Thursday, January 4, 2024

Autism Answer: Life Lessons and Leftovers


My boys (circa a lot of years ago)

My four boys are now men. 
I care so much about them.
When they were small every single choice I consciously made worked its way through the "how do I think this will affect them" filter. 
Back then it was intense. I did not see myself as separate from them. Instead, we were a unit. A unit of individuals with the right and necessity of discovering and becoming a healthy version of our natural selves. But, still - a unit. 
When my sons were small, I did not feel like we were poor. We had too much support, really, to feel poor. My mom and my sister (who were not wealthy) didn't hesitate to offer us vacations, homes, vehicles, gas money, dance classes, foods with fancy names, trips to museums and science centers. So we didn't feel poor, exactly. But I did not often make money and my husband at the time worked hard but made little.
Groceries were a weekly worry. Grocery store trips were emotionally and financially draining. I cared so much about feeding the hunger in our home nutritiously, while not losing site of the value in frivolity and fun. The ideas, the items, the foods: I wanted to offer nutrition, and example the vigor and joy of it. 
I didn't do too bad. I cared a lot, and that came through. 
But I also missed a few things, made missteps and mistakes, and that came through too. 
One of the things that comes to mind in this moment: 
All four of my sons remember me in their youth with slightly different perspectives. But one thing that is consistent in their memories is the habit I had of often giving them the food and waiting happily for leftovers before I would eat. Not at every meal, not every day, but when the food was either a treat or limited, this was my happy habit. I wasn't dramatic about it. It wasn't a sacrifice or anything, I tried to be sure they recognized that I was not growing and they were. That I was in less need than them. And that I was not actually hungry for anything more than seeing my children's bellies and bodies filled. 
As men, my sons now often bring up this version of me while insisting on seeing me eat. My oldest son is following a passion for feeding people and the satisfaction he expresses while watching me enjoy his food is powerful. 
Confession: I am warmed by a sense of gratification when any of my sons comments on my habit of eating mostly leftovers when they were little. 
I recognize, though, the possible pitfalls of this sort of pride. 
I recognize them, because I am a little bit guilty of them. 
For one thing, I am a little bit guilty of feeling GOOD about sacrificing my own meals in order to feed them. A little bit of proof that I CARED so much. Now, I did care and I did remember to put the focus on their growing bodies and needs, but I know that the deeper belief (that I was being a good mom and showing love by denying myself the treats) would have revealed itself somewhere. That in some quieter way I was also telling them that sacrificing my own needs was a sign of love. 
Another pitfall: I am a little bit guilty of feeling GOOD about not eating when I was hungry because it might finally make me THIN. Oh, I cared too much about teaching my sons to value women of every shape and size to say it. I asked them to applaud women who had passion and kindness and to know that meant they would likely have figures and curves and soft rolls as nature desires. Because of this I never would have said, to them or to myself, that I was excited at the idea that maybe sacrificing food for the sake of my children might have the side effect of making me thin. And thin, though not necessarily healthy, can borrow her sister's clothes without fear of embarrassing the people around her. Hence thin, particularly if you are a woman, is desirable. I tried exceptionally hard not to teach this, but I felt it. So, it likely surfaced. 
Yet another guilty pitfall of this little habit I had is how proud I was of being able to find joy in being too broke to feed myself. In my attempt to show them I was happy, I was comfortable not eating, they were the ones growing and I was not (nor did I want to grow) so no big deal, I consistently gave the impression that being broke was totally cool. That it might be a sign we were better than the moms who ate alongside their children for every meal. We were amazing at having a good attitude while being broke, which meant we were learning a skill the richer folks were not learning. Yikes! This is not a lesson I wanted to teach, but I admit to being a little bit guilty of THINKING it. Of maybe even BELIEVING it. 
So, from now on when my sons comment of this habit I had, and my inevitable feeling of a pride-like pleasure creeps in, I will focus on the part that I do not mind feeling gratitude for. The part where my sons, all four of them, saw me. Saw me care about them, saw me be with them, saw me try to nourish them. 
We were one unit. 
One unit made of of individuals. 
We still are. 
They are grown men and I still make choices with them at the helm. But I am aware, and satisfied with, the truth that my choices affect them less now. Appropriately so. 
Moving forward into new years I still think about what my choices might mean for them. But now those movements are more about me and my soul mate, and what we hope to build for a future that is consistently him and me, while inviting our children and grandchildren. 
Inviting them to visit but, more importantly, inviting them to see in my choices something healthy.
Interestingly, this includes me eating meals alongside my loved ones, and also eating - my favorite food - leftovers! 
It turns out that my distaste for waste has instilled in me a love of leftovers! 
Hence, when I am around my grandchildren, my nieces, my sons and my step-daughter, I love that everyone knows to share with me the leftovers. It is, funnily enough, often enough to sustain me.
I like to think my love of leftovers is finally on solid ground. Not a sacrifice, or secret desire to be thin, or a nod to the perks of poverty, but a good ol' distaste for waste. 
Wait, my distaste for waste grew naturally out of me noticing a dangerous lack of caring about waste in the society that surrounds me. 
Hence, I suspect it is not without pitfalls. 
You know what? That's an issue for another year! 
Now, if you don't mind, I'm going to nibble on this plate of leftover cheeses and crackers. Wouldn't want to allow for more waste! 
Happy New Year everyone!
Hugs, smiles, and love!!!!!
RANDOM: In the photo above my sons are eating apples. I am certain, I ate the cores.