Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Stranded: Chicken Pot Pie Soup

Noon on a rainy Tuesday.  The towtruck pulled up in front of my neighbor's driveway and began to slide the bed back, inclining it to the ground.  N. heard the commotion and went running to the door, pressing her face to the glass, where her breath made frosty marks around her small nose.

I'd been expecting the truck; my neighbor told me the other day, in her matter-of-fact way, that the van was going to be towed.  My neighbor is almost ninety, and the van has been uncooperative for a long time; finally, it rusted out completely underneath, leavings its entrails exposed to the elements.  But uncooperative as the van may have been, it was the symbolic representation of her independence.  It was her escape.  To the Amish market.  To the salon.  To the doctor's office.  To wherever she needed to go, by herself.

As I watched her from our doorway, standing on her own porch, I tried to imagine the thoughts in her head.  About borrowing her daughter's car.  About juggling rides.  About not going places.  About having to ask for help.

She stood there for a long time, stoic, half inside, half outside, newly coiffed with an auburn bouffant.  There were no tears; it was as if she was standing watch to make sure it all went right, rather than offering her last goodbye.  Finally, as the driver loaded the van onto the truck, she closed the door.  Perhaps she could take no more.

I believe that part of what has kept her and her husband alive and healthy for so long is their sense of independence, their sense of freedom. I can only imagine how difficult it was for her to give up that freedom.  She was, effectively, stranding herself.

My mother is also now stranded here.  She has no car, no friends, no lunch dates, not even 24 hour access to the Food Network, because we have no TV, much less cable.  She is in some pain; she can walk from room to room, but prefers not to move from standing to sitting positions more often than she has to.  She has to ask for help, and it's as if she doesn't quite know how; she doesn't want to be a burden, and yet sometimes not knowing how to help her is more burdensome than a simple request.  Today I helped her wash her hair in the sink, and take a sponge bath, and felt an awkward intimacy, almost like I was intruding.  These are things I do for my children.

This is a difficult negotiation for us.  There were times, as an adult, when I wanted her to be there, to support me, to tend to me, and she wasn't.  At least, not in the way I wanted her to be.  And I couldn't ask her to be, because that is not the person she is.  And yet now, I find myself in the position of caretaker.  Feeling like I ought not to be feeling sorry for myself, because she is the one in pain.

In her 2001 book Bodhichitta, Pema Chodron writes
"Bodhichitta is [...] equated, in part, with compassion—our ability to feel the pain that we share with others. Without realizing it we continually shield ourselves from this pain because it scares us. We put up protective walls made of opinions, prejudices and strategies, barriers that are built on a deep fear of being hurt. These walls are further fortified by emotions of all kinds: anger, craving, indifference, jealousy and envy, arrogance and pride. But fortunately for us, the soft spot—our innate ability to love and to care about things—is like a crack in these walls we erect. It's a natural opening in the barriers we create when we're afraid. With practice we can learn to find this opening. We can learn to seize that vulnerable moment—love, gratitude, loneliness, embarrassment, inadequacy—to awaken bodhichitta."
The soft spot.  Our innate ability to love.  The crack in my wall.  Maybe this is the moment that Pema would call the "teacher."

There is more soup on the menu this week.  The sort of soup my mother would like.  Because when you're stranded, at least you ought to have something you like to eat.

Chicken Pot Pie Soup
adapted from no, 2 pencil

2 T. butter
1 medium onion, diced
2 stalks of celery, diced
1 large carrot, diced
2 T. flour
2 t. sage
1 t. thyme
6 c. chicken stock - plus additional to thin if soup is very thick
3 c. shredded and 1 c. diced potatoes
4 c. cooked, diced or shredded chicken
1/2 c. evaporated milk (or heavy cream)
1 cup of frozen peas

Melt butter in a large pot over medium heat.  Add onions, carrots and celery and saute until softened. Add flour; stir well and cook about one minute more. Add herbs and chicken stock, increase heat to medium high. Once chicken stock begins to simmer, add potatoes and let simmer for about 15 minutes, or until potatoes begin to break down and thicken soup. Add chicken and let simmer until heated through, then add milk and peas and let simmer about 5 more minutes.

Add salt and pepper to taste, and adjust consistency of soup with additional chicken stock if needed.
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  1. You are good, to offer your mother help when she needs it. It's a hard negotiation, learning to be with our parents as adults. I'm not good at it myself.

  2. My mother is still very independent, but I know the time is coming when I will have to do all of these things, too.

    I know how challenging this must be for you. You're doing great, much better than I would, I'm sure.

  3. I SO get the dynamic you have with your mom. I have blogged in the past about my mom not being there for me in the way I have needed her to be, and how I have had to learn to compensate for that, albeit difficult - but now, like you, I watch our for her as she ages.
    I love your chat about the soft spot - I have developed one for my estranged husband, actually.

    Your writing is just gorgeous. You are a great story teller.

  4. I love this post. Love your writing. Love that you're in a position to help your mother, and happy she has someone who is as compassionate about her struggle as you. That, I think goes a long way when a person, who USED to be so independent, is now dependent on you.

    And I'm totally making that soup. Sounds like it helps hearts.


  5. THank you for the new recipie!

  6. You have such a way of evoking feelings in me. I was completely there with your neighbor. Then your mother. Then you. Then the teacher.

    Such a perfect nurturing recipe to go with this post.

  7. Oh there's more than one kind of pain: "Feeling like I ought not to be feeling sorry for myself, because she is the one in pain." Your emotional pain is not just processing the moment in time, but all the history that this moment in time brings with it. Huge questions. Huge commentary on what has come before. Don't discount that.

    I loved the story about your neighbour.

  8. The loss of independence is so hard...especially for people who have clung to that independence fiercely. And I could write an entire diatribe about how our transportation system is so $hitty, that this only isolates people more. (But I'll spare you:)

    Good luck negotiating this new and unhappy territory with your mom. This cannot be easy.

  9. Just stopping in to wish you well. Lolly is right - there are different kinds of pain. I'm struggling with my own mom and how she's choosing to deal with her pain (grief) right now. But it's her journey. I can't judge.

    Becoming a caretaker (even a temporary one) of your parent is a negotiation, isn't it? I had never thought of that word to describe it before but so true. What a delicate dance. This is a beautiful post.

  10. That looks pretty yummy. Never thought to make it a soup. I need to get out more. I watch my mom with her mom and realize that that'll be me talking and someday Babe talking to me. Ieeeeee!

  11. Loss of independence is the only thing that frightens me about aging. I agree, it is very good of you to jump in to help your mother. Hopefully she recovers to full independence soon. Also hoping you all are safe & sound with power to heat your lovely soups.


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