The red cabbage is out of the oven to the somewhat predictable retching noises from NC – proof that she is a rubbish vegetarian. The presents are wrapped and under the tree – apart from mine, which I have no doubt will be remembered sometime between the closing credits of Elf and bedtime. And the Princess thinks that I haven’t noticed the number of gingerbread biscuits she has snuck from our mouths.
I’m freaking that the turkey won’t be defrosted in time or that I’ve forgotten something major from the list of what I am contributing tomorrow – even though it feels like I’ve done a supermarket sweep of the Coles’ shelves every day of this month. I’m worried that Kurt will forget that tomorrow is the big day and that I need my vacuum back, or that the Princess won’t fit into her outfit.
But we are as ready as we will ever be, or need to be. For we will be in the company of good friends – our surrogate family in Oz – who will forgive me if my turkey gives them listeria or if the pavlova cascades off the plate like a volcano because I didn’t want to put my glass down long enough to whip the cream to soft peaks.
We are lucky, but some are not.
A good friend from the UK posted this on her Facebook timeline a few days ago:
This time of year is not great for everyone, so my house is a safe zone. Coffee or tea can be on in minutes. Wine can be brought out as well. My table is non-judgmental. Any family or friend who needs to chat, eat or drink is welcome. We can talk, share a laugh, a cry, or just listen. If you’re hungry, I’ll feed you. I will always do my best to be available… you are always welcome!! This is an old-school value that has been lost to technology…a text, Facetime, gif or emoji is NOT the equivalent. I’m hoping that at least one friend copies this and posts it if you feel the same. I just did from another friend. Merry Christmas!
Likewise, there’s always room at our table should you find yourself alone on Christmas Day on the Northern Beaches of Sydney.
I’ll save the New Year’s reflections and aspirations for 2019 for once the Christmas craziness has died down and I’ve reduced my medication back to its normal dosage. It will give me something to do in that scary vacuum of too much over-thinking time between Christmas and New Year.
But until then, thanks for reading, and a Happy Christmas to everyone!
BTW: How do you defrost a turkey quickly? Asking for a friend.
The old man and I became empty-nesters this week.Kurt has left the building.
I swear he wasn’t pushed. We view our negotiations as closer to a manipulation that made sense – primarily, for him. Not once did we bring up the subject of our sanity in the conversation.
Anyone who has twenty-something-year-old kids still living at home will know that there comes a time. A time when the kids need their space to grow, go wild and make their own mistakes. A time when you need your sleep.
It’s one thing to offer them a roof over their head while they are studying – to improve their career chances – but it’s another to sacrifice your peace when they are in the workforce, with far more disposable income than you’ve had in a very long time, and living the rowdy lifestyle that goes with it.
We have tried to make living together work over the past year – honestly! In some ways, Kurt has tried harder than us, and yet no amount of nagging will make the twenty-one-year-old brain of our son think along the same lines as our fifty-something-year-old brains.
Particularly, an ADHD brain – which I can vouch for because I was that kid that smoked the butts of cigarettes at five in the morning, hitch-hiked across Europe, and strolling into work straight from nightclubs. Needless to say, “the crazy” hasn’t fallen far from the tree in our house.
Fortunately for my father, my period of existentialism happened away from home, with no one to nag me about noise, how often I ate, or the dreaded R-word (responsibility) every five minutes, like a stuck record.
I swear that the word will always be a trigger in Kurt’s life.
I have no idea how long this amazing strike for independence will last. Forever, I hope – for his sake – even though my heart physically hurts when I think about my loss. For all his noise, for all those visits to the police station and suspensions from school, I will miss our boy.
Like any child, he has made an indelible mark on my heart. But in his case I have shared his struggles so viscerally – struggles that have mirrored mine many times – so his departure almost feels as though a part of me is leaving with him.
But this decision is not about me.
When our daughter left, I knew that she was ready. Kurt’s departure is different – he needs to go. For him, for us; perhaps most importantly, for the future of our relationship with him.
I would be proud to say that raising my son has made me a better person, and yet I’ve never pretended to be that “perfect,” selfless stereotype of the mum of the kid with special needs who rose to the challenge. Our journey has been a tough one, and there have been times when I have resented his “different” dynamic in what should have been an ordinary life. ADHD is not an easy condition to live with – for neither the sufferer nor the carer – and it can have a devastating impact on close relationships.
But what I will say is that my son’s presence in my life has made me more conscious of “difference,” and the difficulties of those people that have a “different” brain, who struggle in a society not customized to their needs, that continues to deny their disabilities, and to fall by the wayside. Being Kurt’s mother has made me less discriminatory and an advocate for people like him – work that I am proud of.
Am I more patient? No. But then, this stage of my life is probably not the best time to be judged by my patience levels.
Our boy has only moved up the road, which means that he can pop back, anytime – which he did last night at 1.30am, in search of a clean towel – and we can reach his new unit within five minutes if he needs us. Nevertheless, the three of us know that we need this time. We need time to heal, time to forget the scarring judgments spoken in anger, to repair, and to breathe freely again. We need time apart to remind ourselves of how much we love each other. The old man and I have more than twenty years of sleep to catch up on.
A year ago, I would never have believed that this day would come. A year ago, it felt like a fantasy to think that one day Kurt would hold down a job. A year ago, we feared for our son’s life, or that he might remain fully dependent upon us for the rest of ours.
In those darkest moments, hope and survival are sometimes the only things to hold onto, and one of life’s greatest gifts is the element of surprise. Always remember the healing power of time and its ability to scaffold forgiveness, change circumstances, and people. We are so proud of where Kurt is right now.
Friends, whose kids have already left the family home, have assured me that their relationships with their kids improved once they decamped. And while my relationship with Kurt has always been complicated – intense, symbiotic, and unhealthily enabling at times – I know that deep down both of us need this move to work. Little has remained left unsaid in our relationship. We know each other inside out – for better or for worse – so we know what we mean to each other.
‘But you enjoy it,’ the old man retorts defensively when I moan about him not chipping in with the organization of social events, the ongoing responsibilities of our adult children, and – dare I mention it – Christmas.
You might have read in the news this week about the disparity between the practical and “emotional labor” experienced by women versus men at Christmas – as in, (for the most part, it seems), men do fuck all. Even Caitlin Moran had a moan in The Times about being the only member of her family to turn on the table lamps in her house – a gripe I can sympathize with as the only member of ours who gives a fuck about creating a relaxing ambiance.
And yet, I have a confession to make. I am one of those women who is guilty of enabling that disparity. I take ownership of pretty much every Christmas chore, from present-shopping and wrapping to the organization of the food, (most of which, admittedly, we probably don’t need – Turkish Delight, anyone?), and dressing the tree.
Similarly, Laura Bates highlighted the “third shift” of responsibility that women take on in her article in The Guardian last weekend:
“There is a third shift, which is less often acknowledged. This is the mental load of planning social engagements, remembering thank-you notes and praising kind teachers, keeping track of nativity plays and Christmas pantomimes and organising the logistics of travel and sleeping arrangements.”
And before any of you men turn on me with some petty argument that women do these things because they don’t work or are working part-time – I say, BULLSHIT! – I know plenty of women that organize Christmas, do the bulk of raising the kids, and work full-time.
However, in our case, the disparity between myself and the old man has arisen as a result of our disproportionate levels of interest when it comes to the season. I love Christmas and I have certain unhealthy expectations about how we celebrate it. I would go so far as to admit that I have an inexplicable need to celebrate the tradition in a crass ‘go big or go home kind of way’ that I hold my mother responsible for – in spite of my lack of faith.
But the old man hates it. To describe him as a “humbug” or Grinch would be doing a disservice to both, but having been raised by a mother who abhorred the celebration for personal reasons, and with an inherent dislike of spending money “unnecessarily,” Christmas is an annual decadence he could easily live without.
So, while it’s all well and good during the build-up of my December rage to feel like he’s taking me for granted, I am aware that my real reason for disempowering him has more to do with my fear that Christmas lunch will turn out to be nothing more special than our normal Sunday roast.
And I won’t do that to myself the kids.
I suppose he has a point when he ridicules my insistence that we continue to buy pressies for relatives we hardly ever see and nephews and nieces who earn more than us – but in my defense, the dog loves her Christmas stocking!
It’s not like I truly believe that we have to buy our kids’ love (much). And yet, Christmas is one of the few occasions during the year that pulls us together as a family – particularly now that the kids have left home – and if I did pull the plug on our KMart Christmas, I’m not certain we would ever see them again!
The occasion is also an excuse to reconnect with extended family since we moved to Australia, especially now that the years seem to be slipping by so quickly.
But far be it for me to belittle the emotional labor involved and the pressure such holidays cause in the (often) vain attempt to cater to different personalities, food tolerances, and diaries. And although we have yet to reach the stage where our children are forced to choose between which family to spend the day with, when that day comes, I know that I will be devastated.
As it is, this year Kurt is working on Christmas Day, and it has taken every ounce of my willpower not to march up to his boss and tell him how personally responsible he is for wrecking our family Christmas – even though the shift is an invaluable step in Kurt’s journey to independence and I couldn’t be prouder of him for doing it.
So, as I open my pressie from the old man this year – and disguise my bitterness that it was (no doubt) me who chose it and wrapped it in the dregs of the Christmas paper – I know that I will only have myself to blame. The truth is that the old man would share the load if I asked him. Begrudgingly, perhaps, and with the kind of unforgivable rookie mistakes that it would take the remainder of our marriage for me to forgive him for the request of a detailed manual and specification of exactly what to do and where to go.
But the simple fact of the matter is, that Christmas just wouldn’t be the same.
Let’s make a pact and enforce a community embargo against dieting this Christmas.
I won’t be dieting. In fact, I will be eating all of the pigs-in-blanket, swigging the whole jug of brandy custard, and scoffing every one of the purple Quality Street!
In Joanna Nell’s book, The Single Ladies Of Jacaranda Village, her doctor advises 80-something Peggy not to diet, but rather to ‘start eating mindfully.’ He elaborates: ‘I want you to think about every single thing you put into your mouth. I want you to taste it as you chew and listen to your body so you can work out when you’ve had enough.’
Easier said than done, I know – particularly at Christmas and when you’ve been raised by a war baby. And yet, the words of Peggy’s doctor really do make sense. He wants her to think more carefully about her relationship with food along with other adjustments to her lifestyle that will help her maintain her weight, rather than increase it.
No one should be miserable or deny themselves at Christmas, but it’s important to recognize when you’re full, make smart choices about what you eat, and exercise.
I’ve been trying to find that balance for a while. In calorie-speak, I have learned that when if I want a wine or two at night, I need to sacrifice bad carbs (such as potatoes or rice) with my dinner; I know that drinking water during the day fills me up and that chewing my food more slowly helps me feel more satisfied. I am also aware that the first mouthful of food is like the first sip of wine – it’s always the best!
I suppose that what I have been doing unconsciously for a while is eating more mindfully. The “eating healthily” part is easy for me – I love healthy food – althoughportion control, not so much. But I have also pushed myself to incorporate exercise into my routine each day. I don’t go on the scales anymore – why, when there are still women being murdered and Trump to depress me? – so instead, I gauge my weight by how my clothes fit.
Sadly, gauging your weight by how your clothes fit is becoming an increasingly difficult exercise due to the way that women’s sizing works.
The other day I tried on a bikini top in Bonds. I do not have a large bust, but because I have always carried some extra weight had a wide back (and didn’t want to spoil my day quite so early on), I attempted to be realistic and opted first for a size Large… moved swiftly onto the Extra-Large… and then, instead of beating myself up about it (and cutting up the Extra-Large into tiny pieces and shoving them down the front of the lovely sales assistant’s dress), I walked out of that shop with my head held high.
Generally, I wear a size 12-14 in tops, and yet I couldn’t squeeze my puppies into an Extra-Large. How can that make sense when the average size of women in Australia is a size 16?
So what do we do? How do we cater for the range of different shapes and sizes that women come in, without encouraging obesity? The only solution that I can see is education.
I’m no scientist, but I’m always surprised by how little most people understand about the risks associated with processed food, portion control, sugar and the way our metabolism slows down with age. And that’s without taking into account the emotional eaters and drinkers among us or those of us in menopause.
I stopped self-flagellating over bad eating days a while ago. Like everyone, I have shit to deal with. Some days I feel on top of the world and others I want to never leave the house, and even though food is not my natural go-to substitute for happiness or self-medication – I’m a wino! – I am guilty of major blow-outs like everyone else.
However, I’ve changed the way I handle them, which has nothing to do with the fact that I feel invisible anyway, or because these days I give zero fucks about pretty much most things, or even the emergence (finally) of some middle-aged wisdom. The alternative to getting depressed about something that is pretty irrelevant in my life right now – even if the magazines try to convince us otherwise – is to try to think calmly and positively for a solution to reverse the damage – such as half wine-half water, a few more salads, or some brisker walks.
I’m already looking forward to those brisk walks this Christmas.
Have you got any other tips to share about eating mindfully?
So, this year’s Christmas party is done and dusted. More than thirty of us sweltered under the deck on what felt like the hottest day of the past month – as ordained by climate change or whichever God seems to take such personal pleasure out of fucking up my life as often as possible.
And yet, other than NC’s comments about how my plastic glasses were killing turtles, the permanent gush of sweat dribbling down my back, the red punch stains down my new silk lounge pants, the soggy lettuce in the mini prawn cocktails, the coriander I bought instead of mint, or (as per usual), my inability to remember to cook up the bulk of the frozen savory appetizers after a few glasses of aforementioned punch, all went surprisingly well.
I’ve decided that along with Michael Buble’s Christmas songs on repeat, watching the expressions on the faces of kids eating olives for the first time and Amaretto mince pies, a good Christmas punch is an absolute necessity for a Christmas party. And once our core group of 50-somethings had nervously sniffed our version, got to grips with their (justified) fears about what was in it, (because of work the next day etc), it didn’t take long until we found ourselves on a community mission to finish all eighteen litres of the devilish stuff.
The old man – who knocks up a mean Sangria for each birthday party – tried out a new punch recipe this year – The Berry Christmas Punch from Taste. And because it’s Christmas and the season for giving, and it received such a wealth of slurred compliments (I think), I thought I’d gift it to you.
BERRY CHRISTMAS PUNCH (6 Servings)
1.5 litres of raspberry/cranberry juice, well-chilled
2 x 187ml Sparkling wine, well-chilled
1/2 cup of Cointreau
1/4 cup of fresh mint leaves
Pour the cranberry juice, sparkling wine and Cointreau into punch bowl. Use your hands to squeeze some of the juice from the limes into the punch. Stir to combine. Add the squeezed limes to the punch.
Add the strawberries, blueberries, raspberries and mint leaves.
FYI, a few changes we made from the original recipe: we used cranberry juice and a bottle of processed lime juice for $2 in place of the 12 limes at $1.50 each – WTF? Also, there was no mint in our version, for obvious reasons.
How’s everyone faring in the depressing search for the perfect dress for Christmas parties and, ultimately, the big day?
I’m going to admit that – having trailed all the stores to the north of Sydney and exhausted the seemingly limitless stocks of The Iconic (and the patience of the very crabby lady at our local post office who handles my returns) – I’ve decided to opt for pants this year.
You see, I’ve reached the conclusion that there isn’t a dress waistband sturdy or stretchy enough to cope with the number of Pigs-In-Blankets and Christmas pud I intend to put in my belly this year.
I’ve also reached a level of post-winter, middle-aged lardiness where shift dresses in size 14 make me look like I’m wearing a tent – albeit that I haven’t quite reached the point of no return that is the Kaftan.
So this year, I figured that a smart pair of natural-colored culottes – neutrals are currently the rage in that center of fashion excellence commonly known as the Northern Beaches of Sydney – with the diamante-encrusted top I forage from the wardrobe every December, will do the trick.
To be honest, I’m not fretting about my decision, not when to “dress up” in Australia can simply mean the choice of a pair of sandals over a pair of thongs.
Unlike London, where the refusal to dress appropriately for an occasion is almost as disrespectful as not ordering the roast in the pub on Sunday – a cultural difference that I miss. Albeit that there few rules over there (and certainly no apologies) when it comes to daytime fashion – making it easier for middle-aged women stuck in that impasse of whether to dress for their age or wear what they bloody well want – there are rules about evening wear. Particularly at Christmas, when you wouldn’t be seen dead out at night in anything less sparkly than the Christmas Tree in Trafalgar Square.
And while their climate provides the mature woman with the perfect excuse to drown sagging boobs in voluminous jumpers and tuck escapee paunches into thick woolly tights – and trust me, it is possible to look stylish in winter woollies with such a vast range of jumpers and sturdy winter coats available in the shops – the British take fashion up a few notches at night. Unlike Sydney, where due to the climate or the laid-back culture – I’m not sure which – you’d struggle to spot a sequinned cocktail dress at the ballet.
But understandably, many British fashions simply wouldn’t work over here – and that’s not just because our seasons are out of kilter. Brits embrace color and elements of fun and quirkiness in their style – undoubtedly a concession to the climate – but that could be a terrifying prospect to the breed of middle-aged women who adhere to the motto that “black is the new black”.
So, while in Britain, the little black dress has been ousted in favor of metallics, luxurious textures in deep reds, purples, and orange, and this year’s print of choice, the animal print – a design that I have avoided like the plague since I hit my fifties…because, cougars – I may have to place my leopard-print kaftan on hold until I reach the true zenith of not-giving-a-fuckery, (which I imagine will be closer to my sixtieth year). Although, admittedly, that time is starting to feel reassuringly closer.
I never thought I’d say this, but for once I find myself in total agreement with my father’s view that political correctness has gone mad.
According to The Independent newspaper in the UK, a researcher has proposed that idioms such as “bringing home the bacon” and “flogging a dead horse” should be removed from the English language because the imagery they create is offensive and upsetting to vegans and vegetarians.
Veganism is on the increase, and at a time when some celebrate Veganuary and it’s just as easy to buy veggie burgers and sausages in supermarkets as the genuine dead animal, while I agree that an awareness of the sensitivities of others is important, where does it end?
The next step will be to stop insulting plant life as well, because surely, “as thin as a twig” has to be body shaming to the twig in the same way that the accusation of being “as red as a beetroot” is typically used as a derogatory observation.
It’s never easy to make a stand for your beliefs – particularly when it comes to food choices and intolerances – in the face of, (shall we say), old-fashioned principles. However, sometimes Karma has a funny way of evening the score. And one of those times took place during my recent holiday as my father reached into the fridge for a swig of orange juice one morning and grabbed at my carton of almond milk instead.
A smile may have crossed my lips as I watched him spit the offensive liquid over the kitchen floor after the barrage of insults inflicted on both NC and myself in relation to our dietary choices – hers vegetarian, and mine dairy-free.
For this is a man who prides himself on being a “war baby,” and hence, eats everything – a fact that was rammed down my throat as a child every time I refused to clear my plate of food – which was often because there is NOTHING (shudder) the man will not eat.
“Sell-by” and “best before” dates are ridiculed in his house. Indeed, the more moldy and unappealing a piece of food appears, the more gusto the man demonstrates in its consumption.
That was why I was careful to remind him about NC’s vegetarianism prior to our arrival – she only eats fish when she feels like it is pushed – a warning that was met by the usual muffled grumblings of disgust. And when I went on to inform him that I was currently dairy-free – for health reasons – I’m certain that his derogatory whoop of disgust traveled from the northern to the southern hemisphere with the speed of light.
If I’m honest, I knew that I was pushing my luck when I requested vegan cheese and almond milk – although anyone would think my request was that he smuggle a stash of heroin through Bali rather than be seen buying vegan cheese from Waitrose.
For, as I suspected, it is still not deemed fully socially acceptable in some circles of the UK to be vegetarian or lactose intolerant, which makes it tricky to eat out. Added to which, the British diet is influenced by the climate and is heavily laden with meat. But while the word tofu may still be met with some confusion, I did manage to find a decent coffee with rice-coconut milk as a substitute and we were also introduced to a fabulous veggo restaurant near Oxford Circus called Ethos. And trust me, there’s no danger of getting fat there either because they charge you by the weight of your plate.
I pity vegans, particularly at this time of the year.
A roast without meat, (or in Australia, shellfish and salads, but without the shellfish), is nothing to get excited about at Christmas lunch, and neither is Mum’s nut roast substitute that everyone knows is little more than reconstituted stuffing.
But, each to their own.
Poor NC remained admirably stoic as her Grandad ranted off a list of sustainable fish to her every mealtime while we stayed with him – a list he had learned by heart in an attempt to either understand or ridicule her beliefs – I’m not sure which. Andas I watched him force-feed her prawns and mussels, he made me swear to consume every last morsel of vegan cheese from the fridge prior to my departure, just in case it contaminated the dead animals.