Cooking for COMPANY
how to be elegant and blissful all the time
and make your family ecstatic.
by anita sands hernandez
All women dream of one thing: finding a wonderful man, getting married, having kids and then making grand meals and having company over to dine on this great food you made and you're holding hands with your kids and mate and there's this big red, Valentine heart glowing out of your house and it's coming from your own breast.
The basic plan is flawed. No matter what that muscular stud looked like when you fell in love with him, he'll lose his gleam. Guaranteed that the man who charmed you into sin will become a major irritation when he's all virtue. Cutie Pie actor, Wil Smith was on tv yesterday saying to the interviewer that when the honeymoon phase is over, the smart couple gets busy building up the other features of the relationship. That's good advice, especially in a community property state.
But guaranteed, before you can start building that second phase to the rocket, he'll become a damn aggravation. He will wake you at dawn, when he doesn't need to, grunt and bump into things while he's getting ready so that you can't sleep. He'll demand breakfast and clean shirts and socks. You'll give them but when he comes home, they'll be filthy again. He'll be unpleasant to smell or look at when with a little effort, he could at least look semi-human. And you demand it of him. Then when he doesn't you will take that as an affront, a slight, and fulminate over it for hours, days and then years on end.
You cherished him for a brief week or two, which was enough to make him pant to marry you. And then the romance train stopped dead, out in the middle of nowhere. That's where you found yourself when the children arrived, one by one. Stunned. As small angels they wondered what was going on with Mom and Pop, but then they forgot to wonder as it was the only scenery they knew.
Then the family grew and became noise 24 hours a day, a din that the artist in you could not work in. You chafed and fulminated, raged, and started the habit of simmering irritation. They make the house hot, they had friends over all the time. The boys go out and get into all kinds of trouble. They need to be fed, dressed, laundered, ironed, erranded, dry cleaned, driven by Mom the slave. They never leave you alone, if it's not one thing it's another. That headset got to be like an aggravated chronic allergy that toughened your skin until you had subtracted yourself angrily from what was going on. Mentally only I mean. You're still stuck there IN IT!
Then there's all the worry when they really grow up, get their first car, go off on jaunts, their first date, SAT's and tuition. So much extra work. The washing machine is always going, there are always stacks of dishes. There's food to be bought and cooked 3x a day! You have to learn geometry all over again to help coach them.
With reason, women feel lost, dismayed, aggravated, plundered. Woman's lib came along and said all we needed was a job which gave us good self image, but how --? when we were already falling down on the main job, running a family?
So many refinements went by the wayside. We don't use eyeliner in the mornings anymore; we don't pop our hubbies on the butt with affection anymore, when they're doing pushups under our nose and grunting and we're trying to sleep. We don't make peach compote like Martha Stewart teaches us with a big glob of whipped cream so that the entire family sighs 'ahhhhh' and relishes coming home on time the day after for the next dinner, and seeks excuses with pals to eat at home, rather than touch what their friends' mothers throw in a microwave.
Fail to do those loving pinching, cream whipping, compote assembling things just once, then you've got a failure habit. Soon neither hubby or you are watching figures as no one else is, and the kids don't come home for dinner as micro-waving at their pals house works for them. And then they move out. Husbands sometimes leave, as well.
You'd think if the FAMILY was such a bother then maybe the converse would be maddest pleasure. ALONE AT LAST. Not so. Joy does not await one in the NO FAMILY mode.
Having NO family is hearing the crickets on warm summer nights when the patio barbecue just sits there outside, full of charcoal dust. Having no family is e-mails to your kids in other cities who are too busy with their lives to answer. It's phone calls across the city to a your parents who have no grandchildren in town so you only see them at Christmas when old people will rouse themselves to trek distances to share a meal and look at your latest Kodaks of the grandkids. But that isn't family.
Family is noise every night, not silence where you hear crickets harping from sunset 'til dawn. Family is you organizing for an hour so you can paint a picture they all admire. Note in your aloneness two decades later that your painting or writing isn't really happening at all. The great artist got rid of her family at last but the real art show went with them. That peach compote that got made once was the closest to a real work of art you ever did. Admit it. And you did compote once. And to this day, you cannot remember the expression on any face when you made it. You were not set on 'record'. You did it, then fell over fatigued!
Family life is really an intricate, demanding art form. Sure, It takes work; it demands creativity and artistry and passion and interest. Required is a master cook, scenic designer, stage manager who can stay on her feet 14 hrs a day to make the chores hum along smoothly but also if you are going to stay in your RIGHT MIND, it requires the gourmet's ability to taste and savor every second of it, every feeling, every visual. And somewhere back there we said 'uh-uh, Pasadena, no thanks. What a lousy job, I want out.' And at that second the heart-camera stops recording accurately. The life stage cyclorama starts passing by like a freight train. Like a PTA meeting when you're bored and only there out of obligation. NOTHING sticks. Nothing is invited to stick.
When it is no longer the gourmet savoring each second of visual and heart stereo camera recording life, we stop making the effort. We began to glower every second, to growl up in our head, 'this is too friggin' much work and these ungrateful louses are irritating me.'
Instead of just doing the work with a smile, we talk ourselves into getting mental scar tissue about it. We don't listen to radio joyfully while washing dishes or doing the laundry. We curse dishes. Instead of just baking the damn dessert and smiling and carrying the tray to the table and then watching in awe while your darlings eat it, we chafe against the dessert yoke we imagine is on our back until the IDEA of the yoke alone makes us bleed.
Instead of just enjoying these guzzling gourmets who leave dirty socks in hard to reach places with good humor and resignation, recording the delightful humor of where dirty socks can go...we complained 'til we drove our family out the damn door. Never with an overt word. We never asked them to leave. We were just irritated all the time. 'Why these filthy socks under the damn bed? You pigs. How can you do this to me?"
There was an enemy living within me and he stole my entire family and all memories of their childhood from me. Do not let this happen to you. Partly the thief could do this as I was always telling myself I didn't enjoy bending down for socks, slinging hash, cooking three times a day. So my mind convinced me not to make fruit compote like Martha Stewart showed me, --- so easy, really. You can whip cream in a second. The oven doesn't really make the kitchen that intolerably hot when you bake a tiny cookie crust but we chose to believe it did. So we wiggled out of making meals and soon every last one of them ate somewhere else, before they came home.
Second, my damn mind kept me in a perpetual 'boxer's alert mode.' That's when every second the mind is punching away, huffing and puffing --'what can I do next to get organized, get efficient? I didn't 'trip' on this maelstrom rainbow called life whirling by with an aesthetic eye, appreciating its Divine Comedy aspects. No, I was like an efficiency expert, wrestling with life, hammering it into shape. Being punched in the nose by it!
Never was I the delighted, laughing, sniffing, smelling, touching appreciative audience member with the biggest touchy feely show in the world going on in the room with me, i.e. my husband, kids and their infancy. I subtracted myself from the Postcard! Or my mind did.
Today 30 years later, I have not one single memory of any part of their childhood. I apparently was not photographing their face with my eyes. My mental VIDEOCAMERA was on the fritz. My memory tells me that they swam in Acapulco Bay but Mom has no visual, emotional, contextual memories. My little baby girl Paloma was afraid all alone on the beach when the boys and I fished on a rented rowboat. It's part of family history that we left her on the beach alone. I know cuz I've got this mental post-it memo on the incident, but no clear visual, heart felt feeling memory combined with heart feeling and eyeball in on her tiny, lonely face on any mental film that I shot.
My logic tells me routine cause and effect. Any beach loneliness she vanquished is part of why she can live alone in the Bronx in her mid thirties and make money doing photo portraits of the ritzy folk in NYC each day. But an ache in my heart also tells me that she inherited her mom's cursed efficiency and toughness. Paloma, like me, is a capable, lean mean machine. Drop her in any city; wind her up with coffee she will make the money. You can leave her on any beach and she toughens up like a clam.
I haven't one memory of hugging a kid of mine, of serving a meal, of conversing with one, of vacations with one, of being in the house with one -- the house where I, a single parent, raised four incredibly unique people for two decades.
Go back a decade before that, I haven't one mental photograph of the friendship with LUIS Senior that produced these 4 babies. I can only imagine that somewhere in my life I chose to be efficient and mental and stopped being a video camera with a heart and started being efficient.
I was mental. Minds need an audience. I had one. I fed my own worst enemy at my table. My Mind sat with me as I cooked and sighed sympathetically about my endless chores, 18 hours a day of work, typing for clients then cleaning up the kids' mess. The mind nodded compassionately when I complained about the low fees, or maybe the high cost of whipping cream when I stopped making dessert. The mind listened to my litany of grievances, and agreed with me. "Poor you." When you don't like the scenery, you sure aren't taking loving photos of it!
My mind encouraged me to type faster, be away from the kids more, rush by them efficiently when I was with them, without seeing them, without listening, feeling. The mind encouraged me at day's end to peruse or go over my list of tick-offs and suggested ways to shine more and bigger in the world, perhaps as a substitute for bliss.... maybe write novels on how interesting my life was. My false friend mind encouraged my interest in life's weird or dramatic aspects. Perhaps the drama of rainforests being cut down. There's a novel. Spend five yrs writing it so you get no time with your kids!
My mind's treacherous sophistication misled me. His interest in time and efficiency made me believe that I had to hurry to survive, never stop the speeding car, with the kids trapped in the back seat. Never get out into the meadow and all of us swim in the river. He encouraged me to drive full speed and deliver those kids to the city. The mind's campus is always the city.
SOME TOUR GUIDE. I had it right. Had it perfect. I had company for dinner every night, company who loved and laughed at my bonito balls, their least favorite meal, and applauded home made ice cream which I quickly became too busy to make.
Now I have my own company but laughter, love and applause are nowhere to be found. Worse, I haven't a memory in my head. Every piece of paper I ever wrote is in a box here. Every file is stored as text. Every novel stored, unsold. But memories of my four kids and their beautiful childhood vaporized. I remind myself of that cluster of ROMANCE writers who during the millenium, got murdered by their own husbands across America. A supreme irony. The girls who could write up family life could least live it.
I wrote up my family life but didn't live it. I hurried by it at my usual coffee-ed up clip. I was there, but nothing stuck. I moved too fast. There is not one recollection. Like a drunk, the next morning. WHAT DID I DO LAST NIGHT? What did I do with the last forty years? Can anyone tell me? Like someone carefully lining their mouth with plastic and then eating a nine-course meal. I CANNOT tell you what one bit of it tasted like. I re-read those cutsie novels about a lady on welfare with four kids and go, 'did we live that? Sounds charming but did that happen? I can't recall.
I hope, I believe there may be a way to reverse this LIFE SLIDING BY effect. It is a.) to immerse yourself in every simple, humble, fragile moment. b.) It is not getting an outside job. C.) It is total focus on the family. D.) It is not spending the baby's waking hours reading a book while they bang sand in the park sandbox. It is not locking yourself in your home office typing, justifying it with 'I have to make a living'.
Get down on your knees every second, next to them in their childhood. Let every lightning bolt mini-second cut and scratch your heart. Participate with a glutton's gourmet palate in the taste of every frame of the movie. Be here and now, like a ballerina en pointe, relishing every second: the bending over to pick up socks becomes a super ballet exercise so you don't damn the need to pick up laundry. You do it like a relaxed cat.
The kids screaming at each other becomes you as Sigmund Freud sitting down to watch their complex interactions, with thoughtful intuition until the baby runs into your arms. With love and patience, not judgement, just seeing who needs you and who is angry about what.
To really witness and watch and participate in that brawl in the living room --in a loving state, without feeling a need to be cop or Supreme court judge, or organizing the time efficiency of the action, is to really be there present in the post card of the now.
You want to be like the recreation director on a cruise ship, husbanding the action, coming up with new games, using the NOW MOMENT, even its insanity, the kids' glowering competitiveness and passion as a kind of fuel to light the lamp of laughter, and the spark of reason --- to get them to see their 'stuff' in perspective, to get them to lighten up and laugh with you. And not be tantrumy infants with an attitude. But to see, digest, learn and LIVE SO DEEPLY that one day you will be able to remember.
Important work is being done in this second, here and now. You'll see that if you're really there. But are you? What does it take to 'go there?' To be HERE AND NOW?
I feel the starting point is consciousness expansion. SO I say go here: if you read the Master Jules you will undergo immediate transformation because of an evolved way of thinking. Jules studied with dozens of gurus over the course of fifty years and passes on the final nectar of their teachings. Drink of this wisdom and your mind will become a powerful, clear tool. The Master Jules can teach you to be here and now, every second. Remember to go back to one of his 50 chapters once a day. You will dump the reactive mind which is a bad friend, a whisperer, a gossip, a naysayer, an enemy. The reactive mind would lead you down dark alleys of the past or future, away from the here and now. Stay in the now and shut off the talky gabby MIND. That will take away the habit of having your painful, disturbing memories, ideas, beliefs pop up all the time generating a life of upset and reactivity.
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