Tonight I carefully slice into a red bell pepper, then a green one, and finally a cheerful purple onion. I cut a quarter wedge from each of these and slice as thinly as my patience will allow. I am exhausted, and I am trying to prepare a new dish. So I move slowly; but I do move. I heat up two types of tortillas (microwave under a damp cloth napkin) and wrap them in heavy foil packets into the warmed oven. Having pickled a jalapeño (while the others roast in oil and salt), I dice it finely and add to the marinade hosting thick tempeh slices. I halve cherry tomatoes into a bowl and gently combine them with a little oil, salt, sugar: set aside. I fry up the seitan chick’n strips – having pre-baked them dry and chewy in the oven – and add the peppers and onions and more pickled jalapeño. The kitchen warms brilliantly with the fragrance of peppers and onions and the family cheers a little. Finally: I slice avocado, bring out the lime cashew cream, and the purple slaw, my husband prepared earlier. We don’t set the table as my work is spilled across it, but join one another convivially on the couch to watch a quaint baking show before we go our separate ways again for the evening.
I’ve been singing “Twenty Four Hours from Tulsa” over the last day, to myself. The Dusty Springfield version, of course; there is no other version. While I’m sewing or working her voice pierces my heart. I can sing as dramatically as I like, in front of my children. In front of no one else, in fact. Maybe I’ll grow a little less shy, or perhaps my children are just the most special people in my heart, and who can know the unvarnished Me.
Living with teenagers is about five thousand percent more peaceful than all the jokes and nasty comments led me to believe; and it’s sure been a sight more fun than my own teen years. Both children, unschooled and with only my direction on housework, have a sense of purpose and relatively companionable demeanor every day. I can’t remember hearing either say they are bored, ever. Boredom isn’t really a thing in our home. Not yet. I sometimes wonder when they leave, how I will do with that. They have been the drumbeat, everything to me, going on sixteen years.
Beeps started a new quarter at college this week; their last full quarter, as in spring they will only require ten credits. My stomach clenches a bit as there was so much I’d wanted to do for Phoenix for their sixteenth birthday in March; for their graduation from college in June, and there is little I can afford. I’d like to secure them a car, I’d like to throw them a party or two, and I’d like to buy them a few lavish gifts. As it is, we are down to one car in this family – which is less than ideal, leaving me stranded at home most days – and the car we do have has engine and brake problems.
I have learned how to discipline myself and calm my thoughts, when these kinds of difficulties arise. I know my children are perfectly happy and healthy and my hopes for them might be too specific or might not come to fruition in any case. It takes discipline for me to accurately assess our lives and make a plan. It takes even more discipline not to beat myself up, for being unrealistic, for thinking I could have done something spectacular for this spectacular child.
Nels cut all his hair off except a long topknot and today he confidently forwarded me a video tutorial for me to twist his blonde waves up into a bun. He is building a Minecraft mod and learning coding, stealing any bit of time he can from his father. Ralph comes home tired at the end of the day and I’m tired from working in the cold and I’m a bit stir-crazy from being cooped up and I put my arms around my husband and kiss him and feel how every part of his body feels good against mine. And I then count backwards on my fingers, I ask myself if I balanced everything just right: if I took care of my social life and my creative life and my physical life (daily yoga!) and my household and each child and my marriage and maybe even the pets or paid a bill or two. And most days I come out okay.
I was thinking about how I’ve poured so much into these kids and how I don’t regret it at all. And that’s another thing I count at the end of the day and look deeply, thumbing through the pages and knowing that’s still how I want to do it.
For tomorrow, then: finishing a pair of trousers and cooking up lunch and making a dinner for guests, and then wrestling into the arms of my husband where I can let my hair loose and lay on his shoulder and take respite and then it’s another weekend.
I am not a “single mom” when Ralph leaves for a weekend or a week, on a conference or business trip. A single mom has to do all this shit without support on the daily. Me, I have a few days of focus and a bit of adrenaline and anyway, I could put a thing or two on the back burner if I need to.
That said, I do have to focus as it’s all on me. Up in the morning and the kitties need to be fed; Herbert Pocket does this adorable thing where when we take the lid of the cat food bin, she pops her little paws on the ledge and inspects the level of cat food inside. I get to take the dog outside on his walks, and make sure he’s fed and has enough water. I scritch him a little extra besides; as hard as I worked on washing him yesterday his fur is so thick and he could use another combing and bath! Maybe in a day or two.
Phoenix tells me tonight, after I paint their nails (black, for Halloween!) – “Thank you for getting me pizza this morning. That was the sweetest thing to wake up to.” While it is certainly true that teens can fend or even cook for themselves, I still feel it’s my responsibility as a parent to try to do a little of that work for them.
Today also I took a bit of cake down to the recovery Club I frequent, right before I pick up the pizza. I slice the slab into two-bite size morsels and arranged them on a large platter. When I cook at the Club, or prep food, men swarm around. Attention; they need attention. “I’ll have a hot dog,” a young man toting a toddler instructs me – mistaking me for the kitchen worker that’s there during limited hours. I explain the situation to him: I’m not a member of the Club and the kitchen isn’t open at th emoment. Other fellows mill around, wanting to tell me about their job (or lack thereof) or just say Hi or whatever. But this is one place that’s good to leave food, because people are always coming through hungry, some off the street. When I first got sober I cooked on the regular because I felt desperate, and grateful, and wanted to give something to the group. And one day a fellow called me, “That chick that always brings food,” and I thought, Well that’s enough of that for now. That particular fellow is very very ill now and every time I see him I am not sure if I’ll see him again.
Tonight, incredibly, for dinner I decide to give a brown rice recipe a try: a (vegan) cheesy broccoli brown rice bake. I had enough brown rice growing up in the bus, I took a solid thirty-year hiatus, but I’m ready to try again. This evening I just know it will turn out wonderfully, and it does – accompanying the bean burritos and the cole slaw Ralph provides. I love peeling off the foil from a hot casserole and letting it sit just five minutes before spooning it out. I love watching how happy people are for hot food – my family yes, and a guest over for dinner.
Ralph is home and after my shower he comes to bed and I put my head on his chest and can feel my hair, down and brushed out, spill across his shoulder. He is warm and strong and feels exactly like home to me. And I know he’s too tired to pay me much mind by now, but my own mind is still a ways from being sleepy. I have had three days’ of hard work and I have some things to worry about besides. So after we say goodnight the pets gather round; two kitties flank me in the bed and I am still up just a little longer, a little deeper into the night before I sink back to sleep.