Jane Haddam’s WordPress weblog

Risk Management

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So, it’s Sunday, and up until a little while ago I had Gustav Leonhardt playing Well Tempered Clavier 2 behind me.  I have that on a two disc set and the first disc is finished, but I can’t seem to get myself out of the office and over to the CD player to change out. 

It’s a clammy, half-rainy morning and there is no wildlife outside my office windows.  I’ve got a chicken for Sunday dinner and I’m about a third of the way through watching Star Trek: The Next Generation from the FOD. 

That’s the kind of thing I do in the late afternoons when I’m too tired to write intelligbly or even read intelligibly.  I admit I tend to take about three months to get through a series of any length, and sometimes I just get sick of it and stop.

This afternoon I am unlikely to have any time for Star Trek, and I’m equally unlikely to have any time for the book I’m reading, which is a study of how philosophers and others have responded over the decades to the idea of the death of God. 

That sound absolutely awful, I know, but it’s actually very interesting, and I’ve even started to develop theories about the entire phenomenon.  Maybe I’ll get to it in a later post.

It’s the Sunday dinner thing that’s on my mind this morning.

Sunday dinner was not a ritual in the family in which I was brought up.  We were definitely the kind of family that had dinner together or quasi-together every night–quasi-together because my father was the kind of attorney who worked 80 hour weeks, so that he was often not at home and dinner was attended by my brother, my mother and myself.

Sometimes my mother would get sick of it and just set the two of us children up in front of the television set with television trays, so we were sometimes harbingers of a future not yet in sight.

Sunday dinner became important to me after Bill died, because it ended up being the way I convinced myself that Matt and Greg and I were going to remain a family in spite of our fourth part no longer being with us.

In the early years, this was, for me, a very frantic thing.  It was not just a matter of grief, although I had plenty of that.  It wasn’t even a matter of the fallout from one of the biggest mistakes I ever made in my life:  having my mother come to stay with me after the funeral.

You have to understand that it wasn’t just a matter of my mother and I not getting along–saying we didn’t get along is a whale of an understatement.  The woman hated me, and told me about it, starting when I was about 5 years old, although she would never have put it in exactly those words.

Let’s just say I was an enormous disappointment to her, not at all the kind of daughter she wanted, and far too much like the girls she hated all through school and later.  She wanted a frilly girly girl who liked dolls and clothes and celebrity gossip.  She got a passionate bluestocking who wanted books and a PhD.

I knew about PhDs early.  I read a children’s biography of Marie Curie and never looked back.

Of course, I never would have read that biography on my own.  By the time I was in 4th grade, I was adamantly opposed to reading “children’s books” of any kind.  The entire idea of “children’s books” seemed to me to be an insult–the adults were telling me I was too stupid to read real books.

I read the Marie Curie biography because my teacher insisted that I use it for a book report.   She was adamantly opposed to all the books I suggested, some of which–like Anna Karenina–were a little above my comprehension level.

My original idea, after Bill died, was that my mother should come and stay with me for a year.  I think I was afraid of being alone, of the silence in the house where Bill used to be, even when he was out.

Whatever I was thinking didn’t matter all that much, I suppose, beyond the fact that it really was a very bad idea.  I had forgotten how much acrimony there was between us, and how fast it all went bad when it started to go bad.

She ended up staying until Christmas, when my father came up from Florida to visit.  She went back with him.  And I was relieved.

Relieved or not, though, I was back in the same place I had been when Bill was first dead, and that was stuck in a situation that felt as if it had no coherence at all. 

Genesis says that before the creation, the world was without form and void–and that was my life in those early months.  Oddly enough, all the fighting my mother and I had done had actually helped keep the void at bay.  Now it was here, and I couldn’t imagine what I was supposed to do with it.

What I ended up doing about it was Sunday dinner.  Every week I would go to work cooking something elaborate that we would all sit down and eat together.

I like to cook, and always have, but these weren’t that kind of elaborate dinners.  I had two small children in the house, and their tastes ran to double quarter pounders with cheese.

During that exact period of time for no reason I know of, the local IGA ran sales on turkey breasts nearly every week, and nearly every week I’d buy one and make rice pilaf and corn and have cranberry sauce. 

Turkey is not so much a holiday-only food as it was in my childhood, but it still felt as if I were doing something Very Special, and the predictable Very Specialness of it calmed me down.

Calming myself down was the thing I needed most. If I didn’t do that, I couldn’t function.

What interests me at the moment, though, is that I still have the need to do Sunday dinner each and every Sunday.

We’re no longer coming apart.  We have demonstrated that we will be together and a family as long as we live.  My life may still smash up and come to nothing on a lot of different levels, but the family level is not going to be one of them.  We survived, intact, as Us.

But here, you see, is the obvious question–if we have survied, intact, as Us, why is the whole Sunday dinner thing such a compelling drive in me, every week, without fail?

Why am I upset and off balance for days afterward if we don’t do it?  If there’s something else we have to do on Sunday, I stage Sunday dinner on Monday.  If I can’t do even that for some reason, I’m in a bad mood until Sunday comes around again.

And nothing else, no matter what happens, makes me feel better about it.

I am always very aware that the way I am feeling makes no sense–but there it is, and it won’t go away.

Today, I am enormously calmer than I would be otherwise because I know that, barring some catastrophe, the chicken goes in the oven at three and the vegetables for the pilaf get chopped into pieces at 5:45.

Maybe my children have a point, and I’m crazy.

Written by janeh

April 13th, 2014 at 8:38 am

Posted in Uncategorized

6 Responses to 'Risk Management'

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  1. No, you’re not crazy to have a ritual–or if you are, the best part of humanity is. Rituals are how we defy the chaos and uncertainty of the world around us, and the more obvious the chaos, the more important the defiance. So gamblers have “superstitious” behaviors, colonial outposts dressed for dinner, and soldiers used to button tunics and pipeclay belts before going into battle.

    When I was a widower with a child at home, there was ALWAYS room inspection and allowance Saturday morning, a hot pretzel brunch and a trip to the local hobby shop. But the rite of all rites was the preparation of candy cane cookies every Christmas. Even as an adult, if Kurt visited for one day or one evening during the season, that was the day the candy cane cookies were formed and baked. Only when he called to explain that they were not coming this year, and could I please pass the recipe to his wife? did I know that I’d been superseded, but that the ritual would live on.


    13 Apr 14 at 12:45 pm

  2. And COMPLETELY off the subject. JD, Mique, what’s wrong with this link?


    HINT: Photo vs text.


    13 Apr 14 at 1:29 pm

  3. Robert, the text is about a modern tank and the picture is a WW2 tank that has been obsolete for over 50 years.

    But why Saudi Arabia needs 800 tanks and why the German economy minister would turn down an 18t6y7jkiu billion Euro contract without consulting the German national security council is not clear.


    13 Apr 14 at 2:31 pm

  4. Well, from the numbers, they’re looking to replace their M-60 and AMX-30 tanks with current gear, and Germans are never reliable sources of equipment. You’re dating yourself, by the way. The Tiger I has been out of production for 70 years. The M-60’s they’d replace are a 50 year old design. (Happens to me too.)

    It was the photo that got me. I suppose if they ran an article on Obama, they’d illustrate it with a photo of FDR, since they’re both American Presidents? What I can’t decide is whether it was absolute laziness and stupidity–first file photo of a German tank, and what’s the difference?–or they’re making some reflexive political point, connecting German armaments with the Nazis. I lean toward laziness and stupidity, because I don’t think they’re bright enough to be subtle.


    13 Apr 14 at 3:44 pm

  5. Back on topic. I don’t think it’s all all odd that during your coping with your loss, you fixated on a structured, stereotypical and symbolic ritual to try to capture everything you wanted life to BE for your family. It doesn’t get much more symbolic than Sunday dinner, except for holiday rituals, which you can’t do every week.

    In fact, it’s an extremely functional and healthy way of coping. Some people fall into substance abuse, OCD, or hoarding to meet loss. Choosing something that nurtures you and those you love is admirable.

    I have a lot of happy memories of Sunday dinners at my paternal Grandmother’s house. It’s a warm, fuzzy feeling. If you’ve built that for your sons out of a time of cold and devastating loss, that’s wonderful. I bet that if you miss a dinner, they feel they’re missing something too.


    13 Apr 14 at 4:10 pm

  6. Robert, down here in Oz sub-editors, who I believe make decisions about headlines and illustrating photographs, often seem to be half-smart twits whose raison d’être seems to be to ruin even the most thoughtful articles with inane headlines and illustrations. Why should their German counterparts be any different?

    What Lymaree said, Jane. I think it’s wonderful for you to provide the boys with such ritualised structure as Sunday dinner. As with Lymaree, the weekly Sunday dinners at my father’s mother’s place are one of my fondest childhood memories. In our house, since the return from the UK of our younger son and his family, it’s now a ritualised Thursday dinner because that evening suits all our various schedules. We treasure it, and so do the kids.


    13 Apr 14 at 6:37 pm

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