On the weekends, I wake before Andy. I shuffle into the kitchen, turn on the coffee maker, and scoop the oatmeal into bowls. Invariably, one scoop is bigger than the other. Invariably, my hand always reaches for the bigger bowl first.
It is instinctive.
It’s also as unusual as hell. Women – especially in LA – are all about small portions.
Here is the Typical LA Woman at office birthday parties:
“Oh, just a tiny little piece! No, no, that’s too big. Give that to Joe. Oh, still too big! Ross, take this. No, no, not a corner piece! So much frosting, Bruce, Bruce! Here’s your piece of cake. No, half that size. Oh, fine, I’ll cut it in half myself, then.” Typical LA Woman cuts two-inch square in half. Takes ten minutes to eat one bite. Throws the rest away.
Here’s me: “Hand over that corner piece.”
And here is the Typical LA Woman at a Christmas party, confronted with a one-inch butterscotch square of See’s Candies:
“Oh, I shouldn’t, but…Autumn, would you split it with me?”
Me: “Sure.” I cut the minuscule square in half.
Typical LA woman hesitates. “Wow. You cut so evenly! I can’t tell which one is smaller.”
Me: “The chocolate broke unevenly on the top. The one on the left has a little more chocolate.”
Typical LA woman takes the chocolate on the right. “Thanks! I couldn’t see any difference. Where did you get such a discerning eye?”
I give her my best self-deprecating shrug. “It’s a gift.”
That’s a lie.
It’s a carefully honed childhood survival skill.
I’ve probably mentioned my many siblings and our childhood with not-quite-enough to eat. Guess what happens when that combination occurs? Kids fight over every scrap of food. Especially the good stuff, like holiday pies and candies. Which makes sense. Back on the African Savannah, or in the Roman Empire, if your body wasn’t wired to seek out and defend your share of food with the greatest caloric content, well, you weren’t going to pack on enough weight to survive the next famine. You died before you could reproduce, and your loser, celery-craving taste buds weren’t passed to the next generation.
So it’s not surprising that my siblings and I fought, tooth and nail, over the best chocolate in the Whitman’s Sampler box. And, yes, it was literally tooth and nail. Future Brilliant Blonde Lawyer Sister and I needed weaponry to compete with older, bigger siblings. Lawyer Sis chewed her very strong fingernails into sharp points and scratched. I was less subtle. I just chewed. Big Brother dubbed us “Claws and Jaws.”
My father tried to head off the carnage by dividing the spoils equally. He even employed measuring tape for one birthday cake, only to send us all to our rooms with a spanking because we fought over the pieces with red roses. (Dad SAID he threw the cake away, but his lips had a suspicious ruby tinge that evening.)
After the birthday cake incident, most sweets were carefully divided before we ever saw them. Ex-Stepmother #1 counted out any Oreos into baggies. Yogurts had our names written on them. We were limited to two Whitman’s Chocolates. Future Genius Judgmental Doctor Sister, determined to get the best chocolates, developed a method of testing for caramels – she slid a fingernail into the bottom of each chocolate. If the fingernail came out with fruit cream, she opted for a different selection.
But some foods could not be divided so easily. Like the last bit of Dad’s apple pie. My father, weary of the inevitable shriek of, “But HER piece was bigger!” hit upon a brilliant solution.
He handed Big Brother the knife, and pointed to the pie. “You cut it in half.” Then he pointed at me. “You get to pick which piece you want first.”
Big Brother took a full minute to cut that piece of pie. I took a full minute to decide which piece was bigger. (Both pieces were the same size. I opted for the one with more crust.)
From that day forward, all food was split using Dad’s method. We became experts at judging comparative size and volume. I grew especially adept at spotting Future Judgmental Genius Doctor Sister’s incremental diagonals. Nowadays, Andy doesn’t bother with a level when we hang pictures or window treatments. He just asks me if it’s straight. (Though this is after he “tested” me the first twelve times, “just to be sure.” Engineers. Sigh.)
I am decades away from my childhood. I have more than enough food to eat. And yet, when there are two portions and one is even minutely larger, I still reach for the bigger one. Even if the difference is just a few flakes of oatmeal.
Then I give myself a mental shake, remind myself that Andy’s metabolism burns calories faster than mine, and take the smaller bowl instead.
One of my relatives got married last spring. At the rehearsal dinner, I sat with most of my siblings and our spouses. The event was huge – as most of our family events are. We were packed in at long tables set close together, making movement difficult. The many guests and overwhelmed staff led to a five-minute delay between each table receiving their food.
There was no delay in consumption. My sisters polished off their entrees and their ice-cream-covered brownies faster than I did. No Typical LA Women at my table. I was among my people once more.
Big Brother ate the fastest. He usually does. As soon as he finished, he pushed back his chair. “I haven’t talked to Ex-Stepmother #1 yet today,” he explained. “There’s an empty seat at her table now. Be back in a bit.” Big Brother’s Wife, Judgmental Genius Doctor Sister, Brilliant Blonde Lawyer Sister, and I were talking soccer. (Well, I was talking soccer. They were drinking.) We barely noticed Big Brother threading his way through the guests.
Two minutes later, though, Judgmental Genius Doctor Sister slammed a fist on the table and stood up. “NO! No, that’s just not right!”
She pointed an accusing finger across the room, where an oblivious waiter set a second brownie sundae in front of Big Brother.
Judgmental Genius Doctor Sister howled, “HE ALREADY HAD DESSERT!”
Big Brother grinned at her, giggled, and waved his spoon before triumphantly before digging in.
Brilliant Blonde Lawyer Sister was up on her feet next, yelling, “Hey! That’s not fair! You don’t get TWO desserts!”
Ex-Stepmother #1 laughed. Thankfully, the other guests – almost as well lubricated as Judgmental Genius Doctor Sister – took their cue from her and laughed, too. When Big Brother somehow snagged a third sundae and taunted us from across the room yet again, the room roared. My sisters upped the decibel levels of their shrieks. They mimed climbing across the tables. There was more laughter.
The party was breaking up before Big Brother dared to return to our table.
His wife shook her head at him. “Three sundaes? Really?”
“Oh, I didn’t really eat them,” he hastily assured her. “I was just messing with my sisters.”
But when I caught up with Ex-Stepmother #1 in the parking lot, she had a different story. “Oh, that took me back,” she chuckled. “I thought your sister was going to climb over the table and yank that third sundae away from Big Brother.”
I raised an eyebrow at her. “Big Brother says he didn’t really eat them.”
“Oh, no. He really ate them. ALL of them.”
I thought it was just me, the middle child, that still rushed ahead of phantom siblings to claim my share of the pie. But it’s not. When you come from a large family, it doesn’t matter how big the pie is.
There will never be enough to fill you up.