Saturday, January 18, 2014

An Egregious Violation of Convenience

The only thing crazier than these hats is who's wearing them.
Wanna hear something crazy? After decades of baking my own homemade bread, I did the unthinkable. I got myself a breadmaker. It's a nice one that, if you're using rapid-rising yeast, will crank out a fragrant, perfectly browned, two pound loaf of bread in just two hours and eight minutes. Nothing crazy about that, right? I mean, what could possibly be more logical than employing this efficient little machine that's designed for the sole purpose of making my life easier? I'll tell you what's crazy about it. Me. Yeah, me. 

In case you were wondering, this here's a table top
After two years of neglect, I wrestled said machine out from the lonely corner it occupied under the stainless steel worktable, the top of which my husband had labeled, along with every other appliance in our kitchen. He'd gotten hold of a label-maker at work and just went to town.  I'm guessing it was his sincere desire that there'd be no confusion about whether or not that shiny thing you step on when you want to throw something away was indeed a trash can. Thanks to his efforts, I now know that the concave rectangle with the attached faucet is actually a kitchen sink.

Anyway, this was right after Thanksgiving. I had a ton of leftover mashed sweet potatoes that I needed to use, and since I hate throwing perfectly good food away, I made the obvious choice: soup. But, I still had about a cup or so of the sweet potatoes to repurpose. They were seasoned with salt and pepper, so I couldn't use them to make pancakes. Wait a minute...pancakes are a kind of about some bread? I googled "breadmaker," "potato," and "whole wheat," and found a simple recipe that, based on my extensive (if amateur) baking experience, would produce excellent results. It took less than 10 minutes to assemble all the ingredients. We were two hours and eight minutes away from crusty butter-slathered bread and piping hot soup. Man, I was on a roll.

"No Mommy, I didn't take the screwdriver." :-D
What happened next amounts to an egregious violation of convenience. After programming the breadmaker, closing the lid, and pressing "on," which under normal circumstances signals "Step away from the machine," I stood there, frozen. Watching. Monitoring. Calculating. And, most dangerous of all, thinking. It was just like when I was 7 and got my Suzy Homemaker electric oven for Christmas, the one I tried to pry open with a screwdriver whilst baking an impossibly tiny cake. I wanted to be a part of what was going on in there. I wanted control. Fortunately, for me and my parents, I managed to avoid electrocution. 

OK, back to the remote present. Once those beater blades started rotating, I grabbed a spatula, flipped open the lid, and began assisting the dough in its transfigurational journey. I guess part of me just didn't trust that the specified proportions were correct or that the flour would be adequately hydrated since I store it in the freezer or that those goddamn tiny flippers could knead four and two-thirds cups of flour into a workable dough without my help.

The irresistibly doughy inner sanctum...hurry, close the lid!
So, I poked and prodded and scraped. I became concerned that the dough was too dry, so I started adding water, which turned it into a gloppy goo, which then prompted me to add more flour. This went on for a good twenty minutes. Given all these additions, I fretted that the dough still wasn't properly kneaded, so I reset the machine to repeat the mixing cycle. I might have been hallucinating, but I sensed the machine was heaving with every well-intended intervention, struggling under the weight of my oppression. In retrospect, there's no doubt about it...that ungrateful, good-for-nothing breadmaker was resisting me! And, it had the audacity to do so at the inception of my homemade soup and bread kick.

This next paragraph is going to seem oddly out of place. Please bear with me. I've been dealing with a family situation; my 17 year old nephew's been acting out at home and school, getting into trouble with Johnny Law, and his father (my youngest brother) is exasperated and exhausted. I understand how both of them are feeling right now. Been there, done that. Both adolescence and (segments of) my parenting experience have resembled Mr. Toad's Wild Ride. Why did I have to be such a non-conformist? Why couldn't I just follow the rules? Be respectful of authority like everyone else? Was it karma that my sons didn't follow the rules, either? Was flying under the radar too much to ask?

Gleefully molesting the forbidden med cart while the charge nurse was away
It finally occurred to me that flying under the radar had never been presented to them as a possibility, although it had become a way of life for me. You might say it was silently acknowledged, but never actively discussed. What exactly do I mean by flying under the radar? It means living life on your own terms, without seeking society's approval or drawing unnecessary attention to yourself. Keeping it on the down low. Doing what you want to do without harming yourself or anyone else. It's more about following your heart and being true to yourself than it is about not getting caught. To a conformist, this is the equivalent of dishonesty and subversion. It's unthinkable. So many what ifs. But, to someone who's not driven by pleasing authority, it's the closest you can get to realizing your freedom within the constructs of a society that was forged by the desire for individuality, but no longer values it. You do what you gotta do. 

Me and my boys, keeping our noses clean...
So, with all the focus on my nephew's situation over the past few days, I've relived some of my own excruciating moments in parenthood. There are no easy answers. What I do know is this. Our children are autonomous individuals. They are not extensions of us, nor are they receptacles for our projected fears and expectations. We cannot presume to know what's best for them. We cannot assume that what's right for us is also going to be right for them. The best we can do is share our own experiences honestly and support them as they're navigating through those of their own, without taking their chosen path personally. That's perhaps the toughest (but most rewarding) lesson I've learned as a parent.

Instead of eating out last night, Spartacus and I decided to stay in. The refrigerator was empty and the cupboards were bare, except for a one liter box of organic carrot-cashew-ginger soup. And a can of sweet potato puree. Hmm. Reaching back into the dark recess beneath the stainless steel tabletop, I pried the breadmaker from its niche. I swear I could feel it shuddering. She's baaaaack....nooooooo! Don't worry, I thought, reassuringly. Tonight's gonna be a good good night. 

Love at first bite.
And good it was. Different. Because I've made this bread soooo many times in the last few weeks, I measured out the ingredients from memory: sprouted whole wheat flour, sea salt, instant yeast, coconut oil, filtered water, raw honey, organic sweet potato puree, and vital wheat gluten. Once I got it all dumped inside the bread mixer, I closed the lid, and let it do its thing. OK, I have to be honest, I peeked inside once at the beginning of the knead cycle to scrape the clumped up flour from the edges. Other than those minor infractions, I successfully resisted the urge to micromanage my breadmaker. In return, I was rewarded with time to sit down and write this blog post as well as a delicious, hands-free loaf of bread. It was a true Lao-tzu moment. There's a quote of his that I've always liked, something to the effect of "leave people alone and they will do the right thing." Maybe that's what convenience is really all about. Let it be. Trust in the way things are as Nature takes its course. Trust yourself and you'll never be dependent upon authority.

Labeling Spartacus
So, to recap. My asshole breadmaker ended up being a metaphor for simplicity, individuality, discretion, and trust. I'm pretty sure the damn thing was flying under the radar the entire time I thought I was providing expert guidance. When left to its own devices, that machine managed to exceed my expectations. Imagine that. My sons demonstrated the same propensity years before, once I quit meddling in their affairs. Supervising a breadmaking machine seems pretty benign, doesn't it? But, the same unwillingness to leave well enough alone is what fuels the moral busybodying that continues to divide the human race. Just like all of my kitchen appliances, we end up being labeled. I don't know about you, but the only label I've willingly worn is a Chiquita Banana sticker. It peeled right off. In my experience, defiance only becomes problematic in the absence of accountability. Keep your nose clean, and people will stay out of your hair.