My mother was a registered dietician. At a time when most of her peers were out getting their Mrs. degree, she was completing her Masters of Science at Harvard School of Public Health, and worked for a number of years as the chief dietician at several major hospitals. The meals that were served at home were balanced, nutritious, and satisfying. But I rarely saw my mother eat. She was a lean, athletic woman and seemed to thrive on a diet of black coffee and Nabisco Sugar Wafers. She also kept a stash of hard candies and chocolates hidden in a drawer in the pantry. We, my mother and I, partook of that drawer freely, neither of us acknowledging its existence to the other party.
As far as I knew, she had a happy marriage. I never really gave it much thought, however. I assumed that if my parents were married, which they were, that they must be happy. I never heard them argue, never was witness to discontent, never had reason to believe that anything might be wrong. My house was remarkably quiet. Perhaps too quiet. My father, prominent in his field, was always working, rarely at home. He was busy and successful and my mother was frequently alone, taking care of the house and the child and doing wife-like stuff. She was always tense and on edge, for reasons that were entirely unknown to me.
A few years ago, amid the emotional turmoil of a marriage unraveling, I completed a 40-day yoga program. One of the exercises was to bring awareness to our food intake and to begin to see the relationship between what was happening in our lives and what was going in our mouths. It was not long into this program that I discovered my stress/chocolate parallel. I love chocolate. And when I get stressed or anxious, chocolate is my drug of choice. Milk, dark, white in a pinch, it doesn’t matter. Bring on the chocolate. It doesn’t make the stress go away, and it doesn’t help the waistline, but it sure tastes good.
One morning, well into the 40 days, I returned home, angry, stressed, anxious…my marriage was in shreds, I felt like I had no control and no purpose, and seeking instant relief from the complex feelings, I began scrounging in the cabinet for some stray piece of chocolate or a lone cookie or leftover brownie. I suddenly stopped and was overwhelmed with empathy for my mother. I realized that her sugar and coffee habit was her version of my chocolate habit, and that the triggers were probably the same.
My mother and I clashed on many levels; politics, religion, fashion, priorities. I often avoided discussions with her because they tended to end badly. But I wish now that I had taken the time to learn about my mother when she was alive, to understand what was going on in her head and her heart. As different as we were, I imagine that we were actually very much the same.