One Bite at a Time

by teresalaynebennett

top photo of ice cream in ice cream freezer

Stick with me. This post is NOT all about eating.

You may be tempted to think this blog post is all about eating, but it isn’t. We’ll get to the non-food, pay-attention points at the right juncture, so please hear me out as I tell you two seemingly unimportant stories from my childhood.

My parents weren’t much for pontificating, thank goodness. Rarely ever did they sit me down for a long and boring lecture. They opted for the easier way of teaching children: they modeled what they believed. I know; it’s a startling concept, isn’t it? But it’s quite effective. Trust me.

First Story:
Ice Cream!

I must’ve been ten or eleven when my ice-cream-loving father decided it was time to take advantage of the fact that we had a cow who produced A LOT of cream. I’m talking unpasteurized, unprocessed, unadulterated, un-homogenized, un-everything. If you’re a Millennial or a city kid of any age, you have absolutely NO frame of reference. You’ve probably never even seen such thick, faintly yellow, wickedly rich, fresh cream just minutes from a cow’s innards, let alone tasted it.

Once the ice-cream maker was ensconced under our roof one summer, Mother’s Saturday afternoon routine involved loading it up with the cream mixture, packing the whole mess in ice and rock salt, plugging it in, and letting that electric marvel work its magic on our luscious cream. If you’re an ice-cream lover, you’re already salivating, aren’t you? Even I thought the ice cream resulting from this incredibly rich stuff was to die for, and I didn’t even like ice cream all that much.

Each Saturday night, my father was in heaven.

But not for long. You’re way ahead of me, aren’t you? NO ONE, not even my slenderly built, very active, six-foot father, could keep up that kind of ice-cream bacchanalia. After about a month of this ice-cream revelry, my father quietly asked my mother to forego the ice-cream making ritual. Happy to oblige, since it meant less prep time in the dreaded kitchen, she asked why. His short response? “Maybe every so often – when we’re having guests – would be wiser.”

That’s it. Did I mention my father loved, loved, loved ice-cream and that, as a child of The Great Depression, he seldom got it? Can you think of a more powerful modeling lesson in self-discipline?

I can.

Second Story:
Green Beans

This story happened shortly after my father’s ice-cream adventure, and it’s a pretty short one. Again, you Millennials will have a hard time believing this but, once upon a time, there were no microwave ovens. Yes! Really. Just ask yourself how you would use leftovers if you couldn’t quickly nuke them in your microwave.

Effectively using leftovers was devilishly hard back in those Dark Ages. Most households (less frugal than ours, I’d like to point out) parked them in small, lidded glass containers in the fridge. As they were moved back and back and back, they became easier and easier to forget (translation: ignore). Naturally, once they were discovered with mold and who-knows-what growing in them, they could be discarded without guilt.

Not in our house. No sir. We ATE leftovers because, of course, of all those starving children in China. My father was our official, “last-dab,” cleaner-upper. Whenever there was a spoonful of green beans or a quarter-cup of mashed potatoes, Mother would say, “Oh, Bill, just eat that last dab.” And he would. End of problem. No bothersome containers of leftovers in our fridge.

But that came to a halt when he scooted back from table one day and said, “No thanks. I had to move my belt buckle prong over one notch this morning.”

This left my mother in a true quandary: “So what do I do with them?”

Throw them out.”

At this show-stopper response, I stopped playing in the mashed potatoes, jerked up my head, and starting paying very close attention. Did I hear what I think I just heard? Did my frugal father just tell my almost-as-frugal mother to THROW OUT PERFECTLY EDIBLE FOOD?? My mother, just as trout-mouthed as I, stood there in shock. But when he left the table without another word, we knew he wasn’t kidding.

Apparently, I reasoned, throwing away food is preferable to weight creep. Being a kid, I quickly recovered from the initial shock of that unbelievable bit of table drama. In fact, I never gave it another thought until I, too, reached that time of life when the old metabolism just wasn’t what it used to be and began to notice the same weight creep.

Okay, enough of the food stories. What’s the REAL point to this blog post? Oh, wow, there are so many. But I’ve chosen three of what I think are the most obvious pay-attention points from these two non-events from my childhood. Here they are, in no particular order.

Pay attention!
Life happens
in little bites.

Of course, as the title implies, this is the main point of this blog. Though I’ve harped on it in plenty of other blog posts, specifically in Process, Part 1, I’m harping again because it’s such a terribly important life lesson.

Obviously, the word “bites” is standing in for just about anything you can think of – not necessarily food. Wouldn’t it be great if “bites” happened in the TV-commercial-Hollywood-way – in one, great, stupendous action? But, as you know, they don’t. Just about everything in life is a slow process (the good and the bad), and we’d best get used to it. Even better, we’d best pay very close attention to it, in the same way that my father noticed he had to insert his belt buckle prong into a different hole.

red box with white text: “In the long run, we shape our lives, and we shape ourselves. The process never ends until we die. And the choices we make are ultimately our own responsibility.” ­– Eleanor Roosevelt

Longest-serving USA First Lady (during Franklin’s 4 terms)

Here’s another vital
pay-attention lesson:
someone’s watching.

And they’re watching one little “bite” at a time. When my father explained why he was forfeiting his cleaner-upper role, I am absolutely certain – in that seconds-long interaction with my mother – that he wasn’t trying to teach my sister and me a lesson. We were not the focus of that decision-making process. He was simply acting on his conviction that whoever lives in the body is responsible for its care and feeding. He was being responsible by refusing extra food, knowing it would take awhile to undo the damage of performing his former role of family garbage disposal.

I’ve never forgotten that incontrovertible lesson that modeling – living – what you believe is usually far more effective than constantly telling others what you believe. You know this: I haven’t told you anything new. But though we all know this, it’s just too dang easy to forget that we’re each living life on a stage with an audience of one or two watching a few seconds of our lives or an audience of one or two hundred watching several minutes’ worth of our lives. Someone’s watching – in little sound bites. What are we teaching? What would we rather be teaching?

red box with white text: “If God has given you the world's goods in abundance, it is to help you gain those of Heaven and to be a good example of sound teaching to your sons, servants, and relatives.” – Ignatius

Tradition identifies Ignatius as the Apostle John’s disciple.

And the third
pay-attention point?
Too much of a good thing
is still too much.

When my father was functioning as the green-bean-and-potato disposal, he was eating good stuff in very small bites. But slowly, the little bites of good stuff piled up and became more than his aging metabolism could handle. They morphed into bad stuff in the guise of excess weight. When he finally noticed, he did what any reasonable person does, he started the process of saying, “No thank you” so that he could put a stop to the piling-up process.

The ice cream story makes this too-much-of-a-good-thing point even clearer. No matter how good something is, no matter how delicious, no matter how wholesome, no matter how right, no matter how healthy, no matter how _______ (fill in the blank with what you’re thinking), it is possible to get too much. When the little “bites” of good stuff pile up, they probably won’t still be good stuff. So I’ll just keep saying, as I did in the post titled, Moderation – Even in the Good Stuff, too much of anything, no matter how good, is still TOO MUCH.

One of the most outstanding figures of medical history

Clearly one of the most outstanding figures of medical history.

Your turn. Did I miss an in-your-face pay-attention point?

©2016, Teresa Bennett