It’s funny how when we are placed in circumstances that are beyond our control, we tend to grab hold of some insignificant (in a grand scheme of things) aspect of life and with strange persistence and determination take full charge of it, just to get a feeble sense of being in control.
Once it happened to me when my daughter was born. Everything just unraveled too fast, was too painful, too scary, with way too many uncertainties; so I just had to, HAD TO, finish painting her room all by myself. I had to get it perfect. No one understood why it was important. I am not even sure I understood it myself, but I was on a mission — that room had to be done just right.
Same thing happened when a particularly tough project was unfolding at work. I worked ’round the clock with very little down time, so my family and home life suffered. The only glimpses into normal life I had were brief trips to the kitchen in the middle of the night between tests. What was I doing there at 2 am, you may ask? I was building a gingerbread house. Not just any kind — it was made of tiny chocolate fudge bricks. Homemade fudge. Three different kinds. With ginger bread windows and doors, and “stain glass” window panes, waffle column supporting the porch roof, and oyster cracker roof shingles dusted with powdered sugar… Why was I doing this? I don’t know.
I remember the day we left our country. How does one begin to describe the feeling? How does one make sense of the significance of the step one is about to take, the journey which who knows how ends? Our house, where my family had lived for a hundred years, was filled with friends and family members who came to say good-bye. They were frantically helping us pack our last few bags. I remember being overwhelmed to the point of being completely empty and numb. No feelings, no thoughts. We had few more hours before our van was to pick us up and take us to the airport. So I went into the kitchen and, without even realizing it fully, I started making dinner. I made dinner for the people who loved us. I wanted normalcy. I wanted to pretend for a few hours that everything was as it should be — pots and pans in the cupboards, plates lined up on a rack, and pork chops frying in a skillet. When it was time to wrap up, I washed dishes and swept the kitchen floor, as if nothing was about to happen…
Last year I had a small surgery right before New Year. I came home, still drugged up, groggy and freaked out, so I slept the afternoon away. Next morning, I woke up feeling like I was hit by a truck. I was in pain, uncomfortably so, feeling my every slightest movement in my carnaged stomach muscles. So what did I do? I spent the entire day on my feet, in the kitchen, cooking New Year’s feast with my mom. No, I wasn’t just garnishing salads. I was roasting a goose, baking sweets, pickling lettuces and marinading roasted peppers, making something crazy, some of which I don’t even remember any more. I didn’t feel the pain and discomfort until I was done cooking. And this is when I collapsed, completely exhausted… How did I do that? I don’t know.
This week is of those seasonal circuit overload times at work, and here I am sitting in the middle of the night, writing this instead of going to bed. What is my “control fix de jour“? Making dinners for my family. Every day. No skipping. No matter how hard it is to find time. Doesn’t matter if it takes 15 minutes or 30, or a whole hour (wow!) No matter how easy or cheap or convenient it is to go get food at a restaurant. Why am I doing all this? I don’t know…
When I am in my kitchen, even such an unpleasant task as washing dishes can make me feel in control, because it clears my day away. Here they are — dirty dishes of the entire day — piled in the sink, looking unkempt and tired. They are intimidating me — there are so many of them in there. But I find that once I start loading them in the dishwasher, things are typically looking much better than they seemed at first. As the plates get lined up in the racks, getting ready for their hot shower, I start feeling better. I know that my day was rough, but it’s over. And I don’t carry the mess of yesterday into another day. And another day will start with making breakfast on a clean stove…
This happened many times. I look at some of my older food photos and recall various occasions for which the dishes were made, sometimes in the roughest of circumstances, and I see the connection. And here is where I realize that being in my kitchen for me equals being in charge. Fully. I am the master of my domain, I do what I please, I organize things my way, I plan my tasks, I put things together to make something new, I am making choices, and in the end I am fully responsible for the outcome.
Here is to being in control and enjoying it. Here is to never carrying your yesterday messes into the new day. Here is to finding something, no matter how small and insignificant it seems, something that makes you feel happy every day, something that you can do between tough jobs, between hospital trips, before or after traffic madness, money troubles, family feuds, stress… something that will make you feel being in charge.
And now, if you’ll excuse me, I am going to peel myself off the computer screen and go wash dishes. The new day is only a few hours away, and who knows what mess it’s going to bring with it!