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Monday
Dec072009

Olives, Anyone?

Sometimes one of my kids will open the cupboards,  rummage through the cans of pintos and pineapple, sigh at the absence of a favorite kind of cereal, and complain to anyone who is listening "There is nothing to eat in this house!"

I find this kind of comment irritating. I hold my tongue about the truly emaciated children whose pictures I occasionally get in the mail asking for donations. I forego the stories told me long ago by my father-in-law who lived on a ship in the South Pacific during World War ll when most of the rations were washed overboard and all they ate for a month was olives, or the stories of my own father who survived life on a rocking ship in the Aleutians before he was old enough to grow a beard and could keep down nothing but soda crackers. I remember my own lean years with four children, depending on government surplus, while John worked as a temp for minimum wage (an amount I might add that cannot lure my own high school student into manual labor).

I concede that my child is hungry, or at least as close to hungry as a child who has never gone more than 16 hours without eating has ever been. I even acquiesce that I have not been to the store in a few days and we are indeed lacking a few of the regular inhabitants of our kitchen.

But the statement "there is nothing to eat in this house" does not hold water.

Our family has gone camping. Because the space constraints are significant when packing for a family of 7 or 8 (funny but we have not gone camping since the arrival of twins) I make all culinary decisions before the ignition starts and there are no choices when we actually sit down to eat around the picnic table.

"No you cannot have those chips, they are part of tomorrow's lunch".

In the absence of choices, we eat what is in front of us, and curiously, it is enough. I may be accused of embellishment by my children, but I think it usually tasted great.

Relationships follow similar trends of lack and abundance.When you are first falling in love, the briefest phone call is enough to savor for days, as any teenage girl who has described that phone call to her friends ad naseum can attest. But somehow a decade later, a conversation ten times as long over the broccoli can feel like table scraps.

In marriage it is good to have cupboards. Tuck away those memories and private exchanges, like granola bars in your back pocket. If you are scarfing down ravioli in an All You Can Eat diner, the granola bar is an insult to your taste buds. But if you have been hiking on switchbacks for a couple of sweaty hours, it can be welcome treat indeed as you sit on a rock watching the landscape below you.

You too may be known to despair that there is no nourishment in your marriage. But check your pockets. Does he go to work every day, and even better, come home every night? Does she still do your laundry, maybe even fold it the way you like it? Is he still faithful, in a world that does not give much support to that silent effort, day after day? Does she still smile at you in that playful way that lightens your heart?

You may not be having the exact kind of conversation or scintillating evenings that the media led you to expect. But even meringue will not sustain you through a January snow the way that plain lentils and rice will. The Children of Israel in the book of Exodus were first enamored of manna when they wandered in the wilderness. It was sweet as honey, and showed up every morning. But after a few years, they grew weary of it, complaining bitterly to God. Yet the manna had not changed. It was their reception of it that had morphed.

Maybe you are moaning about the lack of your favorite  kind of treats in your marriage and feel indignant about it. But what would happen if you opened the cans that are there, and hold ordinary nourishment? Could you be grateful for olives and saltines? Sometimes it is a great contrast for that smorgasbord when you could hardly find room on the table for the pickled relish. And it is kind of fun to tell your children where you have been and survived.