January 7, 2020 § 13 Comments
“Well THIS is going to be fun. I don’t get to have crackers for a whole year?”
Greta was fuming. Grouchiness was coming off her like vapor off a steam engine as we plodded back to her Brooklyn apartment. We were returning from our first visit to her local grocery store of the new year- the brand-new Year of No Garbage for our family- and I think it would be fair to categorize it as an unmitigated disaster.
“I’m just saying. Carr’s Crackers are my childhood. They’re part of my ritual when I come home from classes. I mean— I’ve finally figured out all the things here that have no sugar!!!”
I felt terrible. Everything I said to try to console her just turned into another argument. We can make crackers! Yeah, but they won’t be as good. They might be even better! Probably not.
Of course it wasn’t just the crackers. The first five things we had picked up in the store were returned to the shelves in despair: clementines in plastic netting, no-sugar bacon in vacuum-sealed plastic, bread in shiny see-through bags, cheese of all shapes and sizes in cellophane, and of course, the infamous, last-straw Carr’s Crackers which had become a staple in our house during the Year of No Sugar, and which we well know contain a cellophane bag inside their paperboard box.
Ilsa was just as indignant. Her eye had been on a package of smoked salmon and cream cheese pinwheels that had been wrapped in approximately fourteen different kinds of plastic, all of which screamed LANDFILL to anyone who would listen.
So in between sparring with Greta on the hopelessness of our situation, Ilsa jumped in with her own commentary. (me:)What if we make our own pinwheels? We could buy smoked salmon and cream cheese… Smoked salmon comes in plastic. We can get it at the fish store! I don’t like that kind as much. Besides they won’t sell it to you without a plastic bag either.
Despair, despair, despair.
In desperation I even pulled out the Big Picture Talk: “You know guys, this year… it’s going to be a process. It isn’t going to just be easy. And a lot of things we’ll have to research and learn and… that’s the value of doing this whole thing, right?”
They just looked at me with utter blankness on their faces. Well known to parents of young people, it’s the look that says: “Yeah. Right.”
By the time we got to Greta’s basement apartment, I had about had it: Look. Guys. It’s Day TWO. Are we ready to give up? Is that it? And Greta, you volunteered to do this in the city. If you don’t want to do this then you don’t have to. Yes I do! No you don’t! Yes I do!
There was an aggravated silence, broken at last by Steve. “So! How was the store?”
“It was awesome. EVERYBODY’S MAD AT ME.” I responded.
“I’m not mad.” Greta said, growing quiet. “I guess I’m just… scared.” I was stopped dead by the abrupt shift in her demeanor.
“I’m sorry mama. I just feel like, if I don’t do this project… I won’t be a part of this family anymore.” She paused. “And, I also feel like you’ve forgotten how hard Year of No Sugar really was.”
She had me there. “First of all, you are ALWAYS a part of this family, no matter what.” I said firmly. “And second… you’re right. Sometimes I think I remember, but I also think I forget too.” After a pause I added, “Plus, you guys are older. You fight back much harder now.” This made the girls smile. And just like that the First Big Argument was over and we were on the same team again.
The fact is, I had forgotten how hard it is to do a big against-the-societal-grain-project like this. It’s like swimming upstream, all day long, every day. How could I have possibly forgotten that? And how could I fail to take into account the amount of strain that puts on our family? Of course I knew the answer to my own question: it was because I get so mesmerized by the power of The Big Idea, and I want so badly to do it. Was it wrong for me to ask that of my family? I don’t always know the answer to that question.
But I was heartened by Greta’s ability to identify her anger as fear, and her ready willingness to express it. If only, I thought, if only we can all manage to work together as a team, and not take our frustrations out on each other, that would be essential to getting us through this year in one piece. That, and a little luck. With that thought, I breathed a sigh of relief as we put the last groceries away in the cupboard.
Then we went outside to find that our car had been towed.