I just finished up a bar of Bakers chocolate that I've been working on for the past few days. Bakers chocolate, as you may remember from an unfortunate attempt to sneak sweets that occurred sometime during your childhood, carries no sugar. On its own its a little bitter. But smothered in honey it's eminently palatable.
I'm doing a kind of a sugar fast right now. It's a little like a bar of Bakers chocolate smothered in honey. A little sneaky. A little bitter.
Here's some background.
At times in my life I've been extremely restrictive in my eating. I received medical treatment for this a long time ago, back in the beautiful dark 90s when everyone was so emotional and raw, us punk generation of teenagers with NEEDS. Though I haven't had any medical problems in my adulthood, I get that not eating is sometimes less stressful than eating. I still have moments when for some unknown reason I'm paralyzed with fear over everything I put in my mouth. It's rather unhinging to experience, but a great way to lose 40 pounds of baby weight fast!
Most restrictive behaviors are socially acceptable, since everyone's trying to lose weight all the time. It's when my behaviors get a little odd that I start to look around me, embarrassed. You don't have to be crazy to be on a diet. You do have to be crazy to take one bite of a bagel and spit it back into your hand because you paniked mid-chew.
But if I speak of my restrictive tendencies I speak of my higher self. Anorexia is a disease of angels, and I am not one. More often I am fighting an uglier force, a sinister monster that lurks underneath my tastebuds and silently tells me to EAT EVERYTHING.
I made a vow to my younger self that I would never again vomit recreationally. It's hard to vow not to eat, though, so when things go poorly in my life, when I feel like minor stresses carry the weight of major ones or I when don't get enough sleep, I become a straight up binge eater. There is nothing pure or pretty or Catherine of Siena about eating past the point you feel ill. I know on some level this is a disease we all share, a mass condition infecting America. But in another way, a more truthful way, I think this is a desease I have alone. All by myself, in the isolation of my kitchen, this is me struggling against eternity and my complete loss of control over it.
I could do due dilligence and write down a list of trigger foods. I wish it were only chocolate chip cookies and then the solution could be simple. Unfortunately I seem able to freak out over almost anything in my kitchen. Here, for example, are some things I have eaten to excess in the past few months:
- Bread and butter
- bran cereal
- rice cakes
- rice (and anything I make for dinner that goes on rice)
- whole wheat tortillas
- Any manner of baked good. seriously.
I say to myself "this has got to stop." I can't be running 16 miles every Saturday just to maintain my bread and butter habit. So I cringe and ask myself what these foods have in common, it's obvious that they are all high on the glycemic index. Even if I'm not eating sugar. I'm drawn to foods that quickly metabolize into sugar.
So I said, okay, let's do a sugar fast. Let's stay away from grains too, if I can. Let's see if I can push the reset button on my internal appetite.
Over the past ten days I did just that. I stopped all sugar. (okay, except the honey.) I limited myself to one real piece of bread a day, and nixed anything that came from a package. Did it work? Well, I didn't eat anything that immediately made me regret that vomiting vow. But I didn't feel a wave of heath and sanity wash over my life either. And I went through three tubs of almond butter in a week. Even just financially speaking that's not sustainable.
Plus I don't digest nuts super well. Thus bread made out of almond butter is not so much bread, as it is a recipe for a stomach ache. Then again, a piece of almond bread isn't binging, whereas three pieces of toast might be. Which is worse: moral or physical discomfort?
In the end, it's the cycle of wanting food and then fulfilling that desire that really turns my stomach. The thing that makes me human - that's what I can't stand. I don't mind having a body when I can push it to superhuman accomplishments - long runs and ten minute births and pumping breastmilk while blogging like some kind of cyborg cow. It's the bald face of my need that scares me. The thought that beneath my mature veneer I am terrifyingly animalistic. Desirous. So incredibly HUNGRY.
It would be nice if a diet could solve all this. I assume cavemen didn't experience existential crises. But I could be underestimating them.
We went to our state fair this week, the first time I've ever been. I thought we should do some comparative literature as home school prep work, so I read accounts of state fairs in some of our favorite old-timey books: Charlotte's Web and Farmer Boy. Then I asked H&Z to wonder how our modern fair would be similar or different. If nothing else, the prep served to make them EXTREMELY EXCITED as we drove down to Topsfield on Friday morning. The excitement carried over as they navigated the petting zoo and saw a REAL LIVE ELEPHANT!, but it waned a bit as we fought against large school groups to sneak a peak at the prize winning vegetables. After an intense hour of trying to see things in the crowded barns we took a break between the fried food stands to eat our bagged lunch. I asked Harvey if this fair was at all similar to the books. He considered a moment while he munched his sandwich, then noting EB White's description he said, "Lot of food for rats here."
After a heartening lunch at 10:30am (the crowds made us all want to stress eat) we enjoyed seeing the sheep sheering demonstration and a lazy parade of horses. Unfortunately, the general admission part of the fair was crowded as crowded could be, and the rest of the entertainment was designed to un-self-consciously strip us of as much cash as possible. I told the boys they could choose one ride and one game, because I am not a terrible moster of a mother. They chose the carousel (only if I rode with them, of course) and for $7.50 I hope they enjoyed the living shit out of that thing.
Unfortunately we had a little family melt-down over the midway game choices. Overstimulation lead to poor communication, and it came out later that Harvey really wanted to play the water shooting game but he was afraid to ask how to shoot the gun. That might have been more fun for everyone, and cost $6 for both children to play. Instead Harvey threw a ball at a cup for $5 (!!!), there was a miscommunication with the Carney over how many balls he would get to throw, and the whole thing was over in a second in exchange for a 25 cent stuffed snake.
Neither mama or Harvey was very pleased with the fair at that moment.
Look, none of us want to throw away our money. There are so many useful things a mama could do with $5. But I share a dirty secret with those rare people whose love language is gift giving (all 8 of us in the world - hang in there sisters!) I actually LOVE spending money on my children. The more frivolous the better. I don't know why - it doesn't quite make sense. It's the easiness of saying yes, the rush of handing over my cash, the joy of looking at their smiling faces and thinking, "I love you more than financial reason."
Of course we're poor, and I'm trying to teach them values, so I don't do it as often as I'd like. Still, considering how much I adore those boys, I could fantasize about being MORE frivolous. My love for them is something that can never be budgeted. Symbolically speaking, a $5 ball throw does not even come close.
Still, this kind of spending is not fiscally responsible, and once we left the fair grounds I transformed that wasted $5 into a veritable homeschool unit. First we discussed the amount of enjoyment that came from playing the game and getting the prize (minimal, because as Harvey noted "it was over so quickly.") Then we stopped by our local real farm and noted the things you could buy for the same $5. TWO whole bottles of chocolate milk (not counting the glass bottle deposit because of trying to keep things simple.) Zion also noted that feeding the goats scraps there doesn't cost any money. And for good measure I took some pictures amidst the pumpkins - a free photo opp with precious lack of interlopers in the background.
I don't know what Harvey will internalize about money growing up in this family. I cannot present him with a unified theory, as I don't have one myself. I try to do a lot for free, but sometimes act like I've suddenly entered a duty free zone. I try not to stress about money, but truthfully I stress about it a lot. I don't know what Harvey will make of all of this. I'd like him to have both a sense of thrift and a feeling of abundance. Maybe the state fair is the wrong place to teach this. Or maybe it's the perfect place.
It's hard being a pretend farmer these days, what with having a baby and a real job or two. And then there's the homeschooling, and cleaning and cooking, and our busy schedule of socializing.... Suffice it to say that I don't get to spend as much time on farm work than I'd like to. Still, there are small victories. We grew a test crop of potatoes this year, and digging them up was so gratifying: there were actual potatoes there in the dirt! I made jam from things we grew, and preserved some tomatoes, and froze salsa verde and basil pesto. I'm working on reclaiming the strawberry beds from weeds so we'll have a chance at more than a handful of strawberries next year. And, we have four more chickens that aren't really chicks any more. And they're doing fine!
While we haven't written much about them, they've certainly been a factor in our lives since we got them as day-old chicks in the middle of August. They lived in their brooder in our kitchen for a solid month, and then I started getting them used to the outdoors—first in a fenced area of their own, and then eventually with their aunts/overloads, the three surviving older hens. When I got tired of bringing them in every night they started sleeping with the big hens, too.
Well, not exactly with them. See, big hens aren't always—ever—very nice to smaller hens, and they never let the little ones come near them without giving them a peck on the head or two. Actually, that understates the case: they never see or think about the little ones without going over to them to give them a peck or two. You may have heard of the "pecking order"? It's a thing. The little hens are very fast and the big hens are lazy and not really committed to the persecution, but I didn't want the chicks to have to run away all the time, so I built them a little shelter in the corner of the run big enough for them to hide in but too small for their giant tormentors. It was just the thing, and they liked it so much that, when they found themselves left outside when dark fell, they took to sleeping in it. Or more often on it.
Which was fine when the weather was warm, but I didn't want the little things to suffer in the cold, so this past weekend—with forecast overnight temperatures near freezing—I went out each night and lifted them one by one up into the henhouse. Since chickens don't like to move much when it's dark I figured they'd stay there (though of course I didn't go back out to check—see the beginning of this post). I kept at it even when the weather turned bizarrely warm again, with the idea that I could teach them the henhouse was as a much a home for them as it was for the big hens. And it worked! After just four nights of moving them, I went out this evening and found the little shelter empty, and the four hens cuddled together on the floor in the corner of the henhouse.
Sure, they're not up on the roost yet, but now that they're in the building I'm sure they'll figure it out for themselves when they get a little bigger. And I'm also sure that they'll survive the winter fine, and that we can expect our first eggs from them in February or so. And I have no doubt that, come spring, they'll be getting a peck or two of their own on the older hens, who by that point won't be "big" any longer! That feels like we're doing something right.
This past Sunday we headed into the urban jungle for another year's edition of the Honk! parade. We got there plenty early—by design, because for the boys the wonderful playground on Cambridge Common is as much of a draw as the music and anarchy. And they made the most of it, playing so independently that I didn't even manage to take a good picture: they were too far away! Of course, the parade was awesome too.
Besides the bands there were puppets, protest groups, adults and kids on stilts, and of course tall bikes. It was everything a parade should be, and totally unlike the Bedford Day parade, which is also everything a parade should be. (That statement could stand to be examined further in another blog post.) Actually, there were a couple commonalities: both parades have a big kid component, and new this year Honk had a unit throwing out candy. Just a bit, but it was enough to cement the boys' understanding that all parades everywhere should give them candy.
After the parade we headed into Harvard Square, where we had lunch with some friends sitting on the thin end of the traffic island splitting the two lanes of Mass Ave in front of Harvard Yard. Car-free streets are great! Of course, while they were car-free the streets were totally and all-encompassingly choked with people, so Leah was quickly overwhelmed; and, truth be told, it was even a little bit much for me. But I wanted to take more music, and so, surprisingly, did Zion. And since he could go on my shoulders he was the only one of us who could actually see the musicians the first couple bands we found.
There are a lot of fun and interesting bands involved in the festival, but I wanted to hear some real good music so I was happy to find the New Creation band playing an un-advertized set on the sidewalk. The boys and I were even able to find a spot where we could see, and we happily enjoyed a couple great examples of modern New Orleans brass band music. Leah indulged us and waited patiently. I could have sat there listing for as long as the band kept playing, but let no one say I lack consideration entirely! I also found a back way out of the festival throng so we didn't have to struggle through the crowd again, and a quiet bathroom in a Harvard library (though Zion preferred to pee outside, on the library's bushes), so I'm not totally useless as a provider either.
All in all it was an experience, and we're already looking forward to doing it again next year! Just maybe slightly differently.
A (belated) moment from the week.
We took a quick trip yesterday to the Old North Bridge.
Even though the weather was in the process of turning colder, the water was an irresistible attraction for the boys. Sadly it was a little too deep to wade all the way under the bridge. While we big boys played, Mama and Lijah got some much-needed resting in, in recovery from a night of disputing nursing frequencies (and in preparation for another such).
There was some disagreeable behavior leaving home, and more as we headed back to the car, but the hour we were at the riverbank was an entirely pleasant time: just what we needed!
We've had a couple frosts here, so the big plants in the garden are pretty much done. The funny thing is that the very late stages of our growing season are the best time for harvesting warm climate crops like hot peppers and tomatillos. Not that they like the cold weather—they just need a long growing season to really get going, and now after three or four months they're finally hitting their stride, just in time to be killed by the cold weather. Oh well. It means that garden cleanup in October brings in a big pile of tropical Mexican produce!
It's a tough little season we're living through right now. I can tell from my frequency of peeing in the shower. This is to say that I've peed in the shower three times in the past two weeks, as compared to zero times in the previous entirety of the rest of my life. I guess I never entertained the thought before, never experienced a moment when I said to myself, "The distance between the shower and the toilet is too great to cover in my current state of exhaustion." When Zion was the age Elijah is now I dreaded my hair to better cope with the morning routine. While it doesn't have the same effect on my outward appearance, peeing in the shower is pretty much the eliminatory equivalent of dreading my hair.
Which is to say, if you think I'm gross you are probably right. And I can't really summon the energy to care.
Elijah isn't sleeping well. It's exiting the sphere of normal first-year tiredness and entering the realm of "behavior" that we need to make "decisions" about how to "influence." Which, you know, is always fun. No matter how many children I have I will never be a sage decision maker at two in the morning. Though I should say that in the daytime he's great. They're ALL great. Harvey is learning like gangbusters at homeschool. Zion is peeing in regular toilets. If only he wasn't openly crapping his pants twice a day or if I got three hours rest to string together I might be composing odes to my children.
A beautiful ray of hope during this intense time has been the Early Intervention developmental specialist who comes weekly to play with Elijah and coach me on my parenting. I cannot tell you how much it means to me to have someone following his progress every week, giving me suggestions, and kindly supporting me in the effort it takes to care for a 30-pound seven-month-old who mostly wants to be held all the time. I have a friend who warns me that sharing about Elijah's delays will consign him to life of shame and teasing. Perhaps she's right, or perhaps the cyber bullies of the future will hone in on the more shaming revelation that his mother pees in the shower. It is an open question. His identity 15 years from now, the incredible young man he is to become, well, it's a thing to consider and wonder.
Because I know it will go by all too fast. Each day will be long, excruciatingly long, and I will wish for many nights to end sooner. I will have moments when I don't think I can make it another step, when I pee standing up because the toilet is too far. Somehow I will make it through a decade of these challenges and other challenges I haven't yet begun to imagine. One day I will look at my boys all grown up, my three beautiful gigantic babies, and I will cry over their lost littleness and wish I could do it all over again.
Time waits for no mama. They all grow older THANK GOD and also a little bit WAIT GOD, WHAT? Here is a little reflection I posted on facebook last night:
I'm holding in my hand Harvey's baby tooth, such a tiny little thing which, when he knocked it out of his mouth today while wrestling, he held out for me to take. This was the tooth that nipped at my breast when I was four months a mother and made me cry. And then Harvey cried and Dan offered to take him but I said, "No, this is our fight and I'm staying in it." And I vowed to love you, Harvey, even if it made me bleed. This is the same tooth that bled when it came out today, and Harvey held it out as if to say: Here Mama, put this somewhere. My babyhood. My tininess. Find a place for this; I don't need it anymore.
I will always be a safe place to store your baby teeth, Harvey, for they have bitten straight through to my heart.
All of them right now, Harvey with the blood and Zion with the poop and Elijah eliciting shower pee... I love every drop of my disgusting children with every drop of my disgusting self. Let that be added to their online record. My gross messy love, for all perpetuity.
This past Sunday we kept on enjoying the outdoors right into the evening. Inspired by our party last month I had the idea to fire up the grill for hot dogs, and then put some wood on to make a proper fire for warmth and marshmallows. While Leah was busy with Lijah, who was a little sick and fussy, the boys an I brought the full camping spirit to our own little backyard.
Hot dogs are a treat themselves, and when I brought out juice boxes and pretzels (because camping!) they were delighted. We of course set up the tent, because it was part of the whole procedure, but there was some question whether we were actually going to sleep in it. There was no question, though, about the marshmallows. Pictured below is Harvey's second one catching fire.
In the event Zion decided to sleep inside in his bed, while Harvey and I braved the chill under a pile of blankets in the tent (it actually wasn't that cold—well above freezing!). Our bedtime story these days is The Wolves of Willoughby Chase, so as we turned off the headlamp we wondered if we were going to hear the howls of wolves around us during the night. While Harvey reports that it took him some time to fall asleep—longer than his usual 30 seconds, I suppose—he slept soundly once he did drift off, so he wasn't awakened by either of the two—two!—periods of coyote noise that I heard. Luckily we survived the night, and woke up cheerfully when the sun made its appearance. Which is at a very civilized hour, this time of year!
We'll have to do it again soon.