This is how terrible my Catholic grade school was: Once I went on a press run to a printer on Chicago’s South side, and somehow, the business owner and I figured out we had gone to the same elementary school (he was in my brother’s grade). He immediately dragged me onto the press floor to corroborate all the terrible stories he’d told the press guys about the corporal punishment we’d grown up with (I can only imagine that school’s monthly ruler and yardstick budget, so many broken on the backsides of students). All the guys shook their heads. None of them could believe it.
Needless to say, Lent was a big deal at my school. Honestly, I kind of liked it, even though I was not a fan of fish sticks on Fridays. The stations of the cross were always good for a dramatic distraction from mass (“Jesus falls for the third time”). The hoods going over the heads of all the statues on Good Friday were appropriately freaky. And the frequent spins of the Jesus Christ Superstar double-album at my house went into even heavier rotation.
Naturally, all the festivities kicked off with Ash Wednesday, with contests among the kids as to whose forehead got the most smeared by our communion-wine-happy priests. Then it was time to write down what we’d be giving up for Lent. I remember in fifth grade, I wrote down a list of five, until our lay teacher gently informed me that it was better to focus on one or two things than to make such a long list. Now I’m dying to remember what several things I possibly could have had to give up already when I was 10 years old. Cartoons? Nail-biting?
In later years, I had one successful Lent in my 20s when I gave up drinking and smoking. It was then that I realized that Lent is much more than a month; those last 10 days Jesus spent in the desert must have been a killer. Even more idiotic is that I picked up both habits easily enough on Easter Monday, most likely. Drinking is, as it’s said, a necessary evil, but smoking? What an idiot. Fortunately, I was able to kick for good a few years later.
I have already gone on (and on and on) abut my bout with Dryuary, so what horrors could Lent possibly have in store for me this year? My original plan was to give up sugar, until my colleagues pointed out how difficult that would be with my job, what with a month in which I’m learning pie crusts and likely have various other batches of brownies to bake. Plus the fact that sugar is in literally everything: Ketchup, salad dressings. It’s probably in my socks right now, just waiting.
So, I unfortunately have to get a bit more specific about my give-ups this year. Most still fall under the category of sugar. No candy, cake, ice cream, or straight-up sweets of any sort. Except if work-related. See, I have loopholes.
Still, that lets a lot of things out, especially since I work in a place that hosts a snack Slack channel. The free food is pretty generous here, where you can spot a box of Dunkin’ Donuts on a counter and they’re not even all gone yet. After years of working in non-profits, this type of excess continues to blow my mind, and I usually can’t help but partake of said doughnut. God only knows when I would spy a windfall like that again. Y’know, until the next possible morning.
Now, I will walk right by those bags of miniature Snickers and free doughnut holes. Not today, Satan, will I think as I head toward our office fruit delivery that I usually seem to bypass. I mean, Jesus was tempted to make bread out of rocks; surely I can snub buttercream frosting.
Since giving up sweets isn’t about to affect, y’know, my entire life as much as Dryuary did (“Man, Gwen was a lot more fun when she was on sugar’), I’m not sure how regularly I will update here on my undoubtedly heroic efforts to deny myself flourless chocolate cake at a dinner party. And as I mentioned, I have an apple pie going up on the site next week, so I know I will already be busted at some level. But I enjoyed our Dryuary chats so much, please chime in on the comments below about what (if anything) you are giving up for Lent this year.
One non-food related thing I’m also going to try to give up: Swearing. My poor children cringe constantly since their mother has the vocabulary of a seasoned dockworker, swearing a blue streak during calamities like losing my phone charger. I really want to fake-swear like my TV heroes like Kimmy Schmidt and Eleanor on The Good Place (“What the fudge? This is bullshirt!”). When I told my plan to the kids, they scoffed: “Mom, you’ve already used the F word three times. This morning.”
But that never-ending road to self-improvement is what Lent is all about, right? It’s just like it was in fifth grade: a few decades later, and I still have a long list.