By Anonymous

Serving up for one too many

I am a (hopefully temporary) single parent. I need to make food and activities suited to one adult and two kids. What I’ve realised is I’ve got a set of normal divisions I do for food every day – 6 sausages is 1.5 each, or 1 each for the kids and 2 each for the adults. A pack of 4 scones is one each. Four handfuls of rice and add one for the pot.

When I’m clicking through the Tesco order (still on his account because he booked the slots and texted me his passwords before they put him on the ventilator), I have to strip down and remove a ton of the items he had put in, which I now realise only he was really eating. 

Our apple consumption has plummeted – the kids like Granny Smiths and he likes a Braeburn. There’s a pile of Braeburns I’m trying to sneak in to people’s stomachs at any opportunity. Nobody likes the cheese and onion crisps in the variety pack. I need half the eggs, half the milk, and I don’t need any Bombay mix at all. 

The £40 free delivery limit is hard to reach now. We just don’t need as much. It’s another scratchy little reminder that everything is not normal at the moment. 

The non-optional nature of lone parenting seems to help make it more bearable. I’m not desperate to get out for a walk on my own the way I was when it was available to me. The whole thing is *so* unfair, that a small piece of unfairness like that doesn’t really register. You can’t spend the whole time staring into the abyss. 

Other people’s tubs

There’s a pile of tubs and Pyrex dishes in my hall. I’m trying to keep a mental list of what belongs to whom. 

People don’t know what they can do. Most often, those nearby respond by cooking. A friend who’s been through something similar told me early on ‘accept all offers of help and food’, which hasn’t been the worst plan, but it does mean you need to accept what you’re given, even if it’s far healthier than you’d make yourself, or contains ingredients I mostly struggle to get the kids to eat. How galling too, when they wolf something when it’s come from someone else’s kitchen they would never accept from mine. I watched on with barely concealed outrage last night as my youngest chomped through a pile of chicken and wild rice with fresh coriander. Coriander! 

People further away send hampers. We’ve had 5 hampers in 10 days. I’ve redistributed the chutney and wine – I’m not drinking, and we’re not chutney people. I’m sending a child to choose some biscuits to open, and we discuss what we like and dislike about them like entitled gastronomes. We fret about when we’re going to cook our own food. 

Of course I’m grateful and see my luck. Imagine doing this without a big group of friends and family trying to help. Imagine doing this without children to distract you from staring into the void.  So, I try to thank people ‘well’: I try to make it appropriate, not fall into cliches. It’s a small exercise in staying creative. 

Sometimes it feels like nothing helps. But really it all helps. Who am I to question the ‘quality’ or ‘appropriateness’ of the help people are trying to offer? What helps one day might not on another – it’s all so random. They’re not psychic, and even if they could read my mind, they’d find it such a jumble they’d need to sort through it with tongs and possibly a scuba mask. 

I’ve been in their position, and I’ve been absolutely rubbish at finding the right thing to offer. Because really what you wish is to make the bad situation go away. Make the sick relative better, make the depression or the cancer or the grief leave someone’s body. And you can’t do that so you make a lasagne. 

What it tells me is we are loved. That there’s a community around us. And if I can untangle my jumbled head a little, and ask people for things, most of them would sell their car to make it happen. 

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