When I was a little girl, my mom took me out to eat a lot. Actually, both my parents did; at least once a week we went out for dinner at a nice restaurant, and sometimes my Dad would take me out one-on-one or for a special ice cream sundae. But I have to say most of my eating-out was with my mom.
I was thinking about this the other day, because I have sometimes felt a distinct *lost* feeling... a sense of uneasiness, even... when I would take eating-out off the table for myself as an adult. I'd think about how much I love taking my daughter to a certain little deli for a soup-and-sandwich lunch, or how special it is to take her to the cupcake shop and sit outside in the sunshine in our fancy clothes eating our fancy cupcakes under a parasol. I'd wonder how I could ever give up the dinners out, the lunch stops at the mall, the buffets, the surprise stops for frozen yogurt. It seemed like when I would stop doing those things, part of me was dying. And I never understood why.
Sure, it is fun to see my child's face light up when I take her for ice cream. It is relaxing and enjoyable to go out to dinner and pick food off a menu together. I like the experience. But not long ago I began to understand why it seemed so intertwined with my actual *relationship* with my daughter. It is because my relationship with my own mother was based on eating out together.
If you've read my blog for long, you know that my mom was very religious. From the age of four or five I was taken from house to house talking to strangers about the Bible for hours every weekend. My summer vacations, too, were filled with preaching. Five hours a week, minimum, were spent in our worship hall; sometimes as many as 8 hours a week, not counting full days of conventions every 6 months. My father was not religious and I had no siblings, so most of the time I spent with my mother was in religious training or preaching. It was really not the most bonding thing, but it is what we had. Aside from that, we pretty much did nothing together. She watched TV. I played outside. We did not ride bikes together, go skating together, or do any other mommy-daughter type things. I was not allowed to do sports or go to dance. She didn't play board games. We did occasionally go swimming, but she talked to her Weight Watcher friend while I swam around alone. And when I pick my brain for memories of times I felt were *special* with my mother, what comes to mind is food. Going out to eat.
She would take me to McDonald's, Hardees, or a buffet often. She's take me to a special shop for candy, or a place that made their own ice cream, or out for pizza. She and I ate a lot of Big Macs together. I remember her driving all the way out to the other end of town to get an orange slushie with me. And I felt special. I felt like she was doing something special with me... for me. Like she must love me because she was buying me a milkshake. A milkshake! She must love me, right? Sadly, as a [food obsessed] adult [like her], I understood that she was really going out to fill her own cravings and I was just along for the ride.
And that is how I related to my mother. Religion, and food. When I had my own children, I, too was very religious, although in a different religion. I related to my sons very much through religion. We did not have the money to go running about eating fast food or going out to dinner on a whim; milkshakes for four kids was way out of my budget. So religion it was, but I added to that by allowing and encouraging them in many sports, activities, Boy Scouts, and interests. I went to every game and every practice. I took them camping on the beach every summer... just the five of us. And so when organized religion stopped being a huge part of our lives, we had those other things to fall back on. Our relationships were not built on just that one thing.
Fast forward several years to a time when most of my children are grown and I have a little girl who I am building a relationship with. I never realized this until recently, but because she and I do not *do* church, I have naturally made part of my relationship with her about food... just like my relationship with *my* mother. It is not as extreme; she does other activities and we go to plays, musicals, art shows, and other fun things together, but eating out is a pillar. I never meant it to be that way. But it was the one very familiar way I knew how to relate to my child. Take her for a milkshake! She is special. It shows love.
Once I understood this, I could truly see why every time I tried to cut out those "special" times I would start to feel a sense of loss. I *wanted* to be able to continue taking her out for lunch, for a smoothie, for an ice cream. It seemed to me that it was an essential part of a mother-daughter relationship. It was what I knew. So I'd struggle with this, telling myself to get over it, that we didn't *need* to go out to eat to have fun times together. But I missed it... and it wasn't just the food I missed. It was that part of the relationship.
And then I had a revelation on a whole new level. I realized that my daughter was growing up with the concept that we *needed* to go out for treats as part of our relationship. I suddenly knew that I was teaching my own child what my mother had taught me about time together and food. Special time with mom = special food. Wow. That was totally not my intent.
I now get why taking away *eating out* felt like such a loss. I was not substituting it with something else... something substantial and relationship-building. We *do* need special time together. but it does not need to involve food.
I have begun making more of an effort to do things with my daughter that do not involve restaurants. Every time I feel the pull to go out to lunch with her, I stop and think of something else we can do that is just as special. I don't just say "no, I can't do that anymore, it isn't healthy." I substitute something else. Every time.
Instead of going for ice cream, we go swimming.
Instead of stopping for donuts, we go skating.
Instead of going to the buffet, we go for a walk and play at the park.
Instead of having lunch at the deli, we go to a museum.
Instead of ordering pizza, we make sandwiches and have a picnic on the lawn.
Instead of stopping for cupcakes, we practice sewing together.
There are *so many* other things we can do together: play board games, go to a movie, go fishing, play ball, walk the dogs, have a playdate, do some art, volunteer at the animal shelter, cook together, plant flowers, visit a friend, go to the library. And those are really the kind of memories I want my daughter to have with her mother. How fondly will she remember that brownie from the bakery when she is grown? Wouldn't it be a more rich and loving memory to think of the time we caught a trout together at the pond?
I have almost no memories of doing anything other than preaching or eating with my mother. It is all I have. I want more for my children. I want living memories, vivid ones, rich with emotion. So that is what I am creating, today and every day.
We write on the pages of our lives every day. You don't get to skip a page or leave it blank when you take a 'day off'. The pages all get filled, whether you like what is written or not. Write your own story, the way you choose it to be. Take hold of the pen and write.
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