What's For Dinner?
Sometimes I feel like the only adult who didn’t grow up. Or perhaps maybe a more accurate assessment is that since I left the very grown up world of my marriage, I have been rebelling against all things grown up.
I worked really hard for a long time. Having babies, caring for a husband who was sick, a house, pets, jobs, businesses, family. I did a lot for everyone, all the time. I was a room parent for each kids’ class, I showed up at every school event, I baked, I was of service. I made dinner every single night, I paid the bills, I got the house cleaned and kept it straightened up. I was a good domestic solider.
It was my identity: wife, mother. I can’t say when it started to happen, perhaps it was always that way for me, a silent shifting of feeling like I was fulfilling a purpose to a dreadful existence that made me want to cry and scream on an increasingly frequent basis.
I didn’t feel appreciated, I didn’t feel like I mattered except as an extension of others. I was important for what I gave, not for who I was. In fact, the roles and demands were such that I couldn’t be me, there was no time for that. I just had to be...there. Always.
My exit from my marriage started one night when I had something that I needed and wanted to do at 5:30 pm. I worked really hard to get dinner on the table so that I could go to this event that I really wanted to go to...it was nothing fancy. It was actually a routine thing that I did but it was super important to me because it fed my soul. So I got dinner on the table at 4:30 so that we could all eat together before I left.
No one cared. No one cared that I went to three different grocery stores that day to get the meal together. No one cared that I didn’t do one thing I wanted to do all day because I was busy taking care of everyone else. No one cared that I thought out, planned and then made them dinner taking into consideration everyone’s very picky palette. No one cared.
Then we sat down to dinner. No one liked it. A couple of them never even tried it. All I got were complaints. Then the requests, some demands, that I make something else started rolling in...I sat there in disbelief. I was invisible. I was just there to serve...I was not important, I was not valued. I was just there to make other people’s life easier, better and to make them feel something that I did not feel at all...valued.
I sat there choking back the tears. I felt so alone. I felt so lost. I felt so gone from my life. Here I was sitting with the people I loved most, in a home that I worked so hard to find, create and take care of...and my needs and wants didn’t appear to matter at all.
I was on a precipice, what was I going to do? Launch myself into another meal wholly missing what I intended to do that night? That would be the normal thing. That would be what most often happened. The pressure of wanting to be good, of wanting to not let others down was great.
But something happened to me that night. I changed, right there sitting at the kitchen table...something welled up inside me and came bubbling up from inside. I was different. As I remember it, I got up from the table. I put my dishes on the counter. Grabbed my purse and left. I was fuming and it was all I could do.
That was the last dinner I made. I just stopped making dinner. Passive aggressively as fuck...I stopped it. I am sure that I made a few more dinners over the next few months but I began to insist that my husband pull his weight. He wasn’t working and there was no reason why he couldn’t step up. I had been doing it every night for 13 years...it was now his turn.
We ate a lot of ice cream and crap for dinner over the ensuing months as the silent war raged between the two “adults” in the home. My ex-husband refusing to help in a meaningful way because that might mean that a task that was mine would become his. Me, refusing to allow myself and my needs to go unnoticed, unattended and unrequited any longer. The kids were happy, they ate Mac and cheese every night. They didn’t really seem to notice.
The marriage blessedly ended and I was free. I tried with an earnestness to pick up the dinner time routine again but I will admit, I have failed now for about six years. My kids eat early before I am home and I usually just skip dinner because I would rather spend time with them then cook a meal for myself. It isn’t ideal. It isn’t great parenting. But it is my truth.
I can see all of the above now as a trauma response. My life long fear of not mattering to others manifest in a stubborn refusal to make dinner which has now translated into a general lack of concern about diet in my family. This one dinner that went so wrong, triggering a lasting response, a childish response, to a life long message that I feel I have been receiving: I am not considered.
I am unpacking this long held and felt feeling about myself lately. It is coming up all over the place in my life. Behavior that I cannot ignore is springing forth and into my present but I am able to see it with new eyes and as some age old traumatic response to stuff that happened a very long time ago. Let me break this down...lest you think I am just an immature ass...
I grew up feeling not considered. It was a story I told myself all the time. It became a mantra of sorts. I found evidence many times over that I was not that important and that I didn’t really matter to people.
After thirteen years of feeling this way pretty much every day in my marriage, that night at the dinner table all those days and dinners added up to a full meltdown for me. I may have not lost my shit that night, but internally I was exploding all over the place. That night as I pushed my chair back, I felt completely abandoned by the people that were supposed to love me most. I felt like none of my efforts were seen, valued or appreciated. I felt like I was stuck. I was there to serve others and what I wanted or needed was just not important. That night I still got up and did my own dishes...and I am still kinda pissed at myself that I did. Why did I do that? Because I didn’t want to inconvenience anyone...
I can still see that this night so long ago is controlling my behavior today. I am still rebelling against a thing that isn’t even operative today: a partnership that didn’t feel like that to me at all.
I am beginning to unpack all of this now after carefully packing it away many years ago. I am willing to look at my response and attendant behavior and see what else I can glean from it. What can I do differently? Is the dinner table really the place that I want to plant my flag of “I am so fucking tired of not mattering to anyone?” Maybe...I am not sure. I am just kind of awakening to the fact that I have been fighting silent war for the past six years...and I can see the energy that it is taking from me.
I do not have answers today...just a lot of questions. I can see how this even triggered a whole bunch of responses in me that I didn’t even really have an active thought about. I just reacted and reacted and reacted. All this reaction culminating into where I find myself today...which isn’t a horrible place, just a very lightly examined place.
It seems that I am getting a lot of experience lately that is causing me to ask the following question:
Who am I?
And I am finding myself coming up short all over the place. I am finding that I don’t really know the answer. I am not clear. So much of my life lived in rebellion to, in defiance of or in service to. I am not really clear about who or what I am anymore to anyone, most especially myself.
So I will do what I always do when I find myself in this place, I will do my best to see what is in front of me, and be open to new interpretations...to be willing to see myself and my behavior in a new way. And I guess, for now, I will be doing that while I am not making fucking dinner. Perhaps growing toward a healing here that will allow me to decide to let that trauma response go and allow for something else to take its place. For now, the best I can do is notice that this theme or story of “I am not considered” is operating at many levels of my life and it is kicking my ass and may not even be true...
It is realizations like this that make me want to just go back to bed. But I won’t because it is news I can use. It is information I can assimilate into a new story and a new life. One where I do matter, if only to myself.