To borrow a phrase from my mother-in-law, I come by my food obsession honestly. From the time I can remember ‘til this minute, I can’t recall a conversation with my grandmother (my mother’s mom, that is) that doesn’t end up, begin or somehow discuss food in some way. When my grandfather was alive, she would regale me with every meal at every restaurant she ate in about town or on vacation. Now, she asks me where I ate and what I had when I tell her I went out for a meal.
Up until this past year, when both of my grandmothers’ health have declined, I would be offered food (cookies, candy, potato chips) within 90 seconds of walking through the door. I find myself doing this to visitors at my own home. It’s like I received a download of the “Perfect Hostess” program from them. Visitor arrives. Offer sustenance. Receive negative response. Repeat offer of food/beverage. Repeat cycle until visitor has acquiesced. Offer seconds. Repeat. Offer thirds. Repeat… I think you get the picture.
This behavior, the “perfect” hostess, the “perfect” wife/mother/friend, is so ingrained in my head that it has taken many years to even accomplish a small adjustment to the programming. Now, when a visitor arrives, I still offer a drink or food. The difference comes in that, if the visitor refuses, I say something like, “you let me know if you want anything” or “it’s in the fridge, help yourself.” [Depending on how close I am to said visitor.]
The other thing I’m changing (it’s still a work in progress) is to say, “Are you hungry/thirsty?” rather than, “Do you want food/beverage?” For the most part, I have succeeded when I deal with my son (so determined am I that he be raised with as few food issues as possible.)
As you may have guessed, I was not raised this way. I don’t remember being asked are you hungry/thirsty very often, especially not by my grandparents. It was irrelevant to my grandmothers. When food is love, you are not expected to ever reach a point where you are sated.
My mom harped about food in her own way. “There are starving children in China/Africa/Ethiopia/fill-in-the-third-world-country who would love your dinner.” I learned quickly to only take what I thought I could finish, to stave off the guilt. I am blessed (or cursed as the case may be) with a vivid imagination. I could see the distended bellies of those poor children in my mind’s eye and the guilt would consume me. So, to ease my conscious, I would pick out the kidney beans from the chili (sometimes getting to the table a few minutes early so I could do this in peace) or the elbow macaroni from my mom’s version of goulash. Sometimes I made special requests to make the meal more enjoyable and less an act of torture. Baked beans was my most requested side dish, especially when hockey pucks- uh, hamburgers or steak were on the menu. Baked bean sauce soften the tiny pieces of beef to make it more palatable. That and some added ketchup. [This leads me to another one of my nicknames – Jeanne Beanie.]
Occasionally, I would dish myself seconds, at which time, my brothers may accompany the act with well placed ‘oinks.’ If dinner was not to my liking, I would fill up on the things I did like (bread and butter,) and then creep into the kitchen later on for a snack or dessert. Cereal has always been my snack of choice – sweet and crunchy, deceivingly nutritious, and easily prepared by a youngster.
By the time I was a teenager, I had carved out the basement as my hideout. As the only girl, I had a room to myself on the first floor, in between my parents’ bedroom and the bathroom. My brothers may have had to share a bedroom, but they had a virtual apartment upstairs – a full bath, a den with TV and computer, and a large bedroom. The only thing missing was a kitchen, although I found out years later that they had converted one of their toychests into a cooler and kept pop in it.
For most of my pre-teen years, I had tried to join in my brothers’ club. I learned all about Star Wars, Legos, Dungeons and Dragons, video games, all with the hope of being included. But like Rudolph, nobody let me play the reindeer games. A few well-timed whines and cries would get me a few extra minutes upstairs. My brothers would let me create a D&D character and then promptly kill me off after a roll or two.
I remember one scene, I had to have been only six or seven. We were upstairs playing with Star Wars figures in the den. My brothers were duking it out, each with almost identical pieces (so each had a Luke Skywalker, each a Han Solo, et cetera.) And then, there was me. Off to the side with my collection of Princess Leias. After some minutes, one of my brothers (probably Tom) came up to me, slapped the Princess Leia from my hand and said, “You’re dead. Get out.” I whisked my Leia off the floor and exclaimed, “I’m in a steel box, you can’t hurt me.”
A few minutes of arguing and a cry down to my mom that I was bugging them later, I was back in my room. Alone.
Years later, I wouldn’t even bother trying to belong. I claimed the basement as my own hideout and created my own little world, populated with people who wanted me around, or at least, since they were invisible, they couldn’t tell me otherwise.