I’m cramming in the hiking as summer rapidly comes to a close. My year as part-time nanny for number four grandson, Adrian, begins in less than two weeks, expropriating my get-away time. There is a Mt. Rainier National Park theme this month: Tolmie Peak two weeks ago and Berkeley Park this week. (Photos and essays on Writing Down the Story.) I will get to Paradise next month before the snows come.
I drove through fog for the first hour and a half of the trip to Sunrise. As the yellow sun ball started to glow dimly then ever-brighter through the murk, I instinctively reached for my camera as I approached a red light on Hwy. 12. I had forgotten it. I forgot my camera! I quickly double-checked to make sure I had the remaining three items in the Forget-me-not Four: trekking poles, shoes and socks, NPS Senior Access Pass.
I felt naked. I was embarrassed taking pictures on my iPhone, like a casual hiker or common tourist. I might as well have been wearing flip-flops and carrying a purse on the trail. A bit snobbish, I am; but my “real” camera (although only a point and shoot, albeit an expensive one) also takes better photos.
Then I found myself looking at the beauty through a different lens. I didn’t take as many pictures, because I knew they wouldn’t turn out. I didn’t hike looking for what would make a good photograph, but just let myself be in the moment. Well, I tried to do that; habits are hard to break.
It’s the same with seeing my mother through a different lens. It’s hard to break habits, to not see her as I’ve always seen her. I canned all weekend. (Some really yummy stuff: strawberry/rhubarb applesauce, apple/apricot/cranberry chutney.) Sunday evening I was simultaneously starting our usual Sunday pizza and making unplanned Plum Sauce to use the plums that were getting over-ripe, when Mama came into the kitchen. “You’ve been on your feet in the hot kitchen all day. You don’t have to make me dinner; I can have peanut butter.” It was reminiscent of her stated preference of old for chicken wings—and burnt toast.
Why didn’t I hear it as the sweet and thoughtful offer that it was? Why did I defensively say I was in the kitchen because I wanted to be and she could have peanut butter if she wanted, but I was having pizza? Why didn’t I even say thank you? (And why doesn’t she make that offer on a night I don’t want to cook and don’t know what to have that she will eat, instead of the night I serve her favorite, can’t-lose meal and I’m in the kitchen anyway?)
Maybe my first reaction was to thinking she said it for fear I was going to offer leftovers again—as I had the night before after canning all day, when she didn’t suggest peanut butter—that she refused to eat.
Not until I was on the trail did I see it through a different lens. (Yep, life is a trail.) Her offer came through her lens of deficit—probably through habit more than intention. I was in the kitchen all day. I hadn’t sat down. It was hot (though it wasn’t really, the new A/C was on). I must be tired. I heard it as judgement: “You are weak and for sure worn out.” I heard it as “I will fix it for you, because I am the mother and that is what I do.” That I was enjoying what I was doing, that I was choosing it, would not occur to her. I let my interpretation of what she was saying momentarily deflate me. Again. I took it personally. Again.
I heard it as judgement, when really it was projection—and compassion. I must be tired because she would be. I could hear her voice from my childhood, “I don’t have time to sit down and read the paper.” But the kitchen is her favorite room in the house, isn’t it? It’s where she could be found during my childhood, when I came home for a visit, and for the first two years after I returned to her home. If she could see to do anything, she still would be there all day—and she often sits at the small table in there to rest. Did it exhaust her? Did she hate it? It seemed to me she was choosing it, since she spent far more time than necessary there. I’m just so curious. I should ask. I don’t know if she could answer. She saw it as her responsibility. Whether or not she enjoyed it had no bearing on anything. And now it’s her identity.
I can’t change her lens, I told myself as I hiked, but I don’t have to look through it. Look for the feeling behind the words, I told myself for the umpteenth time. Do it before you speak. Why is it such a hard learning? I can’t change her lens, but I need to let her out of the prison I’ve put her in, to see her sun instead of her murky fog.
Meanwhile it’s been (unbelievably) a year since my nanny gig with number three grandboy, Elliot, ended when he went to daycare. I’ll be glad to be back with these two sweet guys and their moms two days a week, and to be rejuvenated by time with the younger generations.
PS: I saw two people in flip-flops coming up the trail on my way out, and another carrying a purse. I shoved my phone deeper into my pocket, hitched up my knapsack, and tightened my grip on my trekking poles.
The Strawberry-Rhubarb Applesauce is so yummy, I thought I would share it, saving you having to get it off the internet yourself. A small gift to thank you for reading my blog.
Strawberry Rhubarb Applesauce
4 large Golden Delicious apples, peeled, cored, and cut into chunks (I used Gravensteins because that’s what was on the tree.)
2 tablespoons water
2 cups sliced fresh rhubarb
1 cup sliced fresh strawberries
2/3 cup orange juice
1/2 cup sugar
4 teaspoons grated orange peel
Combine apples and water in a large saucepan. Cook over medium heat for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in the rhubarb, strawberries, orange juice, sugar and orange peel.
Bring to a boil. Reduce heat; cover and simmer for 12-16 minutes or until desired consistency. I pureed it for my mother, but it would be delish left chunky.
Yield: 4 cups.
(Note: I thought this was too much liquid for just eating, though it is fine for use as a sauce for chicken or pork, pancakes, or ice cream.)