Friend Soup = Happiness

It’s my friend’s birthday tomorrow.  I can’t tell him that I hope he has everything he wants because he wanted me out of his life.  I can’t give him anything including my love.  I can’t share recipes or talk about ideas.  I can’t see him or hear his voice, or send him poetry.  I can’t do any of these things that held so much meaning for me, and perhaps rather than focusing on the fact that I can’t do any of these things perhaps I should be focusing on the fact that I was blessed enough to have the opportunity to ever do them.

My friend is an artist at making soups, and loves cookies.  I love cookies too, though I’ve never been a soup fan.  He taught me I was missing out in general.

So it was that I set out on our second day of the Field Museum with my son last Friday.  I had a very limited budget to work with and I had a lot of things I wanted to do with that money.  I had to feed my son breakfast, I wanted to take him to the museum and I knew he didn’t have the strength to walk it from our hotel because it was 2 miles.  So I knew I had to do a cab, but cabs cost money.  I wanted to buy my son and his father souvenirs from the museum… And souvenirs from museums with 10% sales tax are also expensive.  I had to feed my son for lunch.  I was going to have to ration the money and yet not lose the things I wanted to do.  I saw possibilities and I saw challenges.

I decided that we would walk there and if he got tired I would carry my son, and this is what we did.  He made it for a mile and asked to be carried, so I carried 40lbs of boy on my shoulders for the other mile.  We laughed and talked.  I took pictures of Chicago while he pulled my hair and cost me a lot of unfocused shots.  For which I thanked him and told him he was a pain in both the shoulders and the camera.  He laughed some more.

We arrived at the museum in good spirits and good time, barely an hour after it had opened: my son with plenty of energy, my camera with plenty of shots left and my sense of adventure intact because I had only had to purchase breakfast.  We wandered the museum for 4 hours talking, laughing, pushing interactive buttons on the displays and taking pictures.  There were some things I refused to do with my son, but mostly because I knew he wouldn’t like it.  The foremost example of this being when he requested to see the 3D T-Rex special movie.  I flatly refused in this case because the last time (6 months ago) I had taken him to one of these things the sound alone had him screaming to go home.  Like me, my son is extremely sensitive to loud noises.  The darkness of the theatre, combined with 3D scenes of a T-Rex feasting in addition to the high volume of the sound would be a complete waste of an experience.  He will (someday) love these things, but at 4 I think he can well afford not to see them.  We went and saw the dinosaur bones instead.  We talked about fossils.  We talked about the evolution of life in various forms.

That’s something interesting I discovered when moving to Holland.  The Dutch think Americans are absolutely insane for not believing in evolution.  To them it’s the cultural equivalent of hearing a full-grown, otherwise completely rational adult suddenly profess that they believe Santa Claus will come down a chimney with toys for them every Christmas.  I’m not kidding.  The average Dutch adult will look you right in the face if you say “I think evolution is a hoax by the government”, write you off as a lunatic and then tell you “Je bent een beetje anders.” So don’t tell them.  If you privately hold those convictions and feel it’s your right to voice that conspiracy theory then I tell you that the unintended consequence of your convictions in Western Europe will likely earn you a place in the “loony” category of most of the adults there.

Then again most Dutch people believe that the whole world would be a lot better if religion would just completely disappear.  There is a “bible belt” here, but it comprises an extremely limited part of the population.  I’m living in one of the most secular societies of the world.  But I digress…

My son and I wrapped up our time at the museum.  It was past lunch, past his nap time, and I could see his stamina, attention and complete ability to register speech evaporating so we wandered to the coat check, got our things and then went into the large gift shop.  My son didn’t disappoint me there.  He picked up a stuffed T-Rex and requested immediately to know if I had the funds to buy it for him, which I did after doing a few calculations I told him he could have it because I would still have enough for the toy, a present for his father, and for the cab ride… However, lunch at this point was beginning to look like a figment of my over-active imagination.

We wandered the gift shop a while longer and I chose the other souvenirs.  We paid and I had this sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach.  We absolutely had enough cash for a cab, but because I’m a food snob and refuse to patronize fast food joints with my child (or even alone, for that matter) I had serious doubts about lunch.  I kept these to myself, however.

I had two pieces of luck!  The cab ride was mercifully cheap even with a tip, and so by the end of it I still had 13 dollars left in my pocket.  Now where could I feed this kid and possibly myself on 13 bucks in Chicago… With a 10% sales tax?  We started to walk south of the hotel to look at restaurants.  My son was extremely quiet at this point because he was lulled by the cab ride and already exhausted from his morning of chatter, walk, pictures, laughter and he had a cuddly little T-Rex in his arms.  So he walked beside me very softly, unspeaking.  I spotted the deli next to the hotel and wandered to the menu posted in the window.  On the kids menu they had a grilled cheese sandwich plate with fries for $4.50.  I asked my son before we went in, “Do you want a grilled cheese sandwich for lunch?”  He answered in a happy and tired affirmative and we went in.

We were seated and then I began to search the menu for something I could also have for lunch… I admit I was looking but really without hope.  I was already going to have to pay over five of my thirteen remaining dollars just to allow my kid to eat there.  He wasn’t even going to have anything besides water to drink with his food because I told him to drink only water.  The little sweetheart didn’t even ask me why, but said, “Okay, Mommy.”  I kept searching the menu.  There was text over the children’s portion, For children 10 and under.  I found that remarkable.  Everything there was priced very cheaply.  I don’t think there was a single item above 5 dollars.  That wordage meant that if I wanted to order from the children’s menu for myself to save money, they would refuse to let me order off it.  I would have to order off the adult menu and (you guessed it) everything on the adult menu was double the price of my son’s meal…

Except the daily soup which was $4.50.

I am not a fan of soup, but I am a fan of eating after walking half the day, and more than that, I’m a fan of eating with the people I love.  I didn’t want to come into a deli and sit and watch my son eat and beg food off his plate.  And then I remembered the soups my friend had made that I ate with him, never telling him that I never ever eat the stuff.  I added the numbers.  Nine dollars for the food, 90 cents for the tax, and just enough to leave the waiter a tip because I don’t believe in not tipping these people.  It’s not their fault that they’re not paid a living wage without a tip.  It would cost me all 13 dollars, but I’d get to eat and so would my son, the waiter would be justly tipped, and all my goals for the day would be accomplished… And I had nothing to do at that point except eat my soup, laugh with my son, and be a happy woman.  We would walk back to the hotel and my little boy would take his nap after lunch.

I’ve always been good at rationing my money.  I’ll confess that I’ve never known how to ration happiness.  Eating the soup reminded me of my friend who taught me so much about life and who told me so much about happiness.  My friend, who finally decided that his own happiness and prosperity in life equated with my presence no longer being part of that.  I’ve paid the price for his freedom in silence, in tears, in thoughts unshared and in moments lost forever to the only life I believe I’m permitted to have.

But I have no regrets.

I still have tears at times, (like the day before his birthday) I have all the memories that make me smile, and they help me through this, and even if I don’t have the sound of his voice or his smile, I have the smiles and voices of all the people who share themselves with me.  My ex-husband is still my friend, still allows me to be part of my son’s life, still believes with me in being parents of our boy together though we dissolved our marriage.  My family loves me.  Disparate though their ways may be and often seem, I know that I could turn to any or all of them and they would always help me.  I have other loving friends who have been part of my life and continue to be part of it, and I have new friends in Holland in my MA program and in the choirs I sing with.

And the silence and emptiness has made me so much more profoundly grateful for the sounds of the voices that are (in all actuality) the sound of my life.  I may not know about rationing happiness but rationing and soup taught me (after 28 years) the truth of happiness as it happens in my life:

When you have no alternatives, choosing to be happy with the choices you have left will make you happy.  

No matter how limited your options appear you can always choose to see the choice you make as the right choice for you.

I had to eat the soup or go without.  I chose to eat the soup.  I do not care for soup, but I wanted to eat.  I was hungry and I wanted to eat with my son.  The soup was a symbol of being without hunger and the soup would solve my hunger.  I chose to eat, but I could have chosen to go hungry.  I chose to buy things for others when I could have hoarded the money for a bigger lunch.  I chose to walk when I could have chosen to ride both ways and never carry my son on my back that soft clear morning of sunlight and dawn.  The steps to rationing in order to attain my goals for that day left me (eventually) with only one choice: eat the soup or do without.  However, I see now that the real choice is be happy with all the choices you’ve made or be unhappy in them.  The soup was good, by the way.  When you are hungry and eat soup that you don’t normally care for and find yourself nourished in it then it becomes soul soup, which– from my son’s favorite Christmas carol– is as good as eating Soul Cake.  I tried explaining soul cake to my partner and failed, maybe now he’ll understand.

I see now that I’ve never made the choice in my life to be unhappy in my decisions, which has been the reason for the majority of my life being filled with happiness…  And that reminds me of 3 powerful things I was told by others in my life which I will close this blog with.

When dealing with others choose to act, not to react.– Mom

Your father and I spent the happiest years of our marriage dirt poor.– Mom

Humans are deeply symbolic creatures.– My Friend

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~ by Rebecca Erickson on January 10, 2012.

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