Archive for February, 2013

Existential crisis at 6

February 21, 2013

Poor darling Second Son. He’s been doing a lot of thinking, and he’s clearly vexed. This morning he came out of the bathroom crying. I thought it was something to do with what had happened on the toilet. Had he run out of toilet paper? Was it the curry from last night? Actually it was more serious than that. Through tears he stammered that he was afraid of only having one chance at life before dying and what if he dies when he’s not ready?

I know that anxiety about death and dying is extremely common in children. I myself had a morbid fascination with all aspects of death from a very young age thanks in part to my father’s macabre leanings, and I anticipated that at least one of my sons would inherit this trait. But now that it has emerged, I’m treading very carefully in how I respond.

There are so many aspects of parenting that you want to get right. With three boys under my charge, my top priority is engendering in the boys a respect for girls and women. As the men of the future I want my boys to be liked, trusted and admired by the women they encounter in their lives. In a way I feel that this is one future of feminism: forward looking feminist parenting that will hopefully bring to the world better men.

But what of the big existential questions that we face as parents from our young? How scary the contemplation of life and death to a six year old! How do we best respond to these so as to set those young minds on the right path for their future development? 

If you believe in a god your job is made somewhat simpler because the answers are all there. Believe in this god, do what it says while you’re alive and you’ll die when it needs you up in the place where all other people who have done as they were told go when they die. Don’t do what you’re told and you go someplace else which is nasty and very often hot. This would be quite a simple line to spin to Second Son in his anxious moments of mortal contemplation, and I do appreciate the simplicity and solace a religious approach can bring to existential questioning. Being a non believer myself, however, I just don’t think I’d do the story justice. Sure, I have spun the Santa line to the boys, albeit struggled in doing so, but feel reconciled by the fact that there is an end point to their belief in this story. They will ultimately find out the truth about the non existence of the man in red and hopefully appreciate it in the context of an imaginary embellishment of childhood. When it comes to life and death, I think I want to stick to the facts as I see them: we’re born, we live, and then we die. And dying isn’t easy, or rewarding, or punishment, or the start of some other journey. It is just what happens in life. It is the end of life: the Big Sleep. I don’t want my sons to be afraid of death, but I don’t want them to be resolute because perhaps life carries on afterwards in some other realm: I want them to be unafraid of death because it is a fact of life. But how best to explain this to a six year old in tears at the prospect of dying?

The line I took this morning, and one I try to employ as my own ethos, is to respect now. I told Second Son to concentrate on immediate things: getting ready for school, finishing his breakfast, brushing his teeth. And to think how great it is to simply have today. The old adage “Live every day as though it were your last” always had a depressing air of fatalism about it. I prefer the simpler and more upbeat Appreciate Now. Think I might go get it printed on a t-shirt.



What’s for tea?

February 4, 2013

Culinarily speaking, this week was an epic fail.

Having decided a couple of years ago to quit my job as a project officer within a university and concentrate my project management skills on raising my sons full time, I was quite deliberate in what I was taking on. I knew there would be aspects of the job which I would master quite naturally, and others with which I would struggle. The selection criteria for raising three healthy boys are pretty broad and vast, but I felt I could tick off at least a few and the others, well, perhaps I might learn them along the way.

One aspect of the job I was not confident with, and which I’m not even sure appeared on the selection criteria at all, was the role of Head Chef.

I have been cooking the evening meal for this family for approximately 365 days of the year for over 8 years. That’s more than 2000 dinners prepared by me, give or take the odd night out or takeaway. A professional chef working Friday and Saturday nights would need to work around 20 years to build up that much experience in the kitchen.
Although self taught, by now I should surely be a pro with a pan, a natural with a knife, a dab hand with a dough. Right?
Well, sadly, no.

I am crap in the kitchen.

My repertoire consists of spaghetti bolognese, chicken nuggets, coleslaw, and an heirloom recipe for something called Chop Suey my mother donated, which involves mince meat, cabbage and rice. I can also do anything that requires opening a jar quite well, and if I’m feeling really energetic I’ll make some home made burgers. My weekly menu is clearly heavily meat based, which causes me some ideological consternation and my husband much intestinal constipation. It is also incredibly boring and predictable and is hardly ever met with approval from the boys.

So this week, in an attempt at variety and colonic cleanliness, I attempted something hitherto unheard of: a week of vegetarian meals. Roll out the pilau, spinach lasagne, cheesey cauliflower and nutballs. I slaved in the kitchen for hours attempting new recipes. I implored the boys and man to enter into this new culinary territory with the spirit of the explorers. Open minds, open mouths and empty plates. But the reports came back. The reviews were in and they weren’t kind. There were grimaces, shudders, pushed away plates and regurgitated greens.

Nobody liked a single thing I cooked.

And that’s when I realised, in a shoulder-slumped frown-mouthed moment of dejected clarity, that I actually hate cooking. I loathe it. A heavy admission in an era of food-obsessed master chefers and kitchen rulers. I find it tedious, frustrating, disorderly and time wasting. To me, reading a recipe is like reading some incredibly convoluted and boring poetry. I switch off after the second line. I have to force my brain to follow the instructions, as though I have some form of recipe dyslexia. They just don’t make sense to me. So when, after forcing myself to prepare the ingredients and follow the steps, the end product is wholly rejected, my loathing of cooking is cemented. One recipe I attempted this week claimed that the rice would be cooked in 45 minutes. 75 minutes later and I was on the verge of throwing the entire pot in the bin along with the “simple recipe” vegetarian cook book. Who knew brown rice would take 2 hours to cook and taste like dirt?

Needless to say, my well-intentioned efforts backfired and I’m back to square one: cooking spag bol and nuggets and wondering where this was mentioned in the job spec.