Throwing the baby out with the bathwater

Part four of an eight part series.

We got off the trail and returned to a plant-based, house-vegan diet. We resumed our cooking routines, which included kids in the kitchen. But too many things had been jarred in me during the hike.

Most significantly, I'd experienced a breaking in my body and my spirit. The hike was like the ancient greek definition of an apocolypse; it was an uncovering, a revelation of my heart and our marriage.

There had been a breaking and a revealing.

kitchen work, 2011

I've always known I'm flawed and have failings like every other human but when I was really confronted with my shadow self and my true motivations I was overcome with shame. I'm a reasonably intelligent person. How could this all be happening underneath the surface of my life, without my knowledge?

This was a hard time. It was a mid-life crisis. I felt broken and sabatoged by my very nature and understandably I didn't know who I could trust, about anything, including my diet.

And my husband, though wonderful, a good man and my best friend, could no longer be my authority, or my leader because my motivations for seeking that in my relationship with him were so messed up.

I couldn't do that to him. I couldn't do that to me.

Tossing out our plant-based diet was like the baby getting thrown out with the dirty bathwater of our marriage.

Everything associated with something Damien had led me in had to go. Burn it all down. Any authority that I had handed over to him, as a means to find security in my life, had to be uprooted from my life. (This was one reason it took me about 2-3 years to start hiking and backpacking again after we finished the trail. It had to be something I wanted to do for me, not for Damien. Turns out I still love hiking and skiing has become a passion of mine; backpacking is still a wild card.)

I made the shift when we moved to Montreal the summer of 2015. No more plant-based eating, I said.

I told my family, you all can eat what you want (well, within reason, we still had a budget and some basic dietary house rules for our kids), but I'm eating and cooking whatever the hell I want. Those were my exact words.

I was tired of cooking. Tired of thinking about food. Tired of associating goodness with food. Tired of how food and thoughts about food was an unintended idol in my life, something that defined me. I was tired of all the debate around what is best to eat and trying to reconcile it all in my head.

There was the issue of food and marriage, but there was also cooking and motherhood. And after letting go of following Damien as a means to shore-up my security I needed to let go of another millstone in my life.

I needed to disassociate myself from the idea, seeded in my childhood and carried for many years, nurtured in adulthood by all those magazine articles and mommy bloggers who loved to cook, that a good cook equals a good mom.

If I was a blaming type of person I could blame this one on my mom. But I would never do that anyway. She can't help it, she loves to cook. How can you blame someone for being themselves? And doing it so damn well?

cooking in Nana's kitchen 2011

My role model for motherhood was my own mom, whom I adore and esteem somewhat naturally as a loyalist personality type, but also just because she is a great person and a wonderful mom.

My love and high regard for her is hardwired into my heart, mind, and body from years of being loved so very well.

I think all adults need to recover from their childhood. Either you go to therapy seeking healing from hurts and injustice. Or you go to help unravel the unrealistic pedestal you've placed your parents on and how you compare. I'd be the latter.

My mom loves cooking. Cooking is her love language, cooking is an interest and a passion. My parents are foodies and my mom would regularly prepare gourmet spreads for large gatherings and parties when I was a kid. Our lives centered around good food.

In addition to cooking for family and friends, Mom ran a B&B in our home for a while, again more cooking, more hospitality. Then she started a restaurant. And as I was leaving home she had opened a kitchen store to sell quality kitchen ware in our small Alberta town.

The kitchen was something that defined my mother in my childhood mind.

Mom = Kitchen = Good Cooking = Good Memories = Good Childhood = Security = Love.

All wrapped up in my brain like a ticking bomb that would someday explode.

Of course I don't blame my mother for this anymore than I would accept blame if my girls grow up thinking good mom = homeschool mom. Just because I love this job and find deep satisfaction in homeschooling my kids, does not mean it will be true for them. And there is no shame or blame there.

And in the same way I never want my girls to live under my shadow, or compare their gender roles, identity, or interests to mine and find themselves deficient, I know my mom feels the same.

cooking in Nana's kitchen 2011

But it's still a thing for me. Learning to feel comfortable in my own "cooking is kind of meh" skin.

At the cusp of forty, in the crucible of a mid-life crisis, I had to disassociate myself from the whole mess, from plant-based eating associated with my husband being an authority in my life and from good cook = good mom.

I've already admitted I kind of threw out the baby with the bathwater. It's not a real baby so no apologies there. There was a pendulum swing for sure, propelled by anger, disappointment, bewilderment, and a deep need to both find and preserve self. I swung hard, like a midlife rebellion, and have since found a new equilibrium.

Which is probably why it feels ok to write about now. I don't feel the pain of all that shame and anger anymore. I have incredible compassion for myself, compassion for who I was and why I made the decisions I did, and compassion for who I am now.

I don't feel tension in my marriage around food, we agree to disagree. (Plus, I still serve and love my husband by cooking food he likes to eat, more on that in a future post.) I'm honest about how I feel about cooking, though I still hope I might find more joy in it in the future.

Next post: How to define health and what food guru can I trust?

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How to define health and what food guru can I trust? »
  • Mom

    Mom on Aug. 21, 2018, 12:02 p.m.

    Renee, thank you for writing about this tension that has woven into your life. Sharing how you're working at releasing it is a gift not only for your precious daughters, but for all (of us) who struggle at some time with the 'shame and blame curse'. I think everyone's food/cooking story fluctuates through the stages of our life -I know mine has - but yet if I feel I need to accomplish at least 'something' in my day, getting into the kitchen will usually help :) And oh how I love the photos of the girls in my kitchen - I welcome them here anytime. xoxo


  • Kendra Perez

    Kendra Perez on Aug. 21, 2018, 5:54 p.m.

    I just flew through posts 2, 3 & 4 while I wait for my child to fall asleep for naptime. Thanks so much for sharing. It’s a real gift to hear your reflections, I think particularly since I’ve known you and been reading since you’ve lived in ME. It’s helpful as a newer mom to be encouraged with the example of someone who has gone through lots and continues to grow and learn (bonus that we’re related and get to share some familial peculiarities). So thanks, for taking the time to write and reflect and share.


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