It’s 12:24 AM. I am in Yeela’s room staring at the energies coming from the bend in the road. Doing exactly what the Ma-asah-lee ordered and listening to the mixer in the kitchen. To the novice reader this seems like a sentence which says very little about anything. After all who doesn’t believe in energies coming from around the corner once you tear down the fence? And what’s so special about a mixer in the kitchen? To the more learned reader the statement I just made should be perplexing to say the least. How could the mixer be working if Ima is in Israel? Could she have left it running? Is she back? Is it the energies from around the corner running the electric device? Did someone break into the house to cook for us? Maybe its not the mixer but someone is breaking into the house? Maybe its Elaine making an opening for more energies?
All of the above are easy answers. Anyone of them could have been true, but not this time. This time its much greater than anyone could have imagined. I would not have believed it if I had not seen it. Suma is putting together a cake or cookies or something. It’s been going on for quite some time but its importance only registered in the past few minutes. The emotions that swept over me inspired me to document the event, lest we lose the enormity of its significance like so many other things that one forgets and takes for granted later in life.
To the best of my recollection it started an hour and a half earlier when I was cleaning the kitchen as Suma and Tintin were giving me visual support. This was nothing out of the ordinary. After all children learn that work is a pillar of society’s economic fabric by watching their parents do it for the first twenty five years of their lives. At some point Suma turned away, picked up a cook book and sat down at the dining table. As she began to read I was somewhat disappointed that she had begun to adopt Osmo’s and Tintin’s reading techniques: reading books with a lot of pictures on every page – it covers more pages in a given amount of time, and you can claim more books in your reading list. I didn’t give it too much thought and moved on to my next work station – the washing machine.
The washing machine is the first part of a clothing-triathlon which consists of the washing machine , the dryer and the ironing board. Clothing triathlons are held quite often unless one of two things happen: Either clothes are changed only once a day if they are worn on the body or clothes are changed once every few days if they are worn on top of other clothes. Unfortunately clothes in our family tend to stick to each other. I learned this from the number of sweat shirts which were lined with T shirts which I found in the wash baskets. At first I tried to control the rate at which dirty laundry was accumulating by following my own principles and not changing underwear. After a few days I found that this did not have any affect on the overall problem. I was therefore left with no choice other than to start the triathlons.
I’ll get back to the clothing triathlons. Right now I would like to focus on the tumultuous events in the kitchen which has triggered this writing. I realized that I has first hand access to one of those instantaneous turning points which are so common in nature, but somehow blend away in the conveniences of modern day living. I was witnessing a mature cub left to fend for itself by its mother doing exactly that. Suma was ready to become independent. Knowing this, Ima was away. Being hungry with only me around Suma had to fend for herself. Being ready she took out a cookbook and began the modern version of an independent hunt for food. Nature teaches us that this is a one way street. Once a cub is independent it will not turn back. What this means from a practical perspective is that this cake or cookies or whatever it was to be has to take its course no matter what the outcome. Based on what I had seen these past few days I don’t think there is a lot to worry about.
We’ll know in a few hours and until then we can review some of the less significant lessons which never-the-less should not be forgotten. Put in the right context they could serve us all well as we prepare the rest of out offspring for independence.
The first important principle is that when all other food sources are exhausted you can break off another slab of rice from the mass that’s in the pot that’s always there in the refrigerator and eat that. The definition of ‘all else’ is far from trivial these days. The list includes but is not limited to: Burger King, Iris, Karl’s Junior, Ginjah and Danny, Tony Roma’s, Ronit and Yossi, Little Caesar’s, Togo, Subway, Chicken wings, pop tarts, ice cream, cheerios, toasted cheese beagles, chicken sandwiches and cinnamon buns. Did anyone mention vegetables? The list being as long as it is meant that there was no need to think about the rice for the first ten days that Ima was gone. And then it happened that the kids did not want another hamburger, and they did not want to eat out (or was it me), and they did not want to nuke another sandwich, and I was not sure whether the eggs were too old even for an omelet. So what on earth were they and me to eat?
Its phenomenal how fate produces the metaphors just when you need them, or is it the energies?… At first you don’t realize what the metaphor is telling you, but the message gets engrained in your mind all the same. It just so happened that the issue of ‘Time for Kids’ which arrived the day before had an article about the icebergs the size of Rohde Island which were breaking off the Ross ice shelf in Antarctica. I happened to read the article (I read these things so that we can justify having Time for Kids) and all but forgot about it. The day after I found myself staring at the round continent of (r)ice at the bottom of the (world)/pot and thinking whether I should break off another slab to feed myself (the kids could still have melaoach)… ‘The poetic beauty of the metaphor cannot be for nothing’ I told myself. Ima would have thrown this out ten days ago, but what are ten days to something which was kept at the frigid bottom of the refrigerator? The scientists said that it was very good ice that was breaking off the continent… Driven by the prospect of scientific discovery I took a tea spoon and began hacking at the (r)ice. Slowly, slowly it began to give way and a small pile of grains began to accumulate next to the parent slab. Every now and then I would empty the grains into a corning bowl, careful not to lose the mother slab in the process. If the main slab fell to the floor it would most likely have disintegrated into thousands of grains, and blended with everything that we had on the floor (the maid was fired two months ago) would not have been edible. At least not within the bounds of the experiment I was willing to conduct in the name of poetic beauty.
After a few minutes of hacking I had a ‘sufficient’ serving. I defined ‘sufficient’ as fulfilling three criteria: scientific, survival and hope… First of all it had to be a quantity which beyond all doubt would have negative effects on me had the rice been spoiled (the scientific part). Secondly it had to be enough to qualify as a meal should the kids finish all the melaoach (survival). Finally there should not have been too much of it so I could eat something I liked if the kids did not finish the melaoach (hope).
I nuked the rice for quite some time in the Microwave – just to be on the safe side and sat down to eat it. It had a pretty bland taste – very much like warm dry ice. I kept eating. It was a pure exercise in survival. On one hand this is not something that one would do in their house in the middle of a modern town with all the modern amenities for acquiring and processing food. On the other hand I simply could not have let such a metaphor go to waste. As I was munching the grains of dried (r)ice, I couldn’t help but think about the fact that its was rice that had sustained the majority of the populations on the planet since the days of early civilization. I was sharing the experiences of the people who had build the great wall of China and the Taj-Mahal or did the latter eat melaoach?
At the end of it all it could be that I had somewhat overloaded the meaning of the article with metaphoric meaning, but the lesson was there all the same. Rice can be eaten when its two weeks old. It doesn’t make for the greatest of meals but its edible. In fact I don’t think that rice in and of itself tastes at all no matter how young or old it is. Given that it lasts forever in its uncooked form, you can simply keep a bag at home and it will serve you well during leaner times. There is the minor detail of knowing how to cook it, but Suma knows where the cookbook is so there is nothing to worry about. All of these are important reassuring facts that are nice to keep in the back of one’s mind. I obviously kept the rest of the rice slab should Ima allow me to continue the experiment next week.
There are two more lessons which I would like to share: First of all kids can take care of themselves, they just don’t see a reason to volunteer this information to anyone, as it can put them on the road to independence long before their parents would urge them to do so. Secondly the un-moldy half of a tomato looks like a regular tomato when cut into a salad.
And this is how I came to know these things.
As I was eating my ancient rice Suma was cutting a young salad out of cucumbers and tomatoes and a grandfather onion. The cucumbers came seethed in plastic which keeps them fresh for durations which can exceed the half life of uncooked rice. The tomatoes were from an era which most likely preceded the (r)ice age and had no such protection. I don’t recall shopping for tomatoes and the location in which they were found at the bottom of the refrigerator was somewhat of a testimony to their age. The theory about the tomatoes’ age was further substantiated by spots of mold which some of them had in spite of the cold temperatures in which they were kept…
Suma was very methodical about inspecting each vegetable and the parts of it which she was willing to use. In parallel to sorting and cutting the salad Suma was making melaoach in the frying pan behind her. Tintin was wondering around drooling waiting for his spoils. Osmo was out on the town. Hungry as he seemed to be, Tintin did not dignify my rice with the slightest of glances. His perception of the food chain options were obviously farther extended than mine. I kept a keen eye on things waiting to see either a finger cut, the frying pan catch fire or have the smoke alarm go off. None of the above happened. Suma was cutting off the parts of the tomatoes which had mold on them and using the rest to prepare Tintin’s salad. ‘Tintin you have to have vegetables’. ‘Should I raise the issue of the mold?’ I asked myself. I decided against it. After all not only was she cutting off the moldy pieces, we were in a survival exercise.
To my utter amazement I realized that Suma had mastered Ima’s production-chain cooking habits and was going about it as if it were second nature to her. Within minutes she had Tintin happily munching his melaoach, and continued to make the salad while she set another piece of melaoach on the frying pan for herself. ‘I wonder how she’ll handle the salt part when dressing the salad’ I asked myself. ‘Bushy, how do you make the dressing?’ was my answer. I was elated – the child had realized through a process of observation that Ima’s way of dressing a salad was not to be imitated. Not having seen it done right the child still needed guidance. I showed her the old fashioned way of mixing lemon juice, olive oil, pepper and a LITTLE salt in a cup prior to pouring it into the salad (by premixing one achieves a more uniform distribution of the salt)… Not that I mentioned that to Suma. Not only would it have been unethical to pass judgment without Ima being there to defend her methods of dressing salads, it was redundant as well. The child had obviously drawn her own conclusions, having stumbled on salt deposits in previous salads…
Suma completed the salad and her melaoach and sat down to eat. She made sure that Tintin had his share of salad before she let him go about his business. Tintin was very kind to leave a piece of his melaoach behind. I wolfed it down with some of the salad and brought the rice lesson to a tasty end. A day later I would still feel fine. So the age of rice does not seem to matter.
All this flashed through my mind as I heard the mixer in the kitchen.
It’s now 14:49 and Suma has long since finished baking and left to get a hair cut. Before she left she discredited her work stating that ‘the cookies look like shit’. I was saddened by her lack of sense of accomplishment, but felt that I should let it pass. If what I was seeing was indeed true, then this might have been the equivalent of a sloppy first hunt – but a kill was made and that was a cornerstone event. I waited until Suma was out of the house and rushed to see the cookies. She was right – they looked like shit but only because they were brown. Other than that they were prefect. I tasted the one she had tasted and left for dead – it was very good, although I could see why she was so critical of herself. The cookies could have been rounder… Still concerned I tried the dreaded acid test – could I lift one from the tray without it disintegrating? Gingerly I half lifted half twisted one. I was surprised how easily it came off the tray without leaving so much as a crumb stuck to the pan. ‘WOW’ I thought to myself. It’s easier than lifting a shoe off the floor – and yet they never lift their shoes…
I almost missed the fact that the kitchen in which the cookies were made was completely clean. I quickly looked into the dish washer – sure enough there were the mixer heads. ‘So she can clean a kitchen too’, ‘Where did she learn how to do that?’. What I found a bit puzzling was the fact that I did not see any bowl in which the dough would have had to be mixed. Could it be that the cookies were prepared directly in the sink? The details were of little importance. A full cycle of creating food from scratch had taken place and the manufacturing facilities had been returned to their starting condition, ready to be used again. I had a fully accomplished master-of-the-house taking care of things.
Staring at the cookie, amazed by its integrity is spite of the forces of physics which threaten to crumble it to dust it all came together for me. The kids could take care of themselves, however they only applied their skills where and when THEY deemed it was necessary… That’s why I’m eating old rice and doing clothing triathlons, while they dress up clean and eat melaoach and home baked cookies.
Let’s view this in light of some more of the evidence.
I recalled that Osmo has done a clothes triathlon a week ago. He actually ran the washing machine, moved the clothes to the drier, ran that and then setup the ironing board. I was made aware of all of this since the ironing board is located right behind where I sit to watch for energies so I couldn’t help but notice Osmo with the iron in his hand working on one of his sweat shirts. ‘Is that a clean sweat shirt Osmo?’ I asked. ‘Sure, I just washed it’. I found it hard to envision Osmo washing a piece of clothing in the sink so I responded by asking ‘how did you wash it?’ ‘In the machine’. ‘You can run the machine?’. ‘Sure, Ima taught me’. ‘And is it dry?’. ‘Yeah, I put it in the dryer’. This was becoming more than I could absorb but I still had to make sure that things were under control: ‘Did you make sure that there were no white garments in the machine with the colored clothes?’. Osmo, seemed confused. The look on his face caused pictures of lightly colored used-to-be-white underwear to flash before my eyes, however before I could query further Osmo assured me that there was nothing to worry about: ‘I only washed these two sweat shirts’…
I think this was one of those ubiquitous occasions where a ‘Batar Abu Gidi’ was appropriate. Here I was after years and years of indoctrination that a washing machine was an essential home appliance that one should use effectively so as to conserve energy and prolong its life therefore one should operate it when its full to capacity… But all of this was totally beside the point. Osmo needed clean clothes, Ima was not available to cater to his needs so he took care of himself. And now, based on the same logic he was trying to iron a sweat shirt. I could see that he was struggling. I recalled from the scant few experiences that I have had with ironing in my life that ironing when not done with coals was not as all that hard. Fortunately Ima happened to be on the phone and pointed out that irons unlike kettles leave the little red light on so you will know that they were hot. The little red light was not on when Osmo was ironing… After we plugged the cord into the wall things became a lot easier. Osmo took care of himself, but only to the extent that he had to. When he found out that I could iron it was all over. He let nature take its course which was to let the only available parent take care of washing, drying and ironing. By the way you need a hot iron to unlatch the top of the cinnamon buns icing top after it has been left with the icing side on the kitchen counter. The icing clings like cement but can be softened with heat…
The same principles seemed to work for putting clean clothes where they belong. They all know that they are the ones that put things back in the closets, unless of course they can pick them up on a need-be basis from Yeela’s bed… They’ll clear that only if they need an extra place to sleep. With Ima’s side of the our bed being vacant and all the space in the family room, that’s not likely to become a necessity any time soon.
As I reflect on things in the newly discovered perspective of this only-when-needed independence more and more things seem to support this finding. For example I vividly recall the hours after I dropped Ima off at the air port. I remember them vividly because I had three burned fingers to remember them by. I burned my fingers fumbling with the toaster-griller making melted cheese sandwiches for the boys lest they go hungry. I had tried to apply more pressure on the sandwiches by grabbing the front lids of the toaster not realizing that the bottom hot plate lining was facing forward at the edge… I did not give much thought to the fact that Tintin would show up every now and then, masterfully raise the upper hot plate, check the status of the beagles inside and lay it back down as if he were closing a book. ‘If only he opened books the way he opened that dangerous toaster’… I thought to myself as I dubbed my fingers in Aluvera. The kid could operate the griller much better than I could. The next day he cooked chicken wings for Jonathan so Jonathan wouldn’t have to go home hungry. ‘I wonder if they’ll use the Aluvera when they run out of hair gel?’…
As I try to put all of this in perspective I believe that all in all this does not change anything, at least not until Ima gets back. We would need to make one more major push for food unless we go for the chicken at the bottom of the other refrigerator. Furthermore I think the brunt of the clothing triathlons is behind me. We should all be good for another six or seven days. If not I’ll do one or two more W.D.I. (wash-dry-iron) rounds. I don’t care so much for washing and drying but I can’t stand the ironing part. Its so damn hard to get one side ironed while not ruining what you just ironed on the other side of the garment. Maybe I’ll ask Tintin to show me how its done…
We would need to clean the house before Ima gets back. This will not be easy but I still have two full days to figure out how to position this a necessity to the kids so that they can show me how that’s done.
Finally from what I have learned so far there is not a shred of hope that they will ever feed the dog…