When the Kids Leave Home |

Karin's back with a look at life as a single mother, feeding her family of fussy eaters, plus a wistful look at the day when her house falls silent. Will she cry “Freedom!”, or will she turn into a lonely old lady with a weak bladder, left to wander the shores of the River Derwent with just a small dog for company? Read on.


As I'm writing this, I'm 53 years old, and I've been cooking for others for over 30 years. And finally I'm over it. Done and dusted.

I’m gluten intolerant. My son is lactose intolerant. And my daughter… well, she’s just a fussy eater. My man-child can't eat fats and he seems to have a problem with food that we have yet to formally identify.

Each week, we nut out a meal plan for at least four meals, hopefully, five, and it's exhausting. There are meals I want to have but can't because there's not enough money to make the meals each of us like on the one day. Whatever is being made has to be eaten by all.

During the week, when I'm not looking at the food schedule that Kelsey (son’s girlfriend) has written up thoughtfully and put on the fridge for remembrance, I'm thinking of meals for the coming week and it does put me in a bit of a panic.

Sometimes I just go completely blank and worry that I won't think of a single meal we could all share and actually like.


Food Fantasies of a Single Woman

But lately, my mind has been drifting off, thinking of plates of food in my future, a time when the kids leave home and I can eat what I choose, whatever I fancy on the day.

I see plump grilled fish, crispy along the edges, teamed with a generous scoop of steamed assorted veggies – carrots, mini squash, beans, sweet potato, pumpkin, peas, maybe zucchini – drizzled with a light homemade cheese sauce. Some of those veggies might even have been dragged out of my own veggie patch, now that I live alone and need only plant for myself.

Other days I see myself parked on the couch, hot chips with gravy resting in a bowl on my chest, with a fork in one hand and my book in another. The steam from the chips will fog my glasses and the smell of the gravy will call my cats to me like magic. The meal will end with a slight carb coma and a little nap with my furry friends.

I see puttanesca, all sharp tastes and tomato; I see mushrooms and onions in a light cream sauce tossed through cooked spiral pasta. I see steamed rice cupped in a black bowl, topped with wok-tossed Chinese broccoli, garlic, fresh sliced shitake mushrooms and soy sauce, to be chased around and around with a pair of chopsticks until I get tired and give in to the fork

I see a whole goddam leg of lamb roasting with a sliced bulb of garlic, fried onions, crispy baked cubes of potato and pumpkin, honey carrots, peas with butter and pepper and the whole thing drowned in peppery brown gravy. And I'll eat the whole goddam thing myself, even though it will probably take me three days. If there happen to be lamb leftovers, then souvlakis shall follow, as sure as night follows day.


The Tantalising Prospect of Freedom

I'm sure I won't want to eat alone every night. I know that most of the time, I'll miss my kids and feel a little sad with my single plate, cup or bowl. I'm glad this won't happen tomorrow or next month, and maybe not even for another year or two.

Rickie would love to move out but rental costs in the area are so expensive. Eleanor dreams of going to uni and living on campus, but money is scarce and she will need to finish her VCE first and get a job to put aside money for the next stage of her journey in life. This means I’ll have at least one companion eating next to me for some time to come, and I'm perfectly fine with that.

I'm not ready to live alone yet; at least, I don't think I am. I try it on for size now and then and imagine that life has changed for me and I have more room in my house, less junk around me, but more silence.

The cats will still be here, although Bob may leave to live with Eleanor (she swears they will not part until death). But a cat doesn't laugh at the same silly things on the TV or yell at stupid people on the news.

I may look in despair at the contents of the fridge some nights, wondering what we should eat even though I'm too tired to cook, but for now, I'd rather be cooking for noisy argumentative companions than eating alone.

Here's how I see my future. I have moved to Tasmania (only if they come too) and I’m living in Howrah – on the Derwent River, across from the lovely Hobart. Mount Wellington greets me every morning with its dusting of snow or not, depending on the season, and hopefully, I'm close enough to the water to hear soft waves against the stones.

I'm lying in bed, waking and stretching carefully to avoid cramping my calves, an impatient cat or two mewing in my face or near my feet. The bedroom is cool, but I'm toasty under a quilt or two.

I'm thinking of breakfast. There are fresh eggs in the house from my chooks, reasonably fresh bread in the fridge. The last of the tomatoes should be eaten, so maybe fried eggs on toast with mashed fried tomatoes and lots of pepper. That’ll go down very nicely over a strong sweet coffee, reading the morning paper by the light from the French doors.

And while I'm reading the news, I'm thinking of lunch. There are mushrooms left over from the last shop, and more eggs, so maybe a small frittata with mixed salad and dad's delicious dressing. I go for a walk between meals, walk along the water looking for smooth stones, thinking about the next chapter of my current book project.

Back to the house with fresh air in my lungs and back to work at the computer until it's time to put the frittata in the oven for lunch.

Dinner? The butcher in town knows I like a good steak and has recommended a new marinade for tonight's porterhouse, all garlic and fresh herbs and his homemade truffle infused oil.


Freedom or Loneliness?

Do I have a dog? It's quite possible, despite the cats, which will always rule the roost regardless.

Then it's back down to the water for a stroll along the stony beach, throwing sticks in the water for fetching. I might even take my shoes off and slide my toes into the cold clear water, contemplating a rewrite of today's work where it didn't quite jell.

Back home, there's time to towel off the dog, snacks all round for the animals and hot chocolate and impossible cake for me before a few hours back on the couch for quilting, ending with a few writing tidy-ups before bedtime.

The chooks are safely locked in their pen for the night, secured against any predators that might come out after dark. Tomorrow they will lay the next batch of eggs and I'll have more than I need.

If one of the kids drops in, as I hope they regularly will, they can take off with half a dozen for their supper. If not, I'll bake a big cake and drop it into the lady next door who has a brood to feed.

Sounds idyllic.

Sounds almost perfect.

Yet even in this imaginary future world, I feel a tinge of loneliness. Will I be lonely? Will I have actually met a decent bloke to share my time with, worthy of staying over from time to time, or for good?

I hate to think that I will feel a desperate need for companionship in my later years. But who knows what any of us will want then.

So for now, I'll leave that imaginary future life where it is, flesh it out from time to time with more details, and live in the present, which means before the weekend comes, I'd better have at least three bloody ideas for meals we can all survive eating

Karin Lederer

I'd rather be cooking for noisy argumentative companions than eating alone. Click To Tweet



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