather than shooing them away, he sort of ended up watering them instead.

***

We recently spent a few days at the house of some friends. We had a wonderful time. The kids all played splendidly together, with maybe one or two small sharing issues and nothing at all beyond that. The grown ups had a delightful time, chatting and catching up and generally ignoring the kids, who were completely occupied by each other.

Our friends cooked several meals for us, which was so lovely. They are excellent cooks and they put in the kind of attention to detail that makes you (me) kind of well up with love and appreciation. For instance, they made this delicious baked brie with a completely decadent topping of honey and nuts and raisins and sultanas. And my friend made these little heart cutouts in pastry dough and put them on top of the baked brie before she baked it. It was so sweet and so lovely. I wish we lived nearer to them.

Spending time with another family in their house, you get a good sense of how differently families can run. First of all, I love that little glimpse at other people’s lives, just on a voyeuristic level. I am fascinated by how Other People Do Things. Secondly, you can get some good ideas for how you can do things better/differently. For instance, they spend almost the entire weekend outside. Instead of using that time to run errands and loaf around the house doing laundry, they go to the petting zoo and then they go hiking and then they go to the beach and then they find a parade to watch and then they go to the farmer’s market. While that is, to me, Super Expert Level Activity, I really like the idea of doing it on maybe a Beginner’s Level. I can do errands during the week and then we can all go out and have fun over the weekend. (My husband and I were better about doing that when Carla was younger, because she needed physical activity or she was bouncing off the walls. She’s more mellow these days.)

But the other thing that’s interesting is seeing what kind of household rules another family has. And, while interesting, there’s also some potential for conflict, when you are trying to reinforce family rules that might be different from your friends’.

Can we stipulate that there are all sort of things that a particular family might find important or not important? And that every family is different, and values different things? And that just because I value one thing doesn’t mean that I am secretly judging you for not prioritizing that same thing?

In general, I feel that if you are a guest at someone’s house, you follow their rules. Like… if there’s a house rule that you take your shoes off at the door, you do that, even if you think it’s ridiculous. If there’s no eating food in the living room, you don’t eat food in the living room. Right?

And that’s all well and good… but what if the other family has a VOID where your own rules are?

Here’s an example. At our house, one of the family rules is that you stay at the table until everyone is finished. But when we were at our friends’ house this weekend, they let their kids sort of wander off whenever they felt like it. So… what am I, as a parent, supposed to do? Because we’re at someone else’s house, we operate under their family rules… even if the rules go directly against what we do in our own family?

We also have a rule that you don’t start eating until the whole family is sitting at the table. So when Carla grabbed a piece of bacon off the tray and started eating it while my friends were still cooking breakfast and while my husband and I were still setting the table, I scolded her. And she was outraged, because, she pointed out, my friends’ daughter had ALSO taken a piece of bacon from the tray! She was just following her friend’s lead! And my friends (the parents) just shrugged. Oh well, they said. They’re kids. They’re hungry. We shouldn’t have put a tempting tray of bacon on the table like that. (At that point, I felt like an asshole. Like I was one-step-removed chastising their kid, and also them, for not having the same rule.)

There was a LOT of this kind of thing, over the weekend. Where Carla would do a thing that I would normally not let her get away with. Climbing on the furniture, for instance. Or eating candy at breakfast time. Or not holding a grown up’s hand in the parking lot. But when I pointed out to her that she was breaking a rule, she would get all incredulous, because she was just doing what our friends’ kids were doing!

I don’t know what to DO in that kind of situation. Part of me wants to shrug and say something like, “When in Rome.” Or, “We are on vacation, so we can relax the rules a little.” But another part of me shrieks, “Consistency!” and then I get probably a little bit self-righteous, alongside my confusion. I’m not teaching Carla anything earth-shattering.  But these are things I want Carla to learn, and want her to do even when she’s at another family’s house. Even when other kids are doing the opposite. (Right? That’s why we teach our kids things! So that when they grow up or are away from us, they still behave in the way we deem best.) And I also want her to understand that she needs to be responsible for her own behavior, even if other kids are behaving differently. At some point, it starts feeling Big and Important and Critical. Like, if I don’t crack down now on her saying “Well, I’m going to eat candy because Pearl is eating candy!” that in ten years she’ll be saying, “Well, I’m going to try cocaine because Pearl is trying cocaine!” and “Well, Isla thinks it’s okay to send nude photos to her boyfriend, so I’m doing it too!” and “You weren’t there to tell me not to rob this bank, but Emmett was robbing it, so I did it too!” and then her life is ruined.

Maybe what needs to happen is a Pre-Visit Conversation, where I anticipate this kind of thing. And I sit Carla down and remind her that families are different, and have different rules and values, and that we mustn’t forget to abide by the rules that are important to our own family.

But even that feels… sticky. Because some rules are just naturally not as important as others. For instance, if the other family DOES wear shoes in the house, I am fine with Carla wearing shoes in their house. Even though we have a “no shoes in the house” policy. In that case, I’m fine with going with the other family’s way of doing things. Same with… watching TV at meal times. Or eating in the living room. Or whatever.

Why do those feel different to me than the “sitting at the table until everyone is done” policy? Hmm. I suppose there are many categories of rules, and some are important and immoveable while others are more flexible.

Let’s see. The “holding hands in the parking lot” thing is a safety issue, so that’s easy enough to categorize: Don’t put yourself or others in danger. Well, it’s easy for me to categorize, although it may be much more confusing to a five-year-old.

The “don’t eat until everyone is at the table” thing seems to me a matter of manners. So maybe that’s another category: make sure you still maintain your manners at someone else’s house. Say please and thank you, even if the other kids don’t. Pick up after yourself, even if the other kids don’t. Stay at the table until everyone is done, even if the other kids don’t (well, unless the parent says specifically that you can be dismissed). And it goes the other way, too — if the other family has manners-specific rules that you don’t have, you should adhere to them too. I had an elementary school friend whose family rule was that you eat every thing on your plate at meal times, which seems like a manners issue to me. And so in cases where “manners” are involved, you defer to the “good manners” option. I’m describing this in such a clunky way. I think what I mean is, it would be considered impolite to the other family, if you didn’t clear your plate. So in that case, you do the polite thing and clear your plate, even though there’s no “clear your plate” rule in your own family. (Man, that was the WORST rule for me. You may recall that I am super picky eater. It made me never want to eat at my friend’s house.) This is probably an Intermediate Level type of rule following, because it requires the ability to infer the other family’s reaction to following or not following the rules. I mean, if you go to someone’s house and they all say grace before dinner, but that’s not part of your own belief system… I don’t think you should have to say grace out of fear that the other family will find you rude. (You do have to be still and quiet and respectful during grace, like, not grabbing a handful of bacon while grace is being said.) But that’s something that you might not know/think about when you’re ONLY FIVE. I know, I am getting way ahead of myself on some of these things. And also this whole paragraph is confusing me even though it came from MY brain and I’M writing it so I’m going to move on.

Can I say how HARD it is to talk about this, without sounding/feeling judgmental? I know we made all sorts of stipulations at the beginning of this post, but maybe you, like I, have forgotten that. Or maybe you are, like I am, feeling a little uncomfortable about spelling out all these things that other people may or may not do. I am feeling a little panicky that you might be thinking, “Oh no! I never make my kids wait until everyone is done eating before they leave the table!” and worrying that that disqualifies you from Friend Consideration. No! No no no! I cannot express how much I DO NOT CARE if your children are required to stay at the table until the meal is over. They are kids. Let them go play while the grown ups linger over wine and second helpings of zucchini. It’s not a big deal. You would think that, because it is a rule in my own home, I would have strong feelings about it. But I do not. I think we made it a rule to help encourage Carla to develop the skill of sitting and doing something she finds boring. It’s a skill that will help her in many situations, from the classroom to the line at the bank, and I think her pediatrician or a teacher recommended it some years ago, and so it has become part of the family custom.

Similarly, we have the “no shoes in the house” rule, but that’s almost purely because I do not like to wear shoes or socks and I hate the feeling of grit on my feet that comes from people wearing their shoes in the house. If you like wearing shoes in YOUR house, great! My parents wear shoes in their house, and it works for them, and I wear shoes when I visit them and all is well.

And I know I made a big deal, earlier, that “holding hands in the parking lot” is a rule that falls into the “Things That Are Dangerous” category. And so I must be thinking that you care nothing of your child’s safety if you don’t hold her hands. No! Of course not! Some of my friends have children who walk calmly and slowly next to them at all times. Some of my friends have children who are extremely cautious and point out a car coming several blocks away. My particular brand of child is able to spot a roly-poly on a leaf fifty yards away but will not see a car barreling toward her down an otherwise empty street. I also have the brand of child who is prone to dashing and leaping and twirling, with no consideration for her surroundings or the presence of motor vehicles. So for HER, the holding hands thing is really important.

On the other side of the fence, I do NOT have a rule that you have to try every food that the host provides. Or even that you have to try every food on your plate. But if YOU have those rules, I get it! Those are GOOD rules! I see their value! If I could persuade Carla to try a single bite of every food without a Drawn-Out Epic Battle of Wills, I totally would institute that rule at our house. Or maybe I wouldn’t, because I am super picky and I would never want to have to try something like a stewed tomato, so I wouldn’t want to have a rule that I would be in danger of breaking.

I do not think anyone is inferior OR superior for having different rules than I do, is what I’m saying. They’re just different.

Sometimes, I worry that I have too many rules. It’s possible, I acknowledge that. But I had a lot of rules, growing up. And I turned out to be very good at following rules, which doesn’t seem like a bad thing. (And I still maintain a level of independence and creativity and ability-to-question-rules, I hasten to add!)

My parents had a Good Living Room and a Good Dining Room that we weren’t allowed in, except for special occasions. And I wasn’t allowed to have my door shut if there was a boy in my room. And I couldn’t leave anything on the stairs. And I couldn’t leave the doors open (unless there was a screen door in its place). And I had to turn the lights off any and every time I left a room. And many others. It’s kind of funny to think back, to all those rules, and think about which ones stuck and which ones I threw immediately to the wind once I moved out of my parents’ house.

These days, I shut the door to my bedroom ALL the time, even though there’s almost always a boy in here! I am so getting away with things!!!

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First, Carla has begun referring to limes as “green lemons.”

Second, I don’t think you will be surprised to learn that I don’t adjust to change easily. I mean, not THAT many people are all “Woo hoo, change!! Let’s tilt the world on its axis just for the hell of it!” so I am probably not the anomaly here.

I like to think of myself as a loyal person – once I find something that works, I stick with it. I like to think of myself as adaptable and flexible; I don’t need things to be perfect all the time! I can work with non-perfect! Also, I like knowing what to expect. I like routine. I like to be able to depend on something. My aversion to change is why I stuck with my first job for seven years, even after it became clear that we were no longer as great a fit as I’d hoped. It’s why I’ve kept my same Honda for nearly 15 years, despite the fact that it needs increasingly expensive “fixes” to keep it in running condition. It’s why I have a hard time imagining ever moving out of this house, even though it’s a little small and even though I DESPISE our tile floors and even though I would LOVE to have an actual mud room.

My philosophy – because it’s always been that way – is that if we’ve always done something a certain way, there’s probably a good reason for it and therefore NO REASON TO CHANGE.

All of this to that I have a hard time accepting – despite my advanced age and extensive experience – that sometimes, changing something – ON PURPOSE – can make things BETTER and/or EASIER.

Example 1: When I was… ten, maybe? my mother gave me the occasional responsibility of cooking for the family. She got me a cookbook – Kids Cooking: A Very Slightly Messy Manual – that I loved and remember fondly. For my chosen meal, I always made spaghetti with meat sauce. I always made it the same way: brown a pound of ground beef, add diced onion, minced garlic, and diced carrot, add pasta sauce, add Hunt’s tomato sauce, add dried basil and oregano, add splash of Tabasco, cook until you can wait no longer. THAT was just The Way to Make Meat Sauce. There were no deviations.

Until I met my husband. And the first thing he helped me change was the (store bought, jarred) pasta sauce I used. I’d always used Prego; it was the brand my mother used, I was accustomed to it, it was just how it was done. But it had tomato chunks in it, and so I had to put it through the blender before I added it to the meat and veg. My husband pointed out that Ragu is completely smooth. So – with great trepidation – we made the switch. Instantly better and easier!

And then I admitted to him that I hate the carrots. I dislike cooked carrots as it is. Plus, they are super annoying to dice. And I ended up picking them out of the sauce every time we made the meat sauce. So my husband suggested that I just not add them. What?!?! But… carrots were an INTEGRAL PART of the sauce! What about the flavor profile?! What about tradition?!

I stopped adding the carrots. Instantly better and easier.

Example 2: When I started hosting Thanksgiving dinners, I bought a potato masher.

When the potato masher wasn’t in use (you know, 364 days a year), I would stow it in the Random Utensil Drawer. Do you have one of those? It’s not the silverware drawer, where you keep the forks and spoons and knives. No, it’s the drawer where you stuff all the other random things you use rarely or never: the lemon juicer, the grapefruit knife, the zester, there must be some non-citrus tools as well… oh yes! The whisks, the garlic press, the can opener, the pizza cutters, the offset spatula, the regular spatulas, the miniature spatula, so many spatulas. What the hell else is in there? There are WAY more things cluttering up my RUD. Who knows. Anyway. That’s where I kept the potato masher. It was very cranky and easily offended. I mean, if it got twisted at all, it would prevent the drawer from either opening or closing. Worst was when the drawer wouldn’t open. Then you’d have to stick your hand in as far as you could and try to maneuver things around in the drawer to see if you could get the masher to lie flat. It was very frustrating.

But that’s WHERE THE MASHER LIVED. Its home was in the RUD. That’s just how it was done.

When my mother came to stay with us after Carla was born, she noted that the masher was really irritating, and I agreed but sort of shrugged because what can you do, right? It’s just how it was.

My mother, bless her bravery, MOVED THE MASHER. She put it in the little bucket that holds all the tongs and the ladles and pancake turners etc. that lives on the counter near the stove. And lo, the RUD opened and closed, and lo, the sun continued to rise in the east and set in the west, and life was instantly better and easier.

 

I think about these lessons a lot. A lot a lot. Whenever something annoys me about the layout of my house or about how I’ve set up my cupboards, I think, “It doesn’t HAVE to be that way! I can CHANGE THINGS!” I haven’t actually made any changes, but I know that I CAN, should I choose to.

Like sometimes, I think about how great it would be if we could get rid of 85% of the cups on the top shelf of the cups cabinet. We use about 5% of the cups up there, and then there are 10% that we use on a very occasional basis. But the rest are just… sitting there, taking up space. I could get rid of them! Or move them into a box!

Or! Carla’s crafts (workbooks, sticker books, crayons, drawing paper, paint supplies, play-doh) live in two separate places: an armoire in our dining room and a curio cabinet in our kitchen. The armoire has some other things in it and the curio has a bunch of odds and ends in IT. I don’t know if those are the correct furniture names, but whatever. Sometimes I think about how I could totally consolidate ALL of Carla’s craft supplies into ONE of these furniture items! And either pack away, get rid of, or move the other odds and ends!

Even the prospect of changing things from the way they’ve always been is truly liberating.

Of course, the actual effecting change is not quite as simple. But still. LIBERATING.

 

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We are having guests over for dinner in a couple of weeks, and they have some food limitations. It is making meal planning a challenge – but a FUN challenge, because I want to find the correct combination of things that will make it enjoyable for them. The limitations are as follows:

  • One family member has celiac disease and cannot eat gluten.
  • One family member cannot eat milk products.
  • One family member is vegetarian.

I keep thinking of The Perfect Food! and then realizing it is totally not perfect. (Mushroom lasagna! I’ll just use gluten free noodles! Oh wait. Cheese.) The best option I have come up with is a make-your-own-sandwich bar, where we provide lots of meats and cheeses and veggies and breads – and include some gluten-free rolls on a separate plate. But… then again, what might a vegetarian eat on a sandwich? Marinated portabellas? I don’t like sandwiches, so I am not really the best person to plan a sandwich bar, I guess.

Maybe what I am talking myself into is, in fact, a big SALAD bar. Then I can completely skip the bread issue by not having ANY and I can include some chickpeas and kidney beans as proteins for the vegetarian?

But I am learning that gluten is a sneaky bugger, and so I will need to be really careful that none of the dressings have gluten. And now I am thinking, sadly, that maybe children will not be as diggety-down with the salad bar as the adults might be. I can picture my daughter eating a handful of cherry tomatoes and then filling her plate with air. She eats air most days, so it wouldn’t be a big departure but I try not to purposely make food I KNOW she won’t eat.

Okay. So we could… grill hot-dogs and hamburgers and some meat-free burgers or portabella steaks. (I read that hotdogs can have gluten, so I will need to be on the lookout for that.) And have gluten-free buns. And gluten-free-mac-and-cheese for the kids. That seems doable, I suppose. The problem is, always, the weather. Which may or may not cooperate. I would rather have an inside-the-house kind of option, I guess. That also ensures that my husband isn’t stuck at the grill all night.

We could do a taco bar… but we did that the last time we had this family over, and I had black beans as the non-meat protein and even though my vegetarian guest was super gracious and didn’t say ANYTHING, I don’t think it was the most satisfying meal. Plus, I have served tacos the last two times we have hosted people (two separate families, don’t worry) and I am kind of sick of them. I want to flex my hostessing muscles, you know?

I was playing around with the idea of a make-your-own-pizza kind of thing, with gluten-free crust as an option… and providing a bunch of meats and cheeses and vegetables and sauces… But I wonder if the absolutely delicious-sounding-to-ME idea of a rosemary and onion and thin-sliced potato pizza would actually appeal to the dairy-free guest. Plus, the logistics of getting everybody’s pizza into the oven at once or on a rotation that wouldn’t mean half of the people are starving makes me feel a little panicky. Possibly I could make small pizzas for the kids and then two large pizzas for the grown-ups? And both could be vegetarian and dairy free? THAT might be fun!

Then we get to dessert. I am planning to make macarons with jam filling, because they tick all the boxes. And I was thinking about buying a few pints of ice cream (we have a local ice creamery that makes vegan ice cream, which is gluten and dairy free) and having some sprinkles (although around here they are called “jimmies”) and chocolate flakes available. The kids would like that, I think.

I really really like this family. Our kids get along. We have a great time together. And it would be so nice if I could gain some comfort with cooking for them, so we’re not always trying to wrangle our kids at restaurants or having to bring in takeout. And, of course, on the flip side, it would be really nice if they could see me as a TRUSTWORTHY host, who would have things they can ALL eat, things that taste decent and are filling.

I suppose the smart thing would be to just call my friend and ASK HER, but I a) want to figure this out myself and b) don’t want to put her in the situation of being all, “Oh, whatever you do will be fine!” and then not enjoying herself.

So: Do YOU have any experience in making meals for anyone with the above food restrictions? Do you have any experience BEING the person with food restrictions? Do you think my pizza idea is totally crazy? HELP.

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