Monday, September 13, 2010

The Existential Sandwich

by Julia Buckley

When I was in the 2nd grade, my mother and father had five children in Catholic schools. They were not rich, and I'm still not sure how they paid the tuition, but they were always wise with money and willing to sacrifice for the sake of education.

One of my key memories of this time involves my mother, a lonely figure in the kitchen with the nightly task of making five lunches (while we all sat, unrepentant, in the living room. I harbor a fair amount of guilt about this). My mother was one of those moms who made a hot meal just about every day, although sometimes she took a break and we ordered pizza or made hot dogs or my dad made his specialty, eggs at night. :)

After dinner she often did dishes alone--that is, until we were old enough and my parents assigned the task to us. But my mother never delegated the lunch making; still, she sighed a lot while she made them. I always thought this was a bit melodramatic, but that was because I had no sense of empathy.

Now, more than thirty years later, I am a mom with three less children than my own mother had, and I too am faced with the nightly task of making lunches (and even this isn't as onerous, because my husband and I take turns). As my mother probably did, I find the task rather joyless and boring, and so I'm never eager to leave my book or television show to go into the kitchen and start my little assembly line: tin foil, tin foil, tin foil, tin foil (parents get lunches, too); bread, bread, bread, bread. Baloney, baloney, baloney, baloney.

You get the idea. If one looks at it the wrong way, it can seem like an endless and spiritless task, an invitation to martyrdom. Hence my mother's sighing, and my sighing, a generation later. I am not one of those super efficient mothers who have fun finding ways to do things in the kitchen. I can be relatively efficient in my job and in my writing, but in the household I am sometimes at sea.

Today, as I tried to get a head start on the whole lunch-making thing, I thought of Albert Camus and the philosophy he put forth in his famous essay, "The Myth of Sisyphus." Sisyphus, of course, was the mythological man who was fated to push the boulder up the same mountain in the Underword again and again. Camus suggested that this fate, rather than a punishment, could be a joy, if only Sisyphus chose to embrace it as his own.

So I decided to love lunch-making. I focused on the happy reality that we could afford to buy food. That we had healthy children who were able to go to good schools. That we were intelligent, and understood enough about nutrition that we were able to give the boys a good foundation of learning, starting from the inside out. That we were a family, and that we were able to share in this food each day, even when we were apart.

I found that the more I focused on my blessings, the more blessings I seemed to have.

And while I doubt I will entirely stop sighing while I make the lunches, I think that my positivity will have an effect on just about everything I do--I just have to embrace it as my own.


Anonymous said...

The happy existentialist.

I sometimes feel the same way about my writing, when I sit before the keyboard and the words don't come. It's a choice I've made, though, and I'm willing to tough it out for the good that will eventually come from it.

But . . . baloney? Really? Do they still make that stuff? Mustard or ketchup? (or catsup?) White bread or wheat or rye?

Julia Buckley said...

Funny you should ask, Paul. I would never have chosen bologna/baloney, but at some point my son decided it was delicious, so we often use it as an option, even though most might consider it garbage meat.

My husband and I prefer rye, but the boys prefer white. And always mustard. :)

Julia Buckley said...

PS--for all the somberness of his works, I think Camus suggested that you could be both happy and an existentialist. :)

Elizabeth Zelvin said...

My reaction was (1) What a spiritual attitude, and (2) baloney? Great post, Julia. :)

Julia Buckley said...

Haha. No one likes that baloney. :) Which is perhaps a metaphor for life.

Sandra Parshall said...

Be glad you don't have little vegetarians to feed, Julia. Doesn't your boys' school have a cafeteria? :-) My favorite cafeteria lunch at school was vegetable soup with big chunks of carrot and potato, a PB & jelly sandwich, and for dessert a big peanut butter cookie.

Julia Buckley said...

Cafeterias do make amazing cookies. But eating in his cafe every day isn't always cost effective, nor, to my surprise, do school cafeterias have particularly healthy foods. Lots of deep-fried stuff and gooey desserts, not to mention sugary pop.

The salads look really anemic--iceberg lettuce with the obligatory onion or radish curl on the top.