Friday, March 1, 2013

Eating breakfast

I've always been told that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. I remember the days of making sure that my children had some sort of breakfast before school. And weekend breakfasts were always fun.  But I've always loved to sleep late in the mornings, so there was a built in conflict with what I was taught, what I wanted to do for my children, and what my body so longingly needed to do. 

Plus, there was the fact that for so many years, I was a student and then an RN, obsessed with not gaining an ounce, or focused on huge weight loss. Breakfast for me was usually all the wrong things. A honey bun gobbled down with a stolen cup of coffee when a sick patient finally went to surgery, or something from the school canteen before three finals. Or starving myself for weeks on end.

Then came the days of cushy administrative jobs and lots of catered, high-calorie and high-fat pharaceutical company breakfasts. Or the obligatory sweets at the workshop or conference du jour. 

These are hard habits to break, even when life changes and there's a lot more available time. There may not be a lot of extra money. And there will always be excuses for behaviors that don't necessarily seem to require modification.  

I have lots of fond memories of sitting down to breakfast growing up in the basement dining room of Hickory Memorial Hospital. It was just down the hall from the mysterious, steamy kitchen where food was prepared for all the tiny hospital's patients. We got our meals free then. At that point in time, the hospital was privately owned by Dr. Robert Hambrick. He was a tall, gaunt, balding man, whose appearance on a unit demanded that all nurses stand, and all of those of us less than nurse cowered. I have no reason why. He was the kindest, most gentle soul.

His family also owned some interest in a hosiery mill, and he presented every female employee a box of a dozen pairs of fine stockings each Christmas, along with a cash bonus and a personal note in an envelope. 

I began my work at Hickory Memorial Hospital at age eight when Mama Bea began to take me to work with her when there was nobody to keep me. Every weekend, holiday, and summer vacation from 1968 until my teenage years, I was there. Except for a couple.

I did take two summers off to baby sit. I remember now that when I was ten, I kept three baby and toddler boys, and when I was twelve, I kept my own infant half-brother, Wayne. Wayne was my favorite thing in the world, but my mom even paid me $10 a week. I would have gladly done it for freeThose were the days when baby-sitting meant doing everything from ironing, to cleaning, to meal-preparation. A lot of responsibility for a ten-year-old.

Nobody seemed to think that there was anything strange about a child in attendance at a hospital. I was treated like all other workers, except due to child labor laws, I was unpaid. But in addition to all those free meals, I received some pretty high-quality childcare, mostly delivered by nurses and doctors. I also received, I'm sure, lots of free medical care.

 I delivered fresh ice water, changed beds, and eventually worked my way up to bathing patients and putting them on and off of bedpans. I emptied lots of urinals. I saw a lot a child should never see. I suppose now, it would be considered abusive, but at the time, I was perfectly in my element and could hold my own with all the other colorful workers at Hickory Memorial.

The dining room was in the part of the basement that had at one time housed the 'colored ward' of the hospital, although any vestiges of segregation had been removed prior to my arrival. Apparently just prior. I don't recall ever having seen any evidence of such a thing as segregation in my early childhood, and this fact surprises a lot of people of my age, as many do have very clear memories of it. I was an aware child, and I was confused by the fact that although black people lived on the street over from me at Mama Bea and Poppy's, none of them went to school with me. But then, I was always taken to the school across town near Granny Pitts' house where Mama Bea worked in the cafeteria before beginning at Hickory Memorial. So, in my mind, I guess I assumed that those children just went to the school I should have gone to.

I didn't play with any of those children, but then, I wasn't allowed out of our yard, so I didn't play with any children unless I could lure them into our yard with a new toy. I spent a lot of time trying to hook kids in with skates, hoola-hoops, and my green tipi. In the summer, I had a special advantage with my blow-up swimming pool. I had a very lonely childhood. Working at Hickory Memorial was magical!

That hospital became another home to me, and the nurses and doctors became strong role models. When I was eleven, some of the nurses and Mama Bea chipped in and paid a seamstress to make a Candy Striper uniform for me. They had a ceremony for me, and to this day, I still have a couple of the little nurse-themed gifts I received.  I took my work seriously. I developed a strong, although too early, work-ethic. I learned to go to work sick or well. And I learned that the patients' needs came before all else.

I would not change my childhood, and I would not change any of the lessons I learned at Hickory Memorial. Instead, I'm thankful enough for them that now I realize how lucky I am to be able to share them, and how long I want to be able to be around to do that. It's much easier to change some bad behaviors I've learned along the way, and return to the lessons I learned there. 

I enjoy getting up early now after a good night of sleep. Cooking and eating breakfast is meditative and enjoyable. A good cup of coffee is a part of breakfast, but it is not  breakfast. I make sure I include some protein in every breakfast, whether it is an egg or two, or cream cheese on a piece of toast made from home-made bread. I do use only free-range eggs, because that is important to me. And I believe that doing what is important makes a difference in the way we feel. 

Funny, how easy it is for blogs to start out about one thing and wind  their way around into something else entirely. One of these days, I intend to do one on one topic all the way through. Just boom. Beginning to end. But it probably won't be soon. I have a theory that this is what happens when you take a person who spent a lot of years living in the past and put them in a present that is good. And some level of mindfulness develops. And appreciation for all things arrives.

May we all be filled with loving kindness. 

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