Several common assumptions about dietitians are that they should be pencil thin and love to cook. Well, many are and do, however, I am not and don't. Do not get me wrong, I CAN cook. Thanks to food science and cooking fundamentals courses in college, I am fairly good at it but I do not find enjoyment in the activity. Except for a couple times a year during holidays, it brings no more joy than cleaning my house, washing the clothes, or paying bills. To me, cooking is another task that must be done to care for my family. I do it because I believe it is important for my family. However, it wasn't always that way.
When I first got out of college and married, I could not wait to take what I had learned and put it into action. My husband (the son of a home economics teacher) and I both worked full time and shared the tasks and chores around our new home and enjoyed spending time together as we did. We shopped and cooked together frequently and since neither of us were picky eaters, we liked trying new recipes. We tried to eat very healthy so I could "practice what I preached" to my patients at the hospital. We set up a compost bin in the back yard for our kitchen waste and made most everything from scratch using wholesome foods before they were easy to find.
Fast-forward about ten years and I am a stay-at-home mother of two young children. I worked hard to be the type of mother I had while growing up. We used cloth diapers, dried our clothes on an outdoor line when the weather permitted, shopped with cloth bags, and used natural cleaners in our home. We planted a garden each spring, enjoyed the organic fruits of our labor during the summer, benefited from homemade tomato sauce, and frozen produce in the freezer during the winter. For half a dozen years, I focused on maintaining the perfect home, teaching my children how to respect the earth, eat a well-balanced meal, the basics of portion control and how to cook as they helped me around the house. They learned about grocery shopping, making nutritious choices while finding the best price, and using coupons as we did our shopping each week. I was happy with all that I was providing them but frustrated by how fast my days went by and how hard it was to fit everything in that had to be done while still finding time and energy to enjoy doing things with them. Since I was a perfectionist I took great pride in what I thought I was doing right and set goals to improve those things that I felt didn't yet measure up. At the beginning of 2002, my perspective on cooking totally changed as well as how I viewed many other aspects of caring for my family.
Shortly after I waved my children off to school on the school bus one January morning, I looked in the mirror while washing my hands and noticed something strange on my neck. I probed and prodded to find a large lump that I had never noticed previously. I thought about it from time to time throughout the day as I rushed to get errands run, chores completed, and dinner started before my children came home from school. As I was dusting the family portrait hanging above our mantle, I was stopped dead in my tracks. As I looked at myself in the picture (taken the previous summer), I saw a noticeable bump on my neck that I had never seen before. I quickly ran to the computer and dialed up the internet (a new option I was grateful to have) to see what I could find. Thyroid cancer came up repeatedly as an option on each search I tried. I quickly made my way to the phone to make an appointment with the doctor. A week later, I met with the primary care physician named on my insurance card. Since this was our first meeting, I spent a great deal of time answering no to a variety of questions related to health issues and family history. Finally, she got to the question of, "What brings you in today." I told her of my discovery of the lump on my neck and that I could verify it being there for at least the past six months. She poked and prodded and proceeded to inform me it could be cancer or nothing and further testing would be needed to figure out which it was. After numerous tests that took several additional months, I received word that surgery would be the only way to know with certainty whether or not it was cancer.
During those months, I reflected frequently about our life. Of course, as many people do in similar situations, I worried about what would happen to my children if I were not there. Who would read to them? Who would teach and train them to be kind, compassionate young adults? Who would guide them to be all they were created to be? Who would prepare them healthy, wholesome food and prepare it just the way they like it? I soon realized I was missing the most important things. While I was focusing on being the "perfect" mother, providing the "perfect" home and upbringing and the healthiest food, I was not focusing enough on the moments my children would remember the most – time with me. They would remember we had meals together, not that the food was organic and home grown. They would remember that I helped with their school parties and not that I brought raisins instead of candy (unless they were teased about it and then they would remember that instead). They would understand that living healthy was important but what if they thought it was more important than relationships. I soon became concerned that I mixed too many messages and worried that I did not have the time to correct them. What if I were gone and they did not understand that there is no such thing as perfect, only doing the best you can with the circumstances life provides. I resolved things would be different once all this uncertainty was settled.
Luckily, after surgery in April I was informed my thyroid issues were caused by an autoimmune disease and not cancer. I was relieved to receive a clean bill of health although I now lacked two-thirds of my thyroid gland and would forever have to take medication. I was grateful to be well, grateful I would have plenty of time to teach and train my children and grateful that I had taken a closer look at our lives. I decided balance was necessary and possible. I began to see that we could eat healthfully while also allowing time for other important things. I began to garden less and play more, teach less and interact more and enjoying family movie nights without worrying about how unhealthy the pizza was for us. Since that time, our lives have changed a great deal. I work full time again and our children are now busy, active teens that keep our schedules tight. I work hard to maintain the balance I found years before. I am grateful for the life lessons I learned during that difficult time. The biggest lesson I learned is there is no perfect, only doing the best you can with the circumstances life provides. I also learned that finding the balance between health benefit and time consumption is important and necessary. I gained understanding that for everything there is a season and an acceptance that healthy living does not include a one size fits all for all those seasons. I am glad I have been able to grow and learn as I go and can readily accept an imperfect life and learn to thrive in it. I still cook five to six days a week so our family can enjoy a healthy meal around our table together. It is still a task and not something I enjoy, but I still believe it is important for my family. It isn't always the healthiest option, doesn't always include recipes made from scratch with organic ingredients and we do use processed foods when necessary. It is the best it can be for this season in our life. This balance with imperfection allows me to do what needs to be done so I have time to do all those things that I want to be done like spending time with my children while they are still living at home.
How about you, have your views about cooking changed over the years? Have your life circumstances contributed to those changes?
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