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Control, Anxiety and Pork Fried Rice

I am a control freak of the highest order. Since birth, I have vibrated to some internal frequency that requires that questions are answered, clutter is removed, and lists are prepared against any wild card fancies of the universe. I don’t require that things go my way, necessarily – there is nothing I enjoy more than corralling and tranquilizing an irrational situation into submission. Or, more accurately, believing that I have done so. Since control is generally illusory, all of my lists, sub-lists, plans, recommendations, admonitions and resolutions are no more solid than a bridge of damp Kleenex across a pit of starving alligators.

Prevention is good, planning is beneficial, but in the end there simply things that can’t be controlled. In my life, those things include the health of my parents, the moods of my teenage son, changes at work, the national economy, and the changes in my body that come with age. I try to control what I can, but that’s a mixed bag; no one is terribly bothered if I resolve to take my daily pills, do some yoga, and try to get more sleep. On the other hand, my parents and son are notoriously unwilling to live under the glass cloche of my loving supervision. They will accept my help, all of them, but none of them sees it as a quid pro quo arrangement in which my support triggers a reciprocal obligation on their end to do what I say, when I say it. With the kid, there is the option of Consequences, but to date I have not been successful at sending my parents to their rooms, taking away their computers and cell phones or grounding them.

At the root of all of my planning, spinning, and attempts to weave the irrational into a tidy pattern is anxiety. I am a person who is often complimented on how “calm” I am, and how serene and accommodating is my demeanor. I am actually a tooth-grinding, tight-shouldered migraineur with a recurring tic and a tendency to break out in hives when the heat is turned up high enough. I know that the holistic solution to all of this is to give up the illusion of control and just be with whatever is going on. Sometimes I can get there. Other times, though, I slog through the mess closest to me and promise myself that if I can get everything under control, there is a valley of Peace and Completion just ahead. If I make the calls, make the lists, read the fine print, clear up the misunderstanding with the bank and turn my receipts in at work, I can…relax. I can sink deeply into some robin’s egg blue pouf of anxiety-free heaven with the faint scent of lavender in the air, a book in my hand and all phones disabled. It is the ultimate illusion: the end of my to-do list throws a vast, disparate universe into complete immobility until such time as I finish reading a really good novel and take a nap.

Lest you should think me a rigid martinet, there are times when I am singularly and spectacularly out of control. I lose control, and the ship begins to sink. I remain bravely at the wheel for as long as I can stand it, and then I flee. By the time the bow goes under the cresting waves, I am lost. I am eating all the waffles in the freezer, I am on my way to Walgreens to buy the 102d tube of undetectable beige lipstick, or posting some ridiculous status on Facebook to get confirmation that I am Fun and Interesting.

All of which leads me to pork fried rice.  Last week, as part of my compulsive one-woman ordering of the universe, I braised a pork loin in Hoisin sauce and served it with rice. The plan was to make pork fried rice later in the week. When Pork Fried Rice came up on my calendar, I balked. I didn’t feel like cooking that, or anything else. I was getting a cold. I was grumpy. The Menu List was clear and assertive, but I balked. I looked at my husband who is, most of the time, far saner than I can ever hope to be. “How would you like to learn to make pork fried rice?” I asked him, testing the waters.

“That would be great” he said. And so I outlined for him the mixing of the cold rice and leftover pork with a bit of egg for binding, the necessary additions of scallions, onions, peas, sesame oil and soy sauce, and the making of a flat egg pancake to cut into thin strips. I retreated to the bedroom to read my book, and felt as cosseted as a beloved child as I relaxed, smelling delicious smells, knowing that someone else was doing the doing. Cooking is my thing, at work and at home, and I have always been the planner, the cooker, and the supervisory hoverer when food was prepared. I let it go, and was rewarded with a hot bowl of perfect pork fried rice. The kitchen was not as clean as I would have left it, and the dish was spicier than mine, but everybody was happy.

As I maneuvered a last pea between my chopsticks, I had the kind of inspiration that comes only from a free and unclenched psyche. My son was sledding with two friends, and I texted him to ask if they might like to come over and share the remaining mountain of rice. “Delivery?” he texted back. I considered. I was un-showered and in my pajamas, and it was a frigid night with icy roads.

“Sure.” I replied. “10 mins.” I packed up three containers of rice, three forks and three napkins, shoved my feet into boots, threw my coat on and drove to the parking lot near the sledding hill. Three cold-pinked faces appeared outside my window; I rolled it down and handed out the bag. “Daddy made it” I told my son. “Be sure to tell him it’s awesome.” I invited them to sit in the warm car to eat, but they liked the idea of sitting at the top of the frigid sledding hill clutching hot food and sharing some Iron John bonding thing.

I would get no credit for the food. I would never see my Tupperware or my forks again. If my car spun off the icy road I would end up at the hospital unwashed and in unmatched pajamas and Ugg boots. I was off book, out of control, letting life unfold as it would.

It felt wonderful.