Hitching a ride on the back of a bicycle, Hanoi, Vietnam.
Driving a moped while having the baby asleep on the shoulder, Hanoi, Vietnam.
There will always be people who bug the bejeebees out of me, especially children. Especially children between the ages of five and ten. Below that age and they’re usually cute and watched after closely by their parents. They get up around six or seven years and they think they can handle everything on their own, like getting their own stuff at the buffet because somebody told them they are “big” and can do it themselves. This makes me nuts when they can barely reach the trays but they try and end up slopping food around the containers, or worse, put their hands in the communal food.
This is where I have to stop myself. There will always be kids who do this. The world is not going to change because it grosses me out because some parents think their darlings should be allowed to get into whatever they want. I am the one who has to change the way I react to the things that disgust me, because if I let this get to me it will make me crazy. Talking to the parents rarely does any good. If they understood that they need to be preparing their children’s plates, they would already be doing it. To be fair, sometimes adults make messes and walk away, leaving it for the next person to deal with. Yes, selfish behavior can go all the way to adulthood.
I can control only my reaction to this. I will not lower myself to the petty level of verbally obsessing over the irritating habits of children in public. I will not be one of those mean, crabby adults who is snarky to children because one thing worse than a dirty-handed child with her hand in the salad bar is an adult who acts like a child by being mean to her. I might think those thoughts, but I will not act on them. I will just confine my complaints to writing all this in my blog, she said. <Sigh>
Wall of murals whiz by as the traffic (people) speeds to it’s destination, Hanoi, Vietnam.
Delivering cases of beer, Hanoi, Vietnam.
Every year that I get older I have a harder time keeping myself healthy. Only ten years ago I could down a couple of cupcakes and work them off just running up and down the stairs to the laundry room. Now that same intake of sugar and fat leaves me wheezing for breath on about the tenth step. I go around craving Diet Coke and chocolate chip cookies as if they were heart pills. This is definitely not the direction I need to be going in.
I determined early this semester that I would simply have to start eating healthier. Of course I can still enjoy my favorite desserts, but the days of waiting until my children have gone to bed so that I can sit up undisturbed and eat a pan of brownies with a spatula had to stop.
What’s essential to the plan is simply thinking ahead and making a conscious choice to eat things that taste good yet won’t pack fat globules around my heart like sprayed on insulation. Anything with the word “marinated” in it is on my list, as well as anything flavored with oil and vinegar. Originally I had anything that’s green in color as a top choice, but this had to be nixed when my kids tried to serve me something that nature had turned green due to an extended stay in our refrigerator.
“Mom, this looks good,” my son said, handing me a plate of something that looked like it once had a face. “Maybe it’s bok choi.” It’s one of those words he came across in a magazine somewhere and decided he would use it at his next opportunity. As far as he knows, bok choi could be the name of a Jet Li movie or an ancient herbal remedy for gout.
“Bok choi, my eye,” I said. “That’s the last of the turkey we had at Thanksgiving.” A little startled, he quickly put it on the kitchen counter and wiped his hands on his pants. We studied it for a moment in silence until my daughter came into the kitchen. “Hey, is that my Plymouth Rock project for school?” she asked.
“Yeah, what’s it worth to ya’ if it is?” I snorted. She took a closer look at the mossy looking mound. There were two indentations near the top and a curved split at the bottom. “That looks like the guy who grooms dogs at the pet shop,” she said, staring with us.
“So, are you going to eat it?” my son asked.
I gave him my most incredulous look. “What, are you trying to kill me?”
He gave me the look that sixteen year olds give when they unapologetically say something so serious yet monumentally stupid that they can claim they were just kidding.
“Throw it out to the dog,” I said.
This time both kids looked shocked and appalled. “Mom, you can’t feed this to the dog,” said my son, conveniently ignored the fact that he had just suggested I eat it.
“Well then,” I said, floundering around for a better idea. “Put it in the flower garden. It’ll blend in with the rocks.”
Later that night I was desperate for something sweet. In the back of my spice cabinet I found a half used tube of green cake icing, the kind you use to squirt into a baggie and write “Happy Birthday” on cakes. I sniffed it. No rancid odor. And, it was green. I squirted a little onto my finger and licked it. Wonderful. A little more. Still good. My finger was stained green and it was taking too long to lay out little worm sized lines on my flesh. I sat down to grade a stack of papers and sucked the green cake icing right out of the tube. I told myself this was the way the astronauts ate, so I was doing something scientific. After a few minutes I discovered I could simply let the tube hang from my mouth so that both hands could remain free to handle the papers. It was heaven. Automatic access to glorious green sugar obtained by the most minimal constriction of muscles. It was the next best thing to an IV full of the stuff.
But then the unthinkable happened. My daughter emerged from her bedroom rubbing her eyes and heading for the kitchen for a drink of water. The tube hung from my guilty lips, and for a moment neither one of us spoke. I let the tube fall onto an essay in my lap. “This isn’t what it looks like.” A guilty cliché from a guilty person. My daughter’s eyes said it all. “Oh, Mama,” she said, backing away from me in traumatized embarrassment. Then she turned and ran, shutting the door to her bedroom.
“I can quit anytime I want!” I shouted through the door. “I can…It was just one tube.” Silence. I threw the tube of icing on the floor, and with shaking hands I reached for the phone book to see if there was a helpline for cake icing junkies.
And so, the plan for better eating did exactly start off as well as I’d hoped. But with a lot of discipline and support, I think I can get myself back on the right track. Hopefully, soon my children won’t have those panicked looks on their faces whenever we pass a bakery.
When I lived in America I was a regular on Spindale public radio in North Carolina. These essays are from my collection that aired on WNCW.
Cathy Adams was recently nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Her first novel, This Is What It Smells Like, was published by New Libri Press, Washington. Her short stories have been published in Utne, A River and Sound Review, Upstreet, Portland Review, Steel Toe Review, and Cha: An Asian Literary Journal, among others. She earned her MFA in Creative Writing from Pacific Lutheran University’s Rainier Writing Workshop and now lives and writes in Xinzheng, China, with her husband, photographer, JJ Jackson.
Shoe salesman sits on the side of a busy road, Hanoi, Vietnam.
A motorcyclist waiting outside of a photo gallery, Hanoi, Vietnam.
Statue of a dragon at an old temple, Hanoi, Vietnam.
Lady grilling corn on the sidewalk, Hanoi, Vietnam.