28 April 2009

pain dinner

"Do you want Mommy to have to go to the hospital for a long, long time where you won't be able to see her very much?" I ask MoMo.

"I'm feeding my fire engine ice gas!!" MoMo says, in his extra-charming voice, the one that sounds like knows he might be in trouble but thinks he might be able to bluff his way out of it.

"Seriously. I'm going to have to go to the hospital and get lots of shots if you don't stop pouring water all over the floor."

"And my fire engine likes apples."

I give it up. I guess I haven't trained my three-year-old well--he doesn't respond to guilt trips. I'm in too much pain to try to stop him from washing his fire truck with ice chips and feeding it bits of apple.

I have one of those backs that likes to "go out" on me. I don't know what the actual medical phenomenon is that makes it do that, but it creates a sharp stabbing pain in my lower back whenever I move.

But can I just stop moving? 
No, I cannot.

A snapshot of the kitchen floor in front of the stove looks like this: Momo holding a damp rag, sans pants, over his fire engine, a bowl of crushed ice, a butter knife, a syringe with a blue bulb, chopped up pieces of apple and red cabbage, splotches of dried hot chocolate blooming on my white tile (I hate the person that chose that white tile).

My dinner menu plan starts out like this:

*Carrot Tomato Bisque
*BLT's on Wholegrain Bread
*Purple Cabbage Slaw

I think about my options.

It's 6.30 pm and Christian won't be home until nine. It's February, and sort of half slushing/half snowing outside. My back is KILLING me, and Cecily has just squirmed onto my lap and said, "I feel like I'm going to throw up!"

Scratch the Carrot Tomato Bisque.

Cecily needs me.

And my back screams every time I even think about chopping onions and carrots.

I walk Cecily to my bed and turn on PBS Kids. (I love you, PBS Kids!) We lie down (Cecily lays herself down while I lower myself to my knees and then roll on to the bed, breathing through the pain.) I snuggle with her until she doesn't feel like she's going to throw up anymore, and take her temp: 99 degrees.

Back in the kitchen, I think about dinner again.

Here's the thing: every time I decide it will just be easier to skip dinner and let the kids eat cereal, it backfires. I don't know if it's just me or what, but take away my routine and all hell breaks loose. Someone spills cereal all over the kitchen floor, everyone's hungry an hour later, and it somehow seems it takes almost as long to make and clean up cereal as it does a more proper meal.

And no one's happy, especially not me.

So I decide to cook through the pain, and my menu shifts slightly:

*Build your own BLT's
*Purple Slaw

I hobble around, turning on the oven, stretching out strips of bacon on a jelly roll sheet, and gain a minor amount of satisfaction at how straight the rows of bacon are.

(Did I mention that I decided to take one of Christian's muscle relaxers for HIS back pain that the doctor had given him a couple of months earlier? Did I mention that you're not supposed to take those during the day, which I always thought was just so you wouldn't fall asleep when you should be working or driving a car or something, but I discovered that those little puppies make you catatonically depressed?)

Somewhere between catatonically depressed and suicidal.

So that's where I'd been all afternoon. A place called Catatonia, willing myself to go on and praying, not hoping, actually praying, that the hours would pass.

By 6.30, I was only a teensy bit better.

I put away the groceries I had bought six hours earlier.

I scatter a handful of walnuts onto a cookie sheet and brown them in the oven, thinly slice a tomato.

(I'm sorry, Alice Waters, for eating a tomato in February. I know it's wrong.)

And then sit down on the couch to rest my back. I check my email, my blog, my facebook.


My caller ID. It's been nearly 24 hours since anyone called. Not on my land line or on my cell phone. So in addition to feeling alienated by February, I'm now alienated by the human race.

With five easy modes of contact, not one human being has attempted. Not even my mother.

I go to Bittman's blog. That always makes me feel better. Lula snuggles against me on the couch and we watch Bittman make a "simple chocolate souffle." Then a parmesan cream cracker.

Lula is so excited by the cracker, as am I. I really hate paying four bucks for a box of un-tasty crackers.

I agree to let Lula try making them, telling myself it's good for her math and reading skills, and maybe it will cheer us up.

It sounds hokey, but the cooking and baking smells really do make me feel better. The bacon comes out of the oven, the walnuts are cooling on the chopping board, and I'm seeing my way clear of the muscle relaxers and into dinner.

We might actually get a meal out of this.

And I love how straight and flat my bacon strips are, how thin and uniform the tomato slices.

I plate the lettuce and tomatoes, and put slices of bread in the toaster. I don't plate the mayo, just open the jar and put a knife next to it.

(I'm so sorry, Alice Waters, for not making my own mayo, especially when I have those Clifford Family Farms eggs in the fridge, the ones that would be perfect for homemade mayo. I just couldn't. I promise I will soon. I will soon stop purchasing mayo and making only my own homemade mayo. I just can't do it tonight.)

As I start to make the slaw, I'm having trouble cutting, due to back pain. I wanted a thinly sliced cabbage that is slightly more substantial than a shred, but I can't do it because it requires a back-killing stance.

Looking at the walnuts gives me an idea--I'll cut my cabbage all skiwompus and call it rough cut slaw. Looking at the walnuts gives me another idea: Waldorf salad. More chunks. It'll be a chunky, sweetie purple salad. I glob a spoonful of mayo into a bowl, pour a glug of apple cider vineagar over top (after sadly realizing I'd used my last lemon the day before), and squirt a glop of Jack Daniels' mustard on top, a tsp. of sea salt, and a big spoon full of cousin Stan's fantastic honey. (More about cousin Stan and honey later). I whisk it together, grind in some pepper after I can't find the pinch of cayenne I'd wanted to use, and chop up the apple and walnuts. This salad is really tasty, and my kids like that it looks pinkish from the cabbage.

I'm feeding a crew of mixed eating levels here.

Fifteen years in the classroom taught me to design assignments that could extend out for the faster learners or break down for the slower learners. This meal has some extension and break-down options.

Has anyone noticed that kids don't like sandwiches? Number one, they can't see what's inside, number two, everything's mushed toghether, and number three, sandwiches are often too tall for a three-year-old's tiny mouth.

So I break it down.

Normally I try not to dumb down dinner for my kids, but, given how badly my back was hurting, I made an exception. I put ingredients on the plates so that the kids could either make their own sandwiches or eat everything separately.

Momo and Cecy opted to eat everything separately, though Momo enjoyed wrapping his bacon in lettuce and eating it that way. Cecy opted to eat a couple of bites of bacon and then go back to bed, which confirmed that she really was actually sick, as she loves bacon very much.

Lula opted for a bacon and lettuce sandwich, tomato on the side. And when Bonnie dropped by 30 minutes later, and Christian arrived home two hours later, they could make their own sandwiches and plop some chunky purple Waldorf on the side.

Final Menu:

*Build your own BLT's
*Rough Cut Purple Waldorf Slaw

The crackers come out of the oven and are quite delish. Lula breaks them up into squares and I eat a couple topped with purple waldorf. And she comes up with the genius idea of scoring the scraps of leftover dough into tiny squares and baking them into soup-sized crackers. If I had made the carrot tomato bisque, those crackers would have been perfect on top.

After dinner, Bonnie works on my back while Momo sprays himself in the eye with air freshener.

And regales us with stories about fires and the Statue of Liberty and how his "Chef's Glove" caught on fire. He even brought us the Chef's Glove to show us the char marks from the heating element in the oven, and a piece of blackened bread that he had cooked while I wasn't looking.

I would ground him for cooking without adult supervision, but he's only three.

What can I do?

Momo's on his own now.

Dinner is over, I'm flat out on the bed getting my back fixed and feeling like, if nothing else, I had made dinner. Like a champion Olympic athlete for making it through dinner. For making it through the whole day, really, but there's something about cooking through the pain that gives me an extra modicum of satisfaction.

No one can take that away from me.

I really do feel inordinately proud.

It's silly.

But it's the one thing that made the day okay.

Dinner plus pain is a challenging menu, a palate stretcher, but if you come out on the other side, you'll find it has it's own purifyingly character-building rewards.


eliza.e.campbell said...

This good.

nukkle said...

Lara--this has to be part of your book. It's brilliant in so many ways.


(Marni posting under Greg's sign-in)

Bingy said...

moses is just experimenting with alternative energy sources. Be proud of him!

Bingy said...

PS: Why are me and cousin Stan not BFFs?????