February 5, 1998
Cooking Up Regrets
My sweet, 87-year-old mother has become anincreasingly horrible cook. The food she prepares often is made fromstale ingredients, and because of her poor eyesight and memory, shemisses ingredients in recipes. For example, she forgot to add sugarto a cake, and she served crackers that were so stale I could notbite into them and meat that was unrecognizable.
The problem is that cooking has always been amajor part of her identity. Since Dad died four years ago, sheinvites all the children and grandchildren over for meals constantly.It's all she does. That, and baking (awful) cookies to send away tothe grandchildren in college. We tried inviting her to our homes, butshe says that her feelings are hurt and that she has nothing else todo with her life but cook. She will not try new hobbies or do newthings. Any suggestions?
Queasy in Denver
Since her eyesight is failing, she won't noticeyou slipping those crackers into your pockets to use for stabilizingwobbly restaurant tables. And hold zip-lock Baggies under the tableinto which you may discretely slip the mystery meat.
Do whatever gets you through in giving your motherthe only meaning she has left in life. Don't forget to tell her howdelicious it was, and remind the children to send thank-you notes forthe cookies because, one day, you will miss those salty cakes and mayregret not having given that "sweet" woman, who lovingly preparedthem for you, the kavod (respect) she deserves.
My husband is so bottled up and angry, and hewon't talk. When I ask what's wrong, he stares at me or leaves theroom. I have begged and pleaded, but he won't budge. This has beengoing on for months.
We have been married for 26 years, and ourchildren have left home. I know that he is in a work crisis that hasbeen going on for a couple of years, but I don't know if that's allthere is to it. How can I break through to him?
It must be grueling, waiting for this Vesuvius toblow, especially when you don't even know what is causing thepressure beneath the surface. Tell him that you must speak with him.Express concern for his welfare and that of the marriage, and makeclear that you will not endure this lack of communication.
If he does not respond, let him know that youintend to phone his doctor, parents, employer and/or best friend inan attempt to unravel this mystery. This ought to get him talking. Ifnot, then make those calls. Perhaps some group pressure will hastenthe process.
If not, either he has a secret or perhaps adeveloping physical or emotional disturbance. Hang in there, andremember to get the necessary support for yourself through thisordeal.
The Price of Love
My lover of four years is unwilling to budge.Because I have a child from a former marriage, marriage was lessimportant to me than it might be for women who want to start afamily. From the beginning, it was an unconventionalarrangement.
He is against marriage altogether, and even livingtogether is abhorrent to him. He needs a great deal of privacy andparticularly loathes the idea of being around children. He has neverbeen married and has no children.
After my divorce, I agreed to his terms because Iwasn't interested in marriage or in even living with a man. So whenmy daughter is with her father three nights of the week, I stay at mylover's house. He refuses to sleep at my home. When my daughter iswith me, I occasionally go out with him but do not spend thenight.
This man is my soul mate. We share a unique,unconventional worldview. He stimulates, pampers and plays, this loveof my life, but I am beginning to be disturbed by the arrangement. Mydaughter is now 12, and I worry about how she feels and how she willview relationships, based upon the fact that her mother has one inwhich the man won't come over to our house more than a half dozentimes a year. She feels rejected and hurt.
When I discuss it with him, he reminds me of the"terms" I agreed to and becomes a brick wall. I feel as if I live twolives -- one with him and one with my daughter. It feels wrong atthis point, not to mention the fact that living in two places takesits toll. And, yet, I do not see how I could give up this man I soadore.
Remarkable how the choices we make that seem soright, so absolute at any given moment, still are subject to changeswe are completely incapable of anticipating at the time we madethem.
Let's look at the facts: 1) Your lover rejectsmarriage and children out of hand. 2) You agreed to those terms. 3)You are worried about the effects of this fact upon your child. 4)You too are finding the arrangement to be wanting. 5.) He thus farhas been unwilling to adapt to any of your needs regarding yourchanging feelings.
Facts 1 and 2 are fixed. As for the third, do youworry about your child feeling rejected, or is it a values issue? Sheis certainly old enough to understand that people vary greatly, andthat your lover's choices are not about her -- nothing personal. If,indeed, it is a values issue or reflective of a change in your needs,you have to decide if you will choose to sacrifice those values andneeds in order to keep the relationship.
The most troubling aspects of this are hisinflexibility and his unwillingness to compromise to meet any of yourneeds. Why, for example, is he unwilling to do any of the travelingto your house when your daughter is at her father's?
Only you can decide whether the price you must payfor this relationship is worth the mounting obstacles. And rememberthat your decision, too, is subject to change.
Be thankful for (awful)cookies. Photo from "The New CompleteInternational Jewish Cookbook," 1992
Deborah Berger-Reiss is a West Los Angelespsychotherapist.
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