Tuesday, November 11, 2014

What 5 Rotten Avocados Can Teach You about Judgment, Failure and Self-acceptance

It's day eight of my unemployment adventure, and some efforts are going better than others. Here's a little progress report I drew up on day 5:

Soooooo...while some progress has been made, for the most part I'm not meeting expectations.

But in the first two days of unemployment, I was feeling energized and ready to accomplish great things! I was taking time to evaluate and prioritize and wrote about that here (Let First Freedom Day Begin), and I was determined to make great headway on my top priority: cost reduction.

I (perhaps naively) disclosed that we waste the most money in our household on food. I shared a photo of what was hiding in my fruit bowl. Since it will be relevant later, here's an excerpt:

Last week I spent $21.00 on fresh produce, and with the above, plus nearly an entire bag of sprouts rotted and tossed, plus left-overs gone uneaten, I'm guessing at least $7.00 of that was wasted. . .I plan to use this gift of unemployment, however long or short it might be, to reorient our family life. And this [waste] is the first thing I'm going to change.

This was a painful confession, but over the course of that second day of unemployment, I made good progress on change. Overripe bananas and mushy persimmons became a lovely banana persimmon bread. 

Leftover pierogi filling--the type of thing that would normally sit in the refrigerator for days while I think to myself, "I really need to make something out of that; I should make more pierogis tonight; Maybe I can just throw that in a pot and turn it into soup; I should freeze that before it goes bad; oh damn it, now I've waited too long; it's turned blue"--was rescued before molding and became more pierogis plus a casserole dish of baked-cheesy-potato-something.

Baked-cheesy-potato-something was joined at the table by leftover borscht so those garden beets would not go to waste.

What child doesn't love leftover borscht?

And a pumpkin went into the oven, cooled again, and was packed into freezer bags--a phoenix rising from the ashes of Halloween decorations so it can reappear as pumpkin soup, pumpkin pie, pumpkin muffins, and all manner of other foods that will make everyone tired of eating pumpkin.

You go into this oven a Halloween decoration. You come out food!

It was very late by the time these waste reduction tasks were accomplished, and I was exhausted. But the next morning, serving experimental banana-persimmon bread for breakfast instead of store-bought cereal, I felt like my unemployment goals were definitely on track! I packed the boys off to daycare and school, came home, reheated the drip coffee from the bottom of the pot (my tastebuds shuddered, but my father would be proud!) and set the computer on the kitchen counter for day three of unemployment. Perhaps after writing a blog post and submitting a job application, I would get creative with that bucket of spent malt from Chris's last beer brewing and bake some Pumpkin Barley Muffins!

Wow! Look how much bulk and fibre! Better not let that go to waste.

But instead, I opened Facebook and saw this response to my rotten fruit blog confession:

. . . Wait . . . What? What was this? A scolding??? I became immediately defensive: "But they were sold in bags of five! But they were on sale! I was going to make guacamole! I have five people and two bags of corn chips in my house; I don't need a big party to finish off a bowl of guacamole!!!" 

And then I switched to being hurt. Hadn't I just admitted I'd done wrong? Hadn't I said my actions were wasteful and unconscionable? Hadn't I exposed my fruit bowl for the entire world (okay, the 10 readers of my blog) to see??? And now my public confession had earned a public condemnation of my character!? What heartlessness was this? 

I've always been sensitive, and it's possible I took this all a bit too seriously, but now I was crying into my unintentionally fat-free banana-persimmon bread. Oh yeah, did I not mention the unintentionally fat free part? When I popped open the microwave to reheat that leftover coffee, I discovered the 1/2 cup of melted butter, meant for the banana-persimmon bread, was still sitting there, forgotten. One more example of my numerous shortcomings!

And there it was, the real reason I was so upset. It wasn't the comment, or the public nature of the scolding, or even the insinuation that I wasn't living up to the values with which I was raised (although I'm not going to lie--that bit definitely stung). It was my own sense of failure. 

Now, perhaps failure is too strong a word, but that sense that, no matter how much you're doing, no matter how hard you're trying, no matter how much sleep you sacrifice, things are never quite good enough--well, that's a rather omnipresent sense in my life.

If I look, my own inadequacy is all around me: rotten avocados that I should not have purchased in the first place, dirty dishes stacked two-days high, kids' snowpants lying discarded by the back door, a mountain of laundry waiting for someone to fold it, but mostly getting worn again straight out of the basket . . . wait, I said I'd be honest here . . .straight out of the baskets, plural. Oh, and one more: now newly unemployed! Inadequacy everywhere.

But then again, where did I ever get my idea of adequate? Three young kids, a marriage, a career, a house in need of massive renovations, gardens, a dog, a city over 2000 km away from friends or family, an economy still rippling with aftershocks from crippling crisis, a housing market stoked by an oil boom--who ever said I'd be able to manage and maintain flawless spending habits, perfect parenting, and an always-clean house?

Luckily, a few years ago I began to realize I needed to start letting things go. Oh, I was already letting plenty of dishes and sweeping and laundry go (really there was no choice), but what I hadn't changed were my expectations. And it was making me miserable. And then it started to dawn on me: I didn't want to feel angry every time there was a pile of dishes in the sink, I didn't want to live in constant fear of a neighbor stopping by unexpectedly and seeing a messy house, I didn't want to be frustrated every time I came across a piece of rotten food in the fridge. And the dishes, the house, the fridge--they weren't going to change. I was simply maxed out. If I didn't want to drive myself insane, then I needed to change by accepting that there will always be some imperfection somewhere, and some imperfection is okay.

Now it would be nice if everyone who witnesses the imperfections and struggles in our lives could just sympathize and understand. But that often won't be the case, and for my own happiness, I have to  be honest with myself about what I can and can't handle and not get too invested in other people's expectations and judgments. And perhaps I'm the only one with these sorts of troubles, but I doubt it.

So if you've ever felt overwhelmed like me, I hope this will make you feel better . . . or, at the very least, let you know you're not alone. Like that bowl of rotten fruit, it's one of those things I don't want to admit, even to myself. But instead I'm going to be honest and share one of those many imperfections: My kitchen when I've been blogging instead of doing dishes. Judge as you will.


  1. I have been learning a lot about priorities too... and done a lot of failing, A LOT! but most importantly we have done a lot of learning and growing. My dishes are on a clean at need basis, good thing we only have 10 of them! Life's little victories a good garden dinner, banana parsimon bread, a house with laughter, what would the neighbors think!?!

  2. My own partner saw this photo and said, "Wow, her sink looks just like your sink, but she has a bay window!" Now I notice he said "your" sink.