Sunday, September 28, 2008

being repetitive

I seem to be stuck. Repeating myself. Saying the same damned thing over and over. Quick, someone find the reset switch, because I'm stuck.

Rosh Hashana is staring me down, eyeball to eyeball (okay, liturgy?), and waiting for me to blink. Yes, okay, I know you are coming. Deep thoughts, internal cataloguing, the usual half-resigned, half-pleased discussion with my ceiling. Yes, I see you coming: the raisin challahs are cooling on the counter, and the boys are practicing on the Man's shofar.

But I'm not so much coming up with anything new to say to you. Or for that matter, anything off the donkey-track I've been tracing for the past few weeks. All I can think about is fear, and I think I've amply covered that one already. But what the hey, you're here and I'm here, so why not.

Recently, a doctor that I was working with told me that he thought I had an anxiety disorder, and pushed me to get a psychiatric evaluation. The psychiatrist laughed and sent me on my way, with a cautionary note about doctors and their opinions. But not before I, the apparently not clinically anxious, started to worry. Am I too anxious? Am I limiting my family and my self with my anxieties? Reluctantly, I let a niggle from the back of my brain creep into the light: am I defective? Will I need medication to be a functioning human being?

Self-doubt is a cruel thing, not just because of the way that it can undercut you, but also because it makes you back up and admit to fears and feelings that you would really rather bury. The Eldest takes medication to function, as does the Toddles, as do I. We've settled into our hematological and immunological imperfections, and kicked the idea of defectiveness into lurking under a rug. Where it waits for a new category to turn up, so that it can come out and loom.

This is where fear meets choice: defectiveness, imperfection, disability, challenges - the words we choose to define ourselves show what we want, as well as what we fear to be. My children will be marvellously imperfect and challenged, but they won't be disabled or defective. I can say that as often as I like, and even believe it. But oh, for that lurker.

Which brings me to Rosh Hashana. Every year at this time, I look myself over, poke at the bruised spots and pick at the scabs, as part of choosing how I want to kick myself in the ass. I can do better, we say around here, and we pick ourselves up and try. And as always, the boys are way ahead of me. While I worried about allergens, the Toddles went happily into his new preschool classroom, reconsidered the next day, and casually dismissed me on the third. You can go now, he told me. I'm going to have all the fun at peeschool, and then you can come and pick me up. Oh. The Eldest went up that crazy high ladder, over and over again, each time refusing to let a limit stop him at the bottom, and willing to try and see if the boundaries could change. It was fine not to make it all the way up, because I knew that I tried, and that's what counts, he informed me. Up, pause, down. Up a bit farther, pause, down. Yes, I'm watching you. And yes, I'm starting to get it.

Why must fear be static? say the boys. Why must our definitions of ourselves be static? reluctantly admits the mama. Our boundaries? (A brief pause to admit that this year, I've come up with a tough one. It's easier to stay within your boundaries than to question them, and investigate beyond. Sigh. But like I said, this is all I've got right now.)

So I started with something symbolic. Mind you, this wasn't my idea - somebody got this idea, and somebody had a new baby, and somebody needed to do something crazy. And she wanted me to do it with her. Ahem: no. But I somehow wasn't flatly turning her down, either. (And at this point, my apologies to anyone who is now really sick of trapeze stories, but hey, like I said: repetitive. )

As you may recall, the Eldest got stuck on this ladder. He made it high enough to touch the board between the ladders, but not onto the board, and certainly not off the board and onto the trapeze. And nevermind the net. Sneakily, my friend approached him: if your mum went up on the trapeze with you, would you try it? The Eldest considered, then agreed: yes.

I weighed my fear of heights against the strength of that agreement, knowing that his yes could easily melt near the top rungs. I pushed on the idea of my feet on the ground, and decided that in fact, I was quite happy with them there. I hate heights, hate the idea of falling, and losing control. Long since a member of the anti-rollercoaster party, I didn't have to think about this much. Yes, terra firma suits me fine. No thanks, I told my friend. Just not going up there. Can't. See you on the teacup ride.

Hearing fear shut down choice, something under the rug sniggered.

A few days later, the Eldest went up that ladder again. On the other side of the net, I did too. Until I stood at the base of the ladder, with my hands on the rungs, I hadn't really appreciated how damned high it was. Holy crap, my brain suggested. Not the point, I told it. I focused on the kid, watching him and hoping quietly that maybe together we could push past his limits. Rung by rung, we went up, carrying each other. Two-thirds of the way up, the Eldest stopped and remembered to be afraid. I'm here, I told him. We'll do this together. The kid reached the top of the ladder, and let go. He double high-fived the staffers at the top, his hands comfortably in the air - and then he went back down. The staffers cheered as he went down the ladder, and turned to me. Okay, then, up you go.

Watching the Eldest, my heart in my eyes, I blinked. Wha? Where?

The staffer smiled. Here, she said. Here turned out to be the board on which you stand, waiting for the trapeze. It was just barely wider than my feet are long.

Oh, I said. Um. Somewhere in my stomach, my brain muttered. The staffer reached out. Put your hand on the bar, she told me, and steadied the trapeze. I looked at the bar. To reach it, I'd have to lean far out - so far that I'd be off balance. I'd be falling.

Bloody fucking hell, my brain said. I'm outta here. In the frozen silence, the rest of me stopped and considered. One rung at a time, I remembered. I can choose to take the next rung. I accepted the cold tightness in my chest and reached past it. There was my hand on the bar, then another, and I was bending my knees and not - looking - down. Take a breath. Another. My hand is on the needle, on the EpiPen, yes, love, I told him years ago, but look at me and breathe. Yes.

and fly.

One of the things that I like about this bread, besides that it's gluten-free, egg-free and generally Imperfect-friendly, is that it's so flexibly flavored. Replace the honey with molasses, the vinegar with apple cider vinegar, and you have a pumpernickel-ish dough that practically begs for caraway seeds. Try a milder vinegar and honey or agave syrup, and you have a milder bread. We put raisins in this batch, but we've also flavored the bread with a mix of annato, mustard seeds, pink peppercorns and cumin seeds. Trust me: it's good. But however you mix it up, this is one gluten-free bread that is a legitimate challah, thanks to the oats. For some time now, we Imperfects have had non-legit challahs and invited our guests to make their ritual blessings on bread before arriving for our shabbat or holiday meals - or, sadly, to go off and make their blessings while we make ours. Meet you back here for main course! we'd say, but the division is pretty nastily symbolic.

However you choose to start your new year, there's few things that can beat an entire family, celebrating at one table. One meal, one bread, one ritual - and one family. If I needed a reminder that food has power, this might just be it.

Legally Yours: Oat Challah
makes 2 loaves on an ordinary day, 2 loaves plus a couple of rolls when the dough's enthusiastic

dry ingredients:
2 c brown rice flour
1 c oat flour
1 c teff flour
1/2 c quinoa/buckwheat flour
1 c tapioca flour
2/3 c arrowroot/cornstarch
2/3 c sweet rice flour
1/2 c flaxmeal/cornmeal
2 Tb xanthan/guar gum
6 Tb Ener-G egg replacer
6 Tb brown sugar
1 Tb salt

Combine dry ingredients, mixing gently. Keep very dry. (Note: you can combine these ingredients the night before using, but then keep in an airtight container.)

wet ingredients:
5 Tb hot water
1 tsp vinegar (see note above)
8 Tb margarine, melted
2 Tb honey/molasses/agave syrup (see note above)

Make sure that dry ingredients are at room temperature. Pour over dry ingredients.

2 Tb yeast
2 Tb sugar
3.5 c. hot water

Mix gently and let sit until the yeast is frothy, or awake! (as the Toddles says). Good morning, yeast. Pour gently into the dry and wet ingredients you've assembled thus far.

Mix all together - the dry ingredients will fly out of the bowl if you start mixing vigorously, so try being a bit gentle initially, and then mixing strongly. I use my cake mixer here, and mix for about 3-4 minutes.

Pour into greased loaf tins (or muffin pans, if you want rolls). Put in a warm place to rise for about 45 minutes - for me, this is on top of the oven, with the oven on to about 300 or 350F. Bake at 380F for 45 minutes. Cool on rack for 5 minutes before tipping the bread out of the pan.

To magid's friend in New Jersey, you are right: I should have a list of recipes. Magid pointed this out to me, and I realized that I don't even remember all of the recipes that I have on this thing. Which is part of the point. (sheesh) Hang in there with me - I'm working on it, starting with a list of my tags.


Anonymous said...

And if I didn't say it before, go you, flying! Yay Eldest for striving beyond!

And my NJ friend only knows my legal name...

Anonymous said...

what a great post - I was waiting in anticipation to see how it would go. You & the Eldest have conquered :) It's interesting, the Catholic Advent & Lent have some similar features to what you describe for Rosh Hashana - a time for self-examination, striving to become better etc. Except without the wonderful food I hear about :)