Sunday, January 12, 2014

The Zen of the Grilled Cheese

Sometimes I fear that perhaps I live a very small little life.

As fears go, I suppose it is not a completely irrational one for a stay-at-home mom to have.

No matter how much you love the way you spend your days (and I do, very much, love it), I believe that whenever there arises such a steady repetition of certain activities, it is only natural to find yourself wondering if perhaps you are missing out on something else.

This is my way of saying that I love being a mom, but when you spend all day, every day, in mainly just the company of a toddler, you really do begin to wonder what the rest of the world does all day, and pine for actual, stimulating, adult conversation.   You begin to wonder:  . . . Do people still talk?  Do they still talk to one another and share ideas?  Because it seems like I used to remember talking to people, but lately all the conversation I've been a part of has consisted of talk of cars, and snacks, and whether or not someone has gone poo-poo recently.
. . . I have to admit, I feel like I'm walking a very careful line when I even present the possibility that staying home all day with my child sometimes makes me feel like the active part of my brain may be stagnating.  (I mean, Doc McStuffins teaches some GREAT lessons, and the purple hippo sidekick nurse is just charmingly sassy, but one can only hear the theme song so many times before it begins to feel as if the cerebral cortex is starting to liquify.)

So I'll just go on and say it, and we can get it out of the way right now:  my child is my world.

No matter what happens to him in life, no matter where he decides to go, or what he experiences, he is going to do so from the solid, and I hope, secure-feeling, standpoint of knowing that his parents cherish him, respect him, and always have time for him.  I'm not saying that I ever have been, or ever will be, the perfect parent.  What I'm saying is that I feel very fortunate, and count myself blessed that I have had the opportunity to take the days slowly with my boy for these first, formative years. . .  I haven't had to wake him up at the crack of dawn every morning, and shuffle him off to somewhere.  I will forever be grateful that we've been able to spend our days with each other, taking our time, setting a leisurely schedule, and genuinely getting to enjoy each other.  It has been a gift that means what I have REALLY been doing is discovering, and uncovering a little more each day, who my son is.  And it is turning out to be the most fascinating adventure I could ever imagine. 

I've been able to hold him in my lap in the mornings as he sips his strawberry quik'd milk and munches on pop-tarts, and we giggle over pictures of cats on the internet.  I've been there to cuddle for every naptime, and for the happy ritual of crackers and juice that preceded each one.  And I've been there for every bath time, complete with toys and bubbles, and I'm already dreading the day that will inevitably come when bathing becomes a solitary activity once again, and there is never any need to argue over "sides" and jockey for space in the tub.

For that will be a sad day indeed.  =(

But with this gift of happily unwinding time, fed out over the course of gummy-filled days, comes a hard question:

Do I feel fulfilled? 

Am I missing something? ?

Have I been so concerned with slipping on a Hot Wheels, or locating loose Lego's in the rug that life is passing me by??

It's an easy thing to fear.

I know that people are doing things.  All I have to do is look on facebook, and I see it all. . .  Wild adventures, exotic locales, travel and adventure and interesting photos of food. 

I know that things are happening.  I know that art is happening, and history, and music, and sometimes I think to myself:  Are you experiencing enough?  Are you getting out there and MAKING LIFE HAPPEN?  ARE YOU SAVORING THIS SHIT???!??!!
. . . so I've contemplated these questions for a while now.

And the short answer is:  Yes.


I am savoring the crap out of it.

Actually, when I first began asking myself these questions, the first thing I thought of were:  monks.

As in, monks that live in a monastery.

(I was thinking of Tibetan monks, because I have always been fascinated by them.  But I guess you could think of whatever kind of monk you wanted.  "To each his own flavor of monk.")


. . . But seriously. . . who am I kidding?  Clearly, the very BEST type of monks are Tiger-Monks.
I think we can all agree that you don't get much more badass than a Tiger-Monk.  . . .And so that resolves the issue of Who's the Best At Monking.

But back to my original point:  I thought of monks.

They just live in a monastery all day.

They do menial tasks: cleaning, cooking, working with their hands.  And they do it in such a way that it becomes a meditation unto itself.  None of it is meaningless, nothing is unimportant.

(. . . I also think that they probably do bake sales and bachelor auctions, and other sorts of community-oriented projects that help out the locals in their areas.  I can only assume that this one is true, because I've never actually read an informative article regarding Monk Bake Sales, but they seem like such a friendly and helpful bunch that I'm forced to conclude that these are activities they would greatly enjoy.)

Bake sales and bachelor auctions aside, I've been led to believe that monks lead very full lives.  (Books have led me to believe this.  I read a lot of books.)  They go about their monk-tasks, and they practice the art of mindfulness.  Which really just means being fully present and aware.  To devote all of your attention to a task, to fully experience the task, and to seek to perform it in a perfect manner, are the elements that transform mopping the floor into a fulfilling meditation.

And I've come to notice and appreciate the parallels between my own measured, enjoyable existence, and that of Extreme Monking.

(Again, I am forced to assume that this is actually a thing.  I would surmise that only the most hardcore, the most FEARFULLY ENLIGHTENED, would participate in the daredevil arts of Extreme Monking.  THIS IS NOT YOUR GRANDMA's MONKING, PEOPLE!!!)

And so it has become my goal to emulate all the extreme monks out there, and, by practicing mindfulness and having a positive outlook, thus elevate my daily tasks into exercises of gratitude and joy.  I have decided to strive to do the best at even the most inconsequential-seeming duties, and to do so while making "joy" an active and living practice.  And I think that this weekend has been a decent example of this.

Even for me (and trust me: I keep it REALLY real with the shorties), this has been a very kid-centric weekend.

The spouse has been working days, and so it has been just me and Took and Pad.  And we have had a GREAT time.  =)

We start off with breakfast in the den, consisting of mini-muffins or cinnamon rolls (gentleman's choice), and big mugs of strawberry milk, eaten on the couch.  There have been heated discussions about which "side" of the couch belongs to which boy.   Took is of the opinion that the entire couch is "his side", while Pad forcefully disagrees.  The issue was close to coming to blows when The Mama was forced to make a ruling:  One boy gets to pick which side he wants, and the other boy gets first choice of blankets, which leaves us at Even Stevens.  (I am near-religious about the keeping of soft afghans on-hand in our den.  I believe you should constantly have one nearby in a living room, in the event of a Snuggle Emergency.  I am vigilant, and always prepared.)
After breakfast I pull out a special surprise for the boys: the play-doh gifts that Took got for Christmas.  He has tons of brand new tubs of play-doh, and lots of new play-doh molds and cutters and shapers.  We clean off the kitchen table, to give them the most space, and they happily spend the next hour making play-doh foods and cars and Hero Pigs (see below).

Shortly after the play-doh party, it is bathtime.

. . . before I had children, I never really recognized bathtime for the extremely excitable, boisterous event that it is.  And it was made even MORESO on this particular day, as this was the day we got out Took's new Hot Wheels ramp for the tub.

Yes, you read that correctly.  =)  For Christmas, Took was lucky enough to receive this awesome little ramp that pops right onto the wall of the bath.  It has a bucket of water at the top, and when you press the button your car comes down in a wash of water, and flies right off the end of the ramp, through the plastic ring of fire, and into the tub.
. . . I don't think I even need to express what an ENORMOUS hit this was.  They probably stayed in the tub for the better part of an hour.

Next up is lunch, and Pad is nothing if not predictable when it comes to the question of:  What would you like for lunch?

Grilled cheese and green (sour cream and onion) chips.

. . . For some reason, there is something very comforting to me about the act of making a grilled cheese.  Perhaps it's the fact that it is probably THE comfort food of comfort foods.  Or maybe it's the personal history of eating grilled cheeses as a kid, and all the happy memories said activity evokes.  My mama would always whip up a mind-bogglingly PERFECT grilled cheese: the crust crispy and just the right shade of golden, with the cheese just melty enough but not too hot.  When my Granny made them for us, she did it just a little bit differently by using not sliced cheese, but big chunks of sharp cheddar arranged side by side on the bread.  She would cook it to the perfect shade of melted, and the cheddar made for a stronger, more cheesy taste.

In my memory, both types of grilled cheeses were best served on a rainy day and, when paired with chips and a dill pickle spear, were nothing short of comforting, culinary perfection.

So when I set about making my own boys grilled cheeses (even though I know the little one won't eat it, he still gets half a sandwich because he's GOT to try it SOME day, right?), it is by no means a slapdash effort. 
I focus completely on my task; my mind is not distracted by other thoughts or concerns. 

I am making a grilled cheese.  I am doing nothing else.

And I am doing so with JOY.

I take great pride in performing this task, and it is merely icing on the cake when I give the sandwich a final flip and find that it is, indeed, perfect.  (I got no complaints from the young gentlemen.)

After lunch, and after naps (where I am the "big" spoon to the sweetest, most curly-headed "little" spoon ever), we divide our time between lively games of Hungry Hungry Hippo and taking turns riding around the driveway in the new truck.  (Took is THRILLED with the Hippo game, as it has finally afforded him the opportunity to be the BEST at a game in our home.  Seriously.  He rocks the hippo world.)

Later in the day, we greet Dada at the door as if he has been gone for months instead of just hours, with much excitement and giggles, and sometimes it's all so very Norman Rockwell that I have a hard time believing it is actually MY life.
. . . There was a time in my life when I felt compelled to do something grand.  I felt certain that THE WAY to make my mark on this world was by accomplishing some harrowing feat, beating some record, or just generally doing something so grand and so fine that it simply demanded accolades and showers of rose petals.

And now. . . now I am really learning how to live.
And I am learning that it is not WHAT you do, so much as HOW you do it.

I don't just take care of the children:  I devote my life to it.  To their games, and their care, and their instruction, and their thoughts and opinions.

I'm not perfect, nor am I perfectly patient.  I have moments where I want to scream, and even more moments when I want to scream:  "Just leave me alone for five minutes so that I might enjoy an uninterrupted thought in my head!!!"
But I am active, and I am actively participating in this life that I've fashioned.  I am actively trying to make each task, each day, an exercise in gratitude.

I am here.  I am present.  And most importantly, I am joyful.

And what exactly do I hope to accomplish with my work?
I hope to raise children that are secure, and confident, and kind, who know beyond a shadow of a doubt that they come first with me and with their dad, and who know that they can come to us with anything.

And that is the beginning and end of it.  Simply put, I have escaped my earlier need for accolades.  I have slid out from under the mantle of the need to do something "grand."
From time to time, in moments when I look at what's in front of me and think about how it is so much more than I deserve, I turn to my husband and tell him that I am content.  And he gives me this look that says:  "Oh, great.  Contentment.  Just what I was shooting for.  Thanks."

But I don't equate contentment with complacency, or with a sense of having settled for less than the best.

What I mean is simply this:  When I look at my life, I see worthwhile and important days spent with my family.  I see times in the backyard with food on the grill and kids on the hammock, and a delicious kind of chaos mixed in with Star Wars conversations and water balloon fights and chasing the cats with Nerf guns.  And I could spend a million days just like this, trying to perfect the art of living and attempting to craft a flawless grilled cheese, and learning how to do a spot-on gangnam-style dance with Pad.
It was Socrates that said:  "The unexamined life is not worth living."  And I agree with the sentiment fully.  But what I am learning, and what is coming as a bit of a surprise, is that you can live a fully examined life in the comfort of your own back yard.

All my life I have searched, and it has brought me here.  To this point.

This.  This is the point where I searched for the definition of "fulfilled", and found that I AM.  This is the point where I found that the word "content" is perfectly descriptive and perfectly apt, and really just means: 
I want nothing more than what I have right in front of me.