family, memories, mental health

WaPo advice column reminds me of mealtime meltdowns of yesteryear…

Today in the Washington Post, I read an advice column in which a letter writer asked if it’s “wrong” to force a child to eat. The writer explained that he or she was born in 1952, and their mother used to compel them to finish everything on their plate. She would either force the person to sit at the table for hours until everything was eaten, or she would use a fifteen minute timer and warn that if the food wasn’t finished, the child would be spanked and sent to bed early. The writer later found out that they have food allergies.

Yes… I think it is very damaging.

The advice columnist, Meghan Leahy, wrote that she thinks the letter writer is traumatized. She points to the level of detail included in the letter, so many years later, and explains that remembering that much about the experiences indicated psychological damage. Leahy comments:

There are three main activities one person cannot force another to do without inflicting some pretty serious harm: sleep, eat and use the toilet. These are driven by deep impulses, and each human runs on their own internal clock. When parents take draconian measures to control their children’s eating, it is about more than just getting them to finish their chicken. The parent is saying or sending messages such as: “I don’t care about your feelings or impulses. I control them.” “You don’t get to say when you eat. I do.” “I will withhold love and affection until you eat.” “Not eating or not making me happy will make me hurt you, physically and emotionally.”

I found myself nodding as I read her comments. Suddenly, I remembered my own traumatic experiences at the dinner table when I was a very young child. My father and I had a difficult relationship. He was an alcoholic who suffered from post traumatic stress disorder. He could be very controlling and demanding at times. Other times, he acted like he didn’t care at all about things. Sometimes, he was even kind and reasonable. Unfortunately, I never knew which version of my dad I was going to get.

When I was very young, I was a rather picky eater. There were, and still are, a lot of things I don’t eat. My mom was a pretty good cook, but she wasn’t above using processed convenience foods. I didn’t mind eating canned things. I loved Franco-American Macaroni and Cheese, for instance. I remember eating a lot of Campbell’s Soup– especially Bean with Bacon or Chicken Noodle. Sometimes I’d have frozen chicken pot pies that, of course, I would heat up before eating. These days, Bill and I make most things from scratch. He doesn’t like eating food from boxes and cans.

But then there were times when my mom would make things I didn’t like. My dad would get on a power trip and try to force me to eat things. I’d sit at the table and cry as he yelled at and threatened me.

The one thing I could never eat under any circumstances was mushrooms. As I have mentioned before in this blog, I have a phobia of them. When I was very young, I was literally petrified of wild mushrooms growing in the yard. I would freeze up and panic when I saw them. I think it stemmed from being told, when I was very young, that they were very poisonous and I must never touch them. I took the directive very seriously. I also had sisters who enjoyed tormenting me by chasing me with the mushrooms or drawing mushrooms with ugly frowns and shark teeth in my coloring books.

So one time, my dad, who was quite exasperated about my phobia, decided he was going to force me to eat a mushroom. My mom had made meat pie, and it had mushrooms in it. I remember him standing over me– I was maybe nine or ten years old– screaming at me to eat the pie. He had to go to choir practice that night, so I was under pressure. I was crying uncontrollably as he demanded that I obey him. I think I did eat some of the pie, but I never forgot that experience… or another one we had at a chain restaurant called Mountain Jack’s. My parents took me there one night and ordered sauteed mushrooms as an appetizer. My dad tried to make me eat one in the restaurant, and I started crying. My mom snarled at him to leave me alone, which he grudgingly did. But he would often get on these control freak power plays, sometimes in public. And yes, it was humiliating and traumatic.

As I read that article about forcing kids to eat things in the WaPo today, I was suddenly reminded of all the times my father bullied, harassed, and belittled me over things like food, body image, or even the way I laugh. Like several of my family members, my dad hated my laugh, and claimed I sounded like a witch. By the time I was eleven, I was very preoccupied with my body image and weight. For years, I struggled with disordered eating, although I never fell into a diagnosable eating disorder. Nowadays, instead of being obsessive about my weight and body image, I drink too much alcohol.

I looked at some of the comments people left on this article. One reader left what I thought was a really good comment. I took a screenshot of it; it was so good.

I wish all commenters were as wise as this person is.

Someone else left this comment, which made me feel really sad…

Eating should be a pleasurable activity. But this person’s mother turned it into a battle.

Below is one rather contentious comment thread on Facebook regarding this advice column. “Mike” obviously thinks that being controlling about food is a good approach to child raising… and now he’s raising his grandchild.

When I was growing up, I could not eat the hot lunches served in the school cafeteria. In those days, the food was actually cooked on site, but the smell of it usually disgusted me. There were certain items that smelled so bad that I would get nauseous if someone sat next to me eating it. I seem to remember being completely revolted by the smell of the vegetable soup, which was always served with a big piece of government cheese. I always wondered how it was that the cafeteria ladies could make ordinary food so unappetizing in appearance and aroma. I used to skip lunch during school, partly because I was always dieting, and partly because the whole experience of eating lunch at school was so traumatizing. I think it must be worse today, as schools now police what children are allowed to eat more than they did in the 80s, and food is not always cooked on site.

I remember practically starving myself in the summer of 1982, when I went to 4-H camp. The food there was even worse than what was served in school. The smell of it turned my stomach. I never went back to 4-H camp, mainly because I could not abide powdered eggs and the other barely edible stuff served there. I was fortunate in the the food served at my college was mostly very good, but I remember going to 4-H Congress at Virginia Tech and being grossed out by the food there, too.

I’ve probably shared this before, but it bears repeating. I agree with George, and his take on “fussy eating” is funnier than this post is. 😉

To this day, there are a lot of foods that some people find wonderful, like cheese, that I don’t enjoy. I don’t eat a lot of cheeses, myself. There are maybe half a dozen I will eat, and they have to be melted. Bill, on the other hand, loves stinky cheeses. He will not think twice about buying cheese that, to me, smells like dirty feet, and enjoying it with wine. I can always smell the cheese through the refrigerator door. On the other hand, I do like fish, which I know a lot of people can’t abide.

I’m sure my dad’s tendency to hypercontrol at the dinner table, back when we ate dinners together, was formulated in part because he was a child of the Depression era. He had eight siblings, and the family wasn’t wealthy at all, so food was a precious commodity. My dad was also an Air Force officer, so sometimes he would use that identity to make demands of his daughters. Sometimes, he could be strict, but his method of punishment was, in my opinion, quite cowardly. He used physical and corporal punishments to get what he wanted. Imagine, being a grown man taking out your frustrations on a little girl by walloping her whenever she challenged you. That was my dad. And, sorry to say, he did traumatize me with that treatment. Maybe that’s why I am so fucked up today. 😉

I did love my dad, when he was still living. I think a lot of his issues stemmed from his own abusive childhood, in which he was the eldest son of a violent alcoholic. I think a lot of the things he said to me were things that he heard from his dad. In fact, although I never knew Pappy, because he died when I was two, I have heard a lot of stories about him. Some of the stories are funny, but most pointed to the fact that he was an angry bully and a tyrant, and he had a biting, sarcastic sense of humor that could be devastating. I know that, on some level, my dad hated his father. He didn’t like to talk about him. When he did, it was usually after he’d been drinking. And sometimes, he told me things that sounded pretty awful.

Anyway… I don’t know what made me fall down this rabbit hole. But reading that advice column today really reminded me of those days when I was younger, and eating was traumatic and stressful. It’s too bad that we couldn’t have peace in those days. And it’s too bad my parents weren’t more careful about making a baby they didn’t really want.

Bill just left to go back to Bavaria for the next few days. It was good that he came home. Arran is doing well on the chemo. He’s eating well, enjoying his walks and snuggles with us, and doesn’t have huge lymph nodes right now. I don’t know how long the chemo will keep him feeling better, but I’m grateful for the extra time. I was very worried about Arran a couple of days ago, and I think if we hadn’t started treatment, we might have had to say goodbye this weekend or soon thereafter. As it stands now, he’s mostly back to normal, save for the rancid farts, need to pee, and increased appetite caused by steroids.

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obits

Rest in peace, Prince Philip…

I don’t have much to say today. It’s raining outside, so even if we weren’t still stuck at home, I probably wouldn’t want to go out. I watched Lyle Lovett’s most recent live stream with Willis Alan Ramsey. I had never heard of Willis Alan Ramsey before, but he and Lyle are old friends. It was an enjoyable live stream, although maybe not as interesting to me as the ones Lyle did with Vince Gill and Michael McDonald.

Bill informed me that he’ll be gone for most of May. He also told me that it looks like we’ll be getting vaccinated sometime next month… although if he’s going to be TDY, maybe not. I sure am tired of waiting and I hate this lifestyle. It’s very depressing.

What a life.

I was saddened, but not surprised, to read about Prince Philip’s death yesterday. He was 99 years old and had been married to Queen Elizabeth II for 73 years. Until very recently, he had enjoyed fairly good health, but I know he spent some time hospitalized a couple of months ago. And, let’s face it… he was a mere two months shy of turning 100, so the end was bound to come eventually. Still, I kind of enjoyed Philip, who was like the court jester of Britain’s Royal Family. He had many quips at the ready, and a lot of them were very politically incorrect. I enjoy political incorrectness very much, even though I know it’s not so cool nowadays.

Last night, Bill and I were talking about everything the Duke of Edinburgh had seen over his long lifetime… He was a young man when World War II was happening. He was here to see cars, computers, televisions, organ transplants, and air travel become normal. He saw the first space travel, artificial hearts, and the Internet. And no matter what you might think of him, his wife, or their family, a 73 year marriage is an incredible accomplishment.

Let’s also not forget that he was a man who faced some significant hardships early in life. He was rushed from his native Greece when he was a baby and spent his earliest years in Germany. His mother went a bit crazy and later joined a religious order. And then, having been a decorated naval hero, he married Princess Elizabeth and became her consort, basically a “kept” man at a time when being a “kept” man was kind of humiliating. He took Elizabeth’s name and walked behind her as she continues to reign over the United Kingdom… Not every man could have handled such a role with the great aplomb Philip did.

I know not everyone loves them, but they sure seemed to love each other.

I have some British friends who are sad that Prince Philip has passed on, although I know there are a lot of other Brits who feel it’s time to get rid of the Royals. As an American, I have no skin in the game, but I have always been a bit fascinated by Britain’s Royal Family. I enjoy watching the pomp and glamour, even if maybe it’s all rather outdated.

Anyway… when I saw video of him riding in a car recently, I thought Prince Philip was looking pretty poorly. I am not surprised that his time came yesterday. My heart goes out to Queen Elizabeth II, whom I am sure already misses him. It’s too bad he wasn’t able to make it to 100, although maybe he didn’t care about that particular goal.

My Granny lived to be within six weeks of her 101st birthday, but I feel pretty sure she was more than ready to go when the time came. She lived a long life and was much beloved, but I think her final years were hard for her. They probably were for Prince Philip too, even if he didn’t have to worry about a lot of the things more common people do.

The passing of the prince led Bill and me to talking about our own deaths. We talked about what we’d like done with our bodies– cremation, burial, or whatever. I told Bill that I don’t really care too much, although I think I wouldn’t mind being turned into a tree. However, I would not want him to use a “mushroom suit” to accomplish that goal, since I have a phobia of mushrooms. That would be my worst nightmare, although it’s unlikely I’d know the difference.

I read that the actor Luke Perry, who was a big star on Beverly Hills 90210, and died a couple of years ago of a stroke, was buried in a “mushroom suit”, which is supposedly made of mushrooms and is an eco-friendly way to dispose of one’s remains. I like the idea of eco friendly burials, but wearing a suit made of mushrooms is enough to make me want to scream. Actually, reading about the suit while looking at the creepy stock photos of mushrooms is traumatizing enough. Still… I do like the idea of feeding trees and doing good things for the Earth… or even providing a handy spot for a dog to pee, though I am not into golden showers as a living person.

Well… like I said, I don’t have much to write about today. I think I’ll close this post and go watch something trashy on TV in an attempt to cheer myself up on this gloomy Saturday. As happy as I am that Bill has a good job, these trips really suck balls, especially when the pandemic prevents me from doing anything fun to pass the time. I guess I’ll keep working on my guitar and pondering what kind of trouble I can get into.

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funny stories

The menu from Hell…

Hi folks. Checking in again, this time from Italy. We arrived here on Monday afternoon and will stay until Friday. Then we’re off to Switzerland for the weekend. Once we get home, I will write the whole story of our trip, which has turned out to be mostly fantastic so far. But, because it’s too early for breakfast and Bill is on the toilet, I figured I’d take a few minutes to write about last night.

In fairness, I knew the menu from Hell was coming. At this hotel and the one before it, half board is included in the price of the room. I don’t actually love to get the half board option, because there are times when I can be very picky about food. There are some foods I literally can’t eat without risking vomiting. Then, there are the dreaded mushrooms, which are super popular in Europe. I can’t eat mushrooms. In fact, I have a phobia of them. I’ve written about the phobia and the trouble it’s gotten me into on more than one occasion, so I won’t get into that here. Just suffice to say that they are the one food I absolutely can’t abide under any circumstances.

Unfortunately, mushrooms were the side dish of the day yesterday… Have a look at this menu.

Incidentally, they brought us menus in German on Monday.

Fortunately, they do offer alternatives for the times when there’s nothing appealing on the menu of the day. I ended up ordering an entrecote with fries, after reiterating that I don’t eat mushrooms of any kind. However, there was still a bit of a crisis. One of the starters didn’t have mushrooms. Instead, it was made of Alpine cheese. A waitress asked me if I would try it. I said okay.

So dinnertime rolls around… I was in a pretty good mood because we met a very eccentric artist completely by chance, had a nice lunch in Merano, and drank beer at a quirky bar. I decided to get antipasti, in anticipation of not enjoying some of the other stuff on offer. I took more lettuce than I should have for my salad, so some of it was leftover.

Then came the soup, which was much like the soup from the previous night, only they’d added smoked salmon to it, which made it very salty. I ate a little of that, then set it aside. The waitress exclaims, as she takes it away, “Oh, you don’t like!”

Out came the cheese tart for me… and unfortunately, I couldn’t even take the first bite of it because the cheese was really strong and smelled like sweaty, dirty feet to me. Bill loves that kind of cheese, but I absolutely can’t eat it. I felt my stomach start to roll at that point and gagged a little. Bill was worried… both about offending the staff and about the possibility that I might hurl right there at the table. He ended up eating half the tart so it looked like I’d at least tried it.

Finally, out comes my steak. It was cooked medium well because no one asked how I wanted it cooked. There were lots of fries with it. We did ask for fries, but there were way more than I could ever eat. The waitress set the platter down with fanfare. I immediately noticed everyone else’s eyes on me, since it wasn’t one of the night’s entree choices. I never finish steaks, even when I’m at home. I ate about two-thirds of the one I had last night. The waitress came back and playfully said, “What am I going to do with you! You eat so little!”

At that point, I probably blushed. Again, a bunch of people were looking at me. It brought back memories of me in my twenties, when I used to flirt with eating disorders. Of course, to look at me now, you would never guess I had a problem like that. In fact, back then, most people wouldn’t have either. Only people who ate with me would have noticed… and today, I’m downright fat. So I just kind of looked at her and said, “It’s alright. I’m definitely not going to fade away.” It was the same thing I used to say to my Granny, who would nag me to eat, but then talk about how fat I am. The night before my wedding, which she declined to attend, Granny asked me to show her my dress. I put it on for her and said, “Oh, you have a waist after all.” Wow…

People were already kind of giving us the side eye because we’re obviously Americans, although a few people took us for Dutch. Americans aren’t supposed to be in Europe right now, thanks to Trump’s COVID-19 fuckery. Bill said the people sitting at the table nearest to us kept looking at us disapprovingly, and that made the whole situation even more embarrassing.

So then she brought out dessert, which was amaretto flavored ice cream with amaretto soaked cherries. I enjoyed that, and when she came to take the plates, I beamed and said, “Now see? I ate all of that!”

After dinner, we were going to try some Schnapps made by a local distiller. It turned out the German speaking couple who was glaring at us all through dinner were also there, as well as an Italian couple. The lady who did the presentation made a big deal out of speaking English for us, Italian for the Italian couple, and German for the German speaking couple (who are probably from Germany). It was actually an enjoyable presentation, although we surprised her by knowing some German and even translating a few words she didn’t know in English.

She started talking about problems with fungus in the fruit she used to make her Schnapps and I said, “Oh, mushrooms… that was my big problem tonight!” The German speaking couple laughed, because they’d seen me struggling with the disastrous dinner, where almost everything was a total miss. I think it just might be the worst meal I have ever had in Italy.

Anyway… here is hoping tonight, the menu will be less offensive. On another note, I’m already impressed by the Swiss hotel we booked. I got a message from them yesterday in English, letting me know about the COVID-19 requirements, as well as their policy that if I didn’t want them to take my temperature at check in, I could postpone or cancel at no charge! How classy! Of course, I’d already bought insurance for that stay anyway (suggestive sell by Expedia). We aren’t getting half board there, so I look forward to enjoying dinner at a couple of different restaurants rather than a set menu.

Well, it’s time to get dressed and see what the day’s adventures have in store for us… Hope you don’t encounter any menus from Hell today.

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