Peer Pressure

This might be surprising to you, but I talk to people. I talk to people at work and online and while I’m out and about. I know, right!? I’m just as shocked as you are. These conversations are varied and cover a lot of ground and generally work to highlight my social ineptness. People loooovvve to talk about their personal lives? Have you noticed that!?  Yeah. So anyway, I’ve been privy to a great deal more information that I would ever in my life want to know about people, but it’s not as though you could just cover your ears, yell NOOOOO and walk away. I’ve tried. I was told it was rude.

The one thing I find fascinating though is just how active people my age are… now I’m not yet ready for a senior living development but I’m also not a spring chicken. What the hell is a spring chicken anyway? Aren’t ALL chickens spring chickens, when you really think about it… I mean, given their own druthers, that’s when they would be born, just like with all birds, right? However, you might be interested to know, that it’s not a matter of when they’re born, but when they’re eaten that denotes a spring chicken. Go figure.

But I digress.

These people I talk to, they enjoy telling others about all their activities and accomplishments. I mean, of course they do, right? And they’re my age, just so we’ve made that clear. Rock climbing, mountain climbing, cross country skiing, extreme hiking… you name it, they do it.  And me? I’m over here trying to put on my underwear without toppling over. But nobody ever wants to hear about that.

Feline Musings for a Sunday Evening

It’s that time during your otherwise enjoyable Sunday evening when it hits you that the weekend is over and you’re trying desperately to hide from Monday but deep in your heart you know that it’s just going to come around no matter how hard you try to keep it at bay, it always does, and besides, your hiding spot has holes in it so no matter how quiet you are, Monday would see you anyway and then you remember that you’re a cat so who even cares about Mondays, and you breathe a sigh of relief cause being a cat is cool, and you decide you kinda like your new hiding spot despite the holes that give away your position and in fact, the holes make it interesting and at least you don’t have Monday to worry about cause, you know… you’re a cat. And cats are cool.

The Power of Comfort Food

So, having had a bit of a down day, I let myself indulge in one of my favorite foods: biscuits and gravy. Oh, not the kind my mother used to make… I don’t have her talent. But I have found, through trial and error, a sorta reasonable kind of okay facsimile using very specific store-bought brands. As a great man once said, “That’ll do, pig.  That’ll do.”

We’ve all been there. When you’re feeling down and less than ecstatic about a current life situation, there’s just something about consoling yourself with an entire tub of ice cream or a slice … okay, maybe several slices … no, wait, several varieties of chocolate cake.

Comfort foods offer a pick-me-up in bad situations. There’s something about even just smelling your favorite dish that brings you a sense of well-being. The aroma of warm cookies, cinnamon donuts, or fresh-baked bread – they’ll all do it. Right!? That’s what I’m talking about.

So why do our favorite comfort foods have such a profound impact on our mood? Well, there is a certain sentimental value in comfort food.

As it turns out, there’s a lot of psychology at play when we’re enjoying comfort food that’s “just like mom used to make.” Indeed, you could say the best chef on Earth is the person who cooked for you when you were a young child. And no, they didn’t just cook, they cooked with love. The most impressive 3-star Michelin chef will never beat your grandmother’s vegetable soup because in that soup is the deep love a professional chef can never have for you. Unless, that 3-star Michelin chef is in love with you … and well, can I just say, I wish!  Comfort food possesses an inherent and very powerful ability to transport us to simpler times (you know, before bills and job insecurity and the stresses of adult life). It transports us to a time when all we had to worry about was how many legs do caterpillars have and where do clouds come from.

Answers:  16 (usually) and …

Clouds forms as a result of air cooling to a temperature at which water vapor turns into liquid water. In turn, this is a result of air rising because the higher we go into the atmosphere, the colder the temperature becomes because during the day the sun heats it.

But where were we again? That’s right, the highs of food! Not clouds! I think most of us know and believe in that feeling of ummm … comfort … that comfort foods give us.

Now, you may be saying to yourself, “Well, actually, I wouldn’t say that my favorite comfort food is reminiscent of childhood necessarily. Hell, my parents couldn’t cook to save their lives!” First of all, I am so, so sorry. Secondly, hold your horses – there’s more to comfort foods than just who cooked them.

One important factor to consider when questioning our fairly unanimous love of comfort food, is simply the fat, sugar, and/or salt content in said comfort food. Though I’ve always considered it to be a sick, cosmic joke, our bodies LOVE those highly palatable foods that last a moment on the lips and a lifetime on the hips. Foods high in fat, sugar, and salt are particularly good at activating the brain’s reward system – producing pleasant feelings and reducing stress. Like I said, a sick, cosmic joke.

Was it too much to ask to be naturally addicted to celery and kale? Yeah, I know. Blech.

But the greatest tool in a comfort food’s arsenal of persuasion?

The. Void.

You know what I’m talking about. We’ve all had things go horribly horribly devastatingly awfully utterly embarrassingly wrong in our lives, and nothing fills the resulting crater-sized void in our hearts quite like comfort food. Having a bad day? Open a bag of chips. Going through a breakup? Order an extra-large four-cheese pizza and eat it in one sitting while watching The Notebook through a waterfall of tears. Is it an unhealthy coping mechanism? Absolutely. But does it work? Hell yeah.

At the end of the day, I feel like there are worse ways to cope than with the occasional dinner consisting of cheesecake and Cheez-Its. Key word being occasional. Should we all make a conscious effort to work through our problems so that we don’t feel the need to overindulge in unhealthy foods to cope with life? Yes. I’m sure we should.

At the same time, I also think that sometimes we should just be allowed to have our moment and enjoy some self-care in the form of a sorta reasonable kind of okay facsimile of Mom’s signature biscuits and gravy.

Hey, don’t judge me!

In My Mother’s Voice

In a discussion with friends the other day, a question was asked as a sort of “prompt” to get a philosophical conversation flowing. I can’t remember it word for word now, but it was basically, “have you ever said something that sounds just like your mother, and what did you think about that?” Most of us in this particular group are mothers ourselves and so many of the examples given had to do with disciplining a child or frustration at a child. There were a few offerings of phrases most often uttered when life throws a curve ball or in the alternative, when something fantastic happens.

It was an interesting mental and emotional exercise in many ways.

Shockingly – or perhaps not – the thing that popped up immediately in my mind was, are you hungry? have you eaten today?”  I could hear it in my mother’s voice as I thought it, but not just hers. I heard it in my grandmother’s voice, my aunts’ voices, my great-aunt’s voice, and other women in my family … a conglomeration of concerned motherhood was echoing in my brain.

Afterwards, I got to thinking, what a wonderful thing to write about! And you know what? It is. I went back through my past work and lo and behold! I had already put pen to paper on this subject.

Sometimes love isn’t simply “I love you.”  Sometimes it’s “are you hungry? have you eaten today?”

Feed Me (Originally Written in April 2014)

The overwrought parent. It’s an ageless and timeless trope that has been milked for easy jokes on dozens if not hundreds of sitcoms for decades now. The kids come home from college and the mom immediately rushes up to her son or daughter, clawing at their clothing while wailing about how they’re nothing but skin and bones. The mom then makes it her duty to whip up a hearty dinner of meat stew and potatoes to try to fatten her kids up before sending them back off to that barren wasteland known as University.

How many times have I rolled my eyes whenever I saw a mother portrayed that way? I’d think to myself, The kids are fine. Settle down. They’re 20 years old; they know how to find food for the love of God! Little did I know that I was bound for the same fate; my course having been set even before I was born, and now I have finally arrived at that echelon of motherhood teeming with irrational anxiety that for some reason my kids have lost any ability to live independently and will die without my assistance.  Whew. Okay. Breathe.

My grandmother used to always push food on us like we had been locked in the Oliver Twist orphanage for decades on end. The funny thing is that she didn’t do this to us when we were kids, only when we were full-fledged grown-ups coming to visit. I guess that as a child she figured my mom would ensure we were fed. Maybe she thought the older I got, the less likely I would be lucky enough to find someone willing to give me food (because for some reason I don’t have the ability to do it myself). So, me as an adult, I’d come by to say hello and she’d cook (always) and even insist that I take food with me for the road trip home.

I remember she did the same thing to my mother after our visits in the summer. A sandwich for the road… biscuits for later… a piece of that fine ham she had for dinner. It was simply impossible to leave the house without something wrapped in foil or stuffed in Tupperware.

Her sister, my great-aunt Bunny, was the same way. I guess that should come as no surprise, since they were raised by the same woman, Grandma Mooney of the Vinegar Valentines, who also had an obsession with making sure people were fed. Back when I was a kid, we’d visit my Aunt Bunny every Sunday and sure enough, we always left with something in hand.

Then it was my mom’s turn. I don’t know when exactly it happened, but she hit a certain age and boom, she fell right in step. Sometimes when I leave her house after a visit it’s like I was just at the Whole Foods store. Balanced in my arms are loaves of bread, canned goods, sweets, and frozen meat (yes, frozen meat). Bless her heart.

Ridiculous, right? Yeah, that’s what I thought.  But the virus has taken over my brain too! My poor son. He’s 22 — a man in the eyes of the law and the world — and has moved into his own place, but he’s still in that “new adult” stage; scraping for cash, trying to get on his own two feet. When he comes to visit I feel that it is my maternal obligation to fill his belly with as much food as I can. I constantly tell him to ransack the place, rummage through the cupboards, take anything. I’m pushing food on him like the generations of mad women before me.

Except now I understand that it’s not that we don’t have faith that our kids can live on their own…it’s just that if we know they’re fed…if we can do that one small thing for them… then we figure they can handle the rest of life on their own. And really, money does play a part in it. I would rather my son ransack my cabinets than live on only Ramen for the week. I know my mom feels the same way about me and that’s why she lets me grocery shop in her cupboards.

We can’t solve all of their problems and we can’t “fix” everything no matter how much we want to. But we can feed them. We can make sure that one primary need is filled. So we can worry about them a little less. Knowing that makes me feel a little less crazy. A little.

Water, Water Everywhere nor any Funnel Cake to Eat

Dearest Journal,

Do you remember the day I went to the waterpark? It was … interesting. As you know (because you’re my Journal and I’ve written in you before, so you know all my secrets of course) I’m a raging introvert with the patience of a gnat. That’s just who I am. Needless to say, the waterpark has always been the ultimate test of my resolve.

The place was so busy! But then, it always is. Therein lies my problem. Packs of people everywhere! I don’t like people, as a general rule. But then, I don’t have to tell you, do I Journal? I felt like I spent more time wading through people than wading through water. And to make it worse, there seemed to be so many wayward children with sticky hands roaming through the throngs of people like bored jackals because, guess what Journal?  Their parents weren’t watching them properly and were instead, sailing down the “lazy river,” and having unleashed their hell spawn upon the world, were casually sipping their strawberry smoothies while floating along on their blow-up flamingos, not a care in the world. Certainly no cares were had for their grubby-handed offspring.

As I was waiting to go down the main slide, I suddenly found myself asking: “Where the hell did this GOO on my leg come from!?” I searched the gang of jackals children milling about, but could not pinpoint the perpetrator. Oh, not to worry, I’m about to go down a waterslide, I thought. That’ll surely get this blackberry jelly (my sincere hope) off my leg, I told myself.

Nope. After going down the slide and getting back out of the water, it was still there.

Superglue jelly. What a novel concept.

What is this stuff anyway, I asked, some kind of resin? What kind of parent lets their gooey kid walk around unleashed with clumps of resin in their hands? I don’t need no myrrh and frankincense stuck to my leg! I went to the waterpark for a good time, not to have random who-knows-what stuck to my appendages. If I wanted that, I’d go swim at the beach and get a jellyfish stuck to my ankle. Or I’d swim in a leech-infested lake. I want to have fun and all, but, at least for me personally, that doesn’t involve having miscellaneous things involuntarily glued to my skin by children who aren’t even mine.

Going down the waterslide is an experience in itself. You walk all the way up these rickety little stairs to get to the top of the ride, all the time high on the scent of heavy-duty chlorine. And people are constantly packing in, waiting impatiently for the chance to spend a few seconds whizzing down a plastic tube.

Sometimes people whizz literally. No, really Journal, they do.

I got back to the food area after visiting the ladies’ room where I had finally chipped the jelly resin off my leg and was feeling a bit peckish after the extreme yoga moves required to pee without needing a subsequent round of heavy-duty antibiotics. Aha, funnel cake! My old friend! The very thing that makes coming to an amusement park worthwhile. I bought a piece and found a quiet spot to just sit down and relax for a moment, away from the throbbing maelstrom that was the rest of the park. Like I said, I’m an introvert. I have the patience of a gnat. And like a gnat, I need time to rest. All that flapping up and down the stairs and flailing down the waterslides — while trying to keep all of the important bits inside of a swimsuit, can exhaust an irritable shy little thing like me! But funnel cake would sustain me, revive me even. I mean, you know me and funnel cake, dear Journal.

So I sat down, and for a brief moment I rejoiced in being able to hear myself think for the first time in a good many hours (without my ears being clogged with water, without the chlorine forever desperate to punch me in the medulla oblongata, without goo on my legs, without people playing “Who can I get away with elbowing” on the waterslide stairs).

And then lo and behold! A bird, from out of nowhere, I couldn’t tell you which one, swooped down and stole my funnel cake right out of my hand!

I’d like to say I watched as the feathered beast flew away into the distance till it was nothing more than a little speck and that I reflected upon that moment as it went, but there was no time. In seconds, a throng of jackals children swamped the food area and I looked down at my leg once more to see it covered in peanut butter. Now why did I get rid of that mysterious jelly from earlier, I thought to myself. I could have had a sandwich!