My mother is eighty three years old and has always been very active, creative, and deeply connected to many people in her life. She is a celebrated educator, author, and any number of other things. But old age catches up with everyone eventually and she has had to slow down. She lives with my brother most of the time but is increasingly staying with us. In fact, one reason we moved out of the city is to have a bigger house so she can live with us more comfortably.
What my brother and I try to do is make sure her active and sociable life does not suffer the effects of age too much. We try to support her in her activities and habits as much as we can. But for someone as full of energy and imagination as my mother you could always be doing more. New projects are constantly bubbling out of her and the phone rings off the hook. She likes to write, teach, do art, cook, etc., while keeping in touch with her wide circle of family and friends – and she needs a little help with each one. Her life runs into all hours of the day.
My husband keeps very early hours. He wakes up between five and six in the morning and is on the road commuting to work as early as possible to avoid rush hour traffic. By the time he gets home around six o’clock he is very tired and hungry.
My son is eleven and spends most of his day at home. The afternoons are the only time that he can do things outside the house, spending time with other kids or skateboarding at the park. I of course want him to do this as much as possible – what is more necessary for a kid than doing good, healthy things with other kids? So I try to make sure he spends his afternoons exercising and enjoying being with friends. He too is usually awfully hungry by six o’clock.
I only feed my husband once a day at dinner time. But for my son and my mother I have to think about meals two or three times a day. (I won’t mention snacks and the little evening drink and munchies for my mom.) Just keeping up with the food needs of our household (planning, cooking, serving, cleaning) is more than enough work for me – forget about keeping up with my working life, homeschooling, and all the other unnamable parts of being a decent mother, daughter, wife, etc… Let’s just stick with food.
I was thinking today that I am often asking someone, When would you like to eat? There is coordination to be done so I need to know. And I realized no one ever asks me that question! I have never heard anyone say, When would you like to eat? So I thought, why don’t I ask myself that question? Suppose I take my own preferences into consideration? Suppose I decide when I would like to eat instead of fitting my own eating into others’ schedules?
And you know what? The very thought of taking yet someone else’s wants and preferences into consideration exhausted me – even when that someone else was myself. I realized by thinking about pleasing myself I would be turning myself into yet another person to cater to – and who needs that! I’d rather just eat whenever than add another person to the people I have to take care of.
Eating is not that important to me. To be quite honest, I’d rather eat very simple food than spend time cooking. I cook because I feel it’s my duty to feed my family well, especially my kid. So whatever I eat of what I really make for the family is quite good enough for me. And the time I eat doesn’t matter much either. I generally eat at the time when it is most expedient in terms of reducing cleanup time and labor.
What I can’t live without is exercising. In fact, that’s the one and only way I keep sane. If I don’t go to my dance classes or work out I know I will take a deep emotional plunge. I can’t afford that. So I compromise with eating time but not exercising.
But when would I like to eat?
I don’t know!
Do I have a choice?
Do I even care?