I’m a fifth-generation Canadian on both sides. My dad’s people settled on the east coast the late 1700s and my mom’s grandparents were born to Polish and Ukrainian farmers here on the Alberta prairie. I grew up in my mom’s home. A home of perogies and cabbage rolls and borscht – at least on special occasions. It was those special occasions, like in most families, that we came together and celebrated Christmas or Thanksgiving, weddings, funerals, family reunions and birthdays. Time spent with people we loved. Lots of love. Lots of laughter. And lots of food.
Food and family are so integrally tied, it’s hard to imagine one without the other. So, when I went to visit my mom this past week in beautiful British Columbia where she and my step-dad retired, I knew I was in for a bit of a challenge.
Mom takes a great deal of pleasure in thinking about, planning, discussing and preparing meals. When I was young, she began planning Christmas dinner on December 26 the year before. When I come for a visit each summer, she plans, shops for and chats about my favourite foods – starting in February. She knows about the Nourishing Camie journey and was well prepared with vegetables and chicken breasts and fruit and a trip to the market planned and so on. She was so thoughtful and concerned and…well, obsessed. I was prepared for that. What I wasn’t prepared for was its impact on my state of mind. As you know, this isn’t my first kick at the can. My mom has been my mom each and every time I’ve tried to lose weight: supportive and food-obsessed. It’s never bothered me before. But this time around, I found it difficult to cope with constant conversation about food.
I think it comes down to the fact that I’m different this time around. When I was on diets before, I too was obsessed with food. Counting calories and counting the minutes until I could eat again. Dreaming of cheat meals down the line, figuring out how I could squeeze every last calorie out of a day. So when my mom brought up what we’d be having for lunch two days hence, I was right there with her. This time, I have other things on my mind. I’m buying a house, creating a non-profit, playing gigs, making art and planning a future. Every time my mom brought up food, I was pulled out of my future and into my past and it was uncomfortable. So I asked her to stop…or at least moderate. And, being my ever-supportive mom, she agreed to try.
I don’t think she was prepared for how much she relies on food as a topic of conversation. There were dozens of times over those few days that she’d start to speak and then stop. She may have surprised even herself. So, what does a family who’s used to talking about food, thinking about food and, well, eating the food do instead? We went to see a Beatles tribute band (fun!) at the local theatre, we swam in their friends’ swimming pool and we hiked…twice! We’d never done those things together before and we packed more into the four days I was there than I think we ever have.
It was on the longer of our two hikes (6 km, thank you very much!!) that we talked about things other than food. My mom said the trail we were on reminded her of the country lane she used to walk between her grandparents’ farm and her cousin’s farm on summer days in the late 1950s. She reminisced about a bumpy ride she took in her uncle’s Model T, about how she and her cousin had to be separated because they got into too much trouble when they were together tramping through the wheat fields.
But one story stood out for me. In mom’s words:
I think my aunt hated me because my grandma loved me most of all her grandchildren. I was her favourite. She called me Hylushka…I don’t even know what that means. She always wanted me to visit her and go to church with her.
It was clear my mom felt treasured and cherished by her Baba. After a moment of silence, she said:
And she made me the best oatmeal porridge with farm fresh cream and brown sugar.
There it was. No regrets. That memory brought her so much joy and I didn’t begrudge her of it. In that moment, it was so very clear how powerful an expression of love food is.
My job is to create the space for the people who love me to show me in different ways – and vice versa. I think my parents and I made a great step towards that last week.
10 ways to show someone you love them without stuffing their face with food
- Take a walk together: It’s good for the heart, soul and mind. Plus, you never know what you’ll learn about someone.
- Make something together: And I don’t mean pie. Do a craft, make holiday cards or ornaments, paint, cut, clue, sparkle and bedazzle. You’ll feel closer AND you could have awesome matching jean jackets too.
- Take a class together: Always wanted to learn how to pole dance? I think Grandma would love to join you! Whether it’s Zumba or drawing or underwater basket weaving, learning something new together is a great way to learn about one another.
- Clean the house: Get out the mops, the brooms and the Bon Jovi and go to town on spring cleaning. Whether you do it together, or you do it for someone you love, you get to move, groove and feel amazing.
- Volunteer together: Why not spread the love around a little? Volunteering with a loved one helps the community, helps depression and helps build relationships.
- Tell them: This may seem obvious to those who are able to express themselves freely. But not everyone can. You may think they know you love them…but it never hurts to hear it!
- Take a road trip: Nothing beats the open road for great conversation, beautiful scenery and epic car jams.
- Play 20 Questions: While guessing animal, vegetable or mineral is one way to go, try learning something new about your loved one by asking them questions about first kisses, worst teacher, favourite school picture, etc.
- Send them a letter: Remember handwriting? Well, kids, back in the old days, we used to hand write our notes and send them in the mail. A person called a mailman (or postman in some dialects) went door to door carrying bags full of letters to friends and family all over the world. Sometimes, it might take DAYS to get there. Imagine that
- Get a portrait done together: A picture’s worth…well, you know. Wouldn’t it be nice to have a lasting token of your affection as opposed to a chocolate stain on your shirt and indigestion? I thought so.
How about you? How do you show your friends and family you love them?