In Search of Lost Food – Oatmeal and Pride

oatmeal

Photo from TheBittenWord.com

//Written by Joy Cho//

When I think of a food that’s healthy, oatmeal is one of the first things that come to mind. I was never really fond of it, but each time I proceeded to eat it, I always remained open to the possibility of liking it. I admit, there are random moments when I crave oatmeal, but most days, I’m happy to pass on the thick, lumpy stuff.

The other day was one of those rare days of oatmeal craving. I got to Bartlett early on a Sunday morning, clumsily ladled out a couple spoonfuls of fresh oatmeal, and topped it off with some banana slices and honey. The bananas and honey provided a note of sweetness that made the otherwise boring (and bland) oatmeal much more appetizing. Something about the creamy, warm stuff going down my throat was just what I needed that day.

About a year and a half ago, I went through a stage of oatmeal obsession (or so I thought). Before I even really tried it, I convinced myself that I loved it, because hey, everyone ate it and it was hailed as the new “breakfast of champions.” Bu there was something even better than the average oatmeal: steel-cut oats. I had to try it; I was convinced it would be my new go-to food.

I remember that it was the day after early application decisions were announced. I had been thrust into the hazy in-between world of “deferment,” and my pride had been crushed. It was a long shot, but I still held on tightly to that little inkling of hope that I would be accepted (though I did my best to keep up a cool and nonchalant front). The morning after, my mom made me a bowl of steel-cut oatmeal, which I had been wanting to try for a while. My heart was heavy and my future felt somewhat bleak, so I took a bite of the oatmeal, hoping it would be somewhat consoling.

It was disappointingly disappointing (yes, I just used that word twice). Although it was made with lots of love, the oatmeal was thick and gloppy, and the generous amount of milk in it almost made me nauseous. I tried adding maple syrup and brown sugar to the bowl, but it just made it cloyingly sweet. Pasting on a smile and nodding with what I hoped seemed like appreciation, I forcefully swallowed a spoonful of creamy oats, and then another, and then another. I eventually reached a point where I could eat no more.

For the next couple of months, I tried to swallow something even more thick and clogging than the bowl of steel-cut oats: my pride. It was tough to swallow, but it had to be done. Like the spoonfuls of oatmeal that I forced myself to shove down, I gradually learned to suppress my previously ballooning ego and move forward. Yes, I had gotten deferred from the school that I believed was the “perfect fit” for me, but there were other applications to be written and interviews to be had. Anyone who’s experienced rejection in any degree will agree: it’s really hard to get back up again and keep going, especially when others have witnessed your fall.

It was with a sort of dread that I told my guidance counselor, my friends, and my peers about the fact that I hadn’t gotten in. It stung a little more because of how surprised they were about it, as if they couldn’t believe that I hadn’t succeeded in everything I put my heart to. Attending such a small school where I felt like I had set a standard for myself, and then having not achieved it, made things even trickier.

I don’t want to drag things on too much, but basically, I eventually learned to move forward. It was the only way I could go. I admit that I still scrunch up my face every time I hear “that school” mentioned, but I’ve finally come to a point where I can laugh about it and really be grateful that I am here at UChicago (which, by the way, I love).

I will always have pride that needs to be swallowed, like the creamy oats that never seemed to disappear on that mid-December morning. It definitely isn’t easy, but I now know that spoonful by spoonful, it can be done. And like a hearty bowl of steel-cut oats, I know that it’ll prove to be good and healthy for me in the end.

“Oatmeal and Pride” is the second entry for Joy’s column “In Search of Lost Food.” Check for new articles for this column on Wednesdays.

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