Tuesday, May 19, 2020

On Baking Bread: Reflections from a Millenial Scumbag Romantic during COVID-19 (Ham)

Like bread, relationships take many forms, require measured ingredients, and – for most people – take a lot of practice and honest self-assessment to get right. In December 2019, just before the novel coronavirus slammed people’s doors and flung open their flour bags, I looked more discerningly at my four-year-old focaccia. I saw gnarly blue, chalky patches hiding beneath the guts of my half-eaten sandwich. It was then that I made the challenging decision to end my engagement. It was a tough one, but the decision was ultimately leavening.

I was one of those scumbag romantics who started working on a new bread recipe with a different baker before I’d even swept my floor clean. I started baking love with someone new in what felt, at first, like a justifiable pace.  Never before had I met someone with all the ingredients I lacked to collaboratively bake the kind of fairytale flavored relationship I’d only tasted in dreams. And then, Covid came, Covid saw, and Covid spread faster that I could say banana nut. 

Washington was the first state hit in the U.S. The first death happened in Snohomish County. I live just twenty minutes away in Seattle, Washington, comfortingly close to a medical clinic. Though the first weeks were worrisome, my dreamy, oven-ready relationship kneaded me into insouciance. Fresh from the oven, Boyfriend came over on Mondays and Fridays for bread-making feasts, and I’d zoom (not zoom-call) to him on Wednesday evenings for something more like cake. Our lives, like most in the county, experienced a dough-rising lag between witnessing the threat of Covid-19 and changing our behaviors accordingly. So, when the time came to distance ourselves, I felt like I’d been walloped by a rolling pin. THWOP. 
I work for a school district and was easily (laughs in bread language) able to work remotely in my South Seattle studio apartment. Boyfriend works as a branch manager for an essential business north of Seattle.  He went from the standard doughy juggle of work and kids (yes, I’m dating a daddy), to a juggling act that would require either twelve arms or telekinesis. Managers like him had to consider the safety of their families, their customers, and their staff during the Covid shift. This on top of school closures was too much for any bread-baking dad to handle alone.

We thought our tandem dough-mixing game was strong, but Covid stretched us until we were riddled with holes. Even after using our patch dough, Covid laughed in our faces and stretched us more.  Boyfriend and I switched from seamlessly baking bread together every other night to forty miles of social distance and no oven light. We endured three weeks of comparative silence and celibacy while Boyfriend worked alone on his telekinesis. It was emotionally hard for me, but it was harder for him in every way. Since my schedule was flexible, and I love kids, we thought we’d give the opposite baking method a try; Boyfriend brought me up north to live with him and his family for two weeks where I provided childcare, worked remotely, and tried to bake bread with him during our scraps of available time.   

The thing to remember about baking relationships is that we all come to the table with five core Gary-Chapman-rolled ingredients; flour (language), salt (service), yeast (gifts), water (touch), and (quality/alone) time. We hope that our respective ingredient amounts are complementary and that together we can execute a recipe to completion. But what can you do when a person’s ingredients aren’t the same as they were pre-Covid? 

Two weeks ended and, while I was able to provide flour, salt, and time to his family, Boyfriend and I didn’t really get to work on our baking the way either of us envisioned. Unlike bread, when you’re overworked in life you can’t start over; when your resources are depleted, you can’t bake the bread you want. See, each of those professional relationships Boyfriend had to manage also required tandem baking. The goals were different, but each relationship asked for ingredients from his pantry.  Poor Boyfriend’s pantry was near empty and rather than asking to take inventory together, I only examined the ingredients he brought to the counter at the end of the day, feeling annoyed about how little they seemed.  

We all hope for equitable baking time with our partners, but circumstances like Covid-19 can render an individual the sole baker in a relationship for stretches of time. This feels like a greater challenge when the standing baker is only semi-practiced at baking focaccia and lacks the ingredients to do it well. How do you nourish your partner and your love when you don’t know how to nourish yourself?  

Covid came, Covid saw, and Covid kicked my ass. I’ll be spending the next few weeks in my kitchen testing the limits of my pantry. I’m going to burn and overwork my bread in true novice form. And, I’m finding the best way for a relationship to survive this breaded apocalypse is to bring what I bake to the table every day, even when it’s under-proved. To remember the privilege of being able to bake for someone at all. To dream about how, when Covid lifts, I can take my time baking fan-tasty bread with the boyfriend. And to realize that, in order to do any of this, I’ve got to get good at baking love on my own first.  

In 2011, Brennon Ham (pronouns: Brennon/they/she/he) snagged a BA in English from CWRU. Brennon now lives in Seattle, working as the Health Education Specialist/Trainer for Seattle Public Schools and as the head coach for a local swim team. Brennon heads to the Harvard Graduate School of Education in August for an MA in Education Policy and Management.

No comments:

Post a Comment