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Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Card carrying member of the clean plate club

It was not an easy club to be in, but through the forceful voice of my father and my mother’s excellent cooking magic, I was a proud member of the Clean Plate Club for most of my life.
And for most of my life, I honestly thought this was something my dad made up so that I would finish my food and make me feel like I had been inducted into a secret society that was full of healthy people who had eaten copious amounts of vegetables and pot roast.  And eggs, in their entirety.
It was the morning of the fifth grade science fair.  My father had requested fried eggs and as I joined the breakfast table, I did my usual thing and dipped my toast into the yellow yolk and left the white part on the plate.
He wasn’t so happy.  Growing up in a family that barely got by, every ounce of food was precious.  “Eat the white,” he said.
“But daddy, I don’t like the white,” I replied which was pretty stupid because there was no way I was going to win this battle.
“Look,” he said, taunting philosophy, “when you are served a hard boiled egg, you only eat the white and not the yellow.  Now you’ve got a fried egg and eat the yellow and leave the white.  It doesn’t make sense and it’s wasteful.  Eat it.”
My future as a scientist hung in the balance.  The countless hours I spent drawing a poster on the magnetism of the Earth was pretty important stuff…but was it more important than forcing myself to eat the rubbery white part of a fried egg???
Mostly because I didn’t want to fail the fifth grade and I knew for certain that I would be sitting at that table until I ate the egg, even if it took three days.  Eventually I got it down (turns out it wasn’t that bad) and went on my way, having cleaned my plate like a good little girl and kept my club membership.
Turns out my dad didn’t make it up at all.  The Clean Plate Club was actually a concept that started in 1917, went by the wayside, and then was reintroduced in 1947 when food was in short supply after World War II.   The campaign encouraged children to leave no scraps behind, to not be wasteful, and to take only what they could eat.  Sound reasonable?
Today, some people think that the concept of the Clean Plate Club is leading to childhood obesity due to our ever-increasing portion sizes and psychological eating disorders.  I understand what they’re saying, but as a parent I find myself gently persuading my children to join the high ranks of this esteemed organization because I have learned that I just don’t appreciate wastefulness. 
I couldn’t imagine how full the landfills would be, overflowing with half-eaten eggs, if I had chosen my stubbornness over the science fair.


Published 6/19/14

The Days of our Yards

There was a short spurt in my life when my first child was an infant that I became hopelessly addicted to a soap opera.  Once when the show was cut out due to dangerous storm coverage, I actually wrote the station a nasty letter complaining that I missed my program because of their overprotective forecasting.  (I am still fairly ashamed of this.)
Thankfully my addiction didn’t last long and besides that bit of time, I have never been much of a person to enjoy watching the drama in someone else’s life.  I love a good storyline, but can’t stand to spend my spare time wrapped up in the problems of someone else when I have plenty of my own.
So I don’t watch soaps.  On television, that is.
Every spring when days get warmer and brighter, I get much better at keeping my bird feeders full.  “You spend more on those birds than you do me,” chirps my husband.   I can’t help myself, though.  Those birds become the soap opera that I never thought I’d ever watch, but I do.
I stand at my kitchen sink, occasionally washing a dish or two, and scan for the latest backyard drama.  And it’s getting juicy.
There’s a robin that was just crazy enough to build her nest right on the platform of our swing set next to the slide.  She sits there constantly until the kids get home from school and run screaming into the yard, but always keeps watch, which is really smart because there are also cowbirds and bluejays in the area.  (Both of those are potential bad guys who might harm those eggs.)  That mom is always on guard, and if you’re a bird, don’t even try to get close.  She’ll dive bomb you and flap you right on out of there.
She’s got neighbors, too.  Messy house sparrows have moved into one nesting box, but the sweetest little Carolina wrens are setting up shop in another one.  So much comedy as they gather twigs longer than the entry hole and have to figure out how to get them in there.
More neighbors are expected, too, or at least visitors.  The hummingbird feeders are set and ready alongside the regular feeders that often serve as the main stage for the backyard drama.  In the spring, you never know who will show up.  A rose-breasted grosbeak might make a cameo appearance.  And then everything is peaceful until a squirrel shows up, or a quirky chipmunk miraculously makes it way up the post. 

If you’re not a backyard bird watcher, chances are you think I’m a little nuttier than those aforementioned squirrels.  Maybe I am.  But a promise that nothing is an unpredictable as the nature out your backdoor.  And I’ll even venture further to say that birdseed is probably cheaper than cable.  At least that’s what I tell my husband.

Published 5/11/14

On the job mom training

I never played with dolls.  I didn’t have tea parties or strollers.  I didn’t dress them up and feed them.  The only feeding of dolls I ever did was with a certain doll that had a digestive system and came with little packets of gel powder.  You’d add water and make pink goo and feed it to the baby, pump the handle in the back, and wait for proof that what goes in must come out.
Then I gave her a haircut that would make you think she had a lawnmower for a beautician, and she ended up in the bottom of my toy box.
There were other dolls that people gave me, thinking that surely a little girl would hone in her mothering skills and enjoy them, but I didn’t.  I didn’t have mothering skills.  I had other skills.  I had rock collections and rode my bike with no hands.   
Being an only child, I always considered myself the daughter my parents always wanted and the son they never had. 
So when I got married and my husband told my parents that he wanted to have six children, my parents held their sides in laughter and I felt my hips getting wider and my world closing in. 
A bit down the road we were expecting our first kid.  A young mother-to-be, I thought I should really start reading what to do because I had no clue how to take care of a baby, let alone actually be a mother. 
A friend sent me a book.  “This is what helped us.”
Someone recommended another book.  “This will totally save you.”
Relatives told stories, gave advice.  “You’ll never find this in any book.”
But I was pregnant during the summer and had garden work to do, a lawn to mow, dinner to make, and was completely exhausted.  There was no time for reading stacks of books with diagrams on how to swaddle a baby and work out gas bubbles and the best way to establish a sleep schedule.  (I probably should have read that chapter.)
I read very little and when my daughter was born, I had never changed a diaper that wasn’t full of pink goo.  When that first time came, I just did what came natural to me and a lightbulb went off: I think I’m actually wired for this job.  Motherhood was inside me all along, whether I knew it or not.
My hypothesis was confirmed as I nursed her and rocked her to sleep, and skills continued to develop every day.  I already knew how to love this child unconditionally and with every inch of my being for the rest of my life and when she was hungry and tired and how not to run into the coffee table and how to put her toys, dolls and all, back in the toybox.  I just didn’t know it.


Happy Mother’s Day!

Published 5/5/14

Black jelly bean secret

I’ll let you in on a few secrets.  First, my children don’t read the newspaper.  Second, my husband reads them all on the weekend after I’ve clipped my column and stashed it safely in a shoebox.  Third, the good candy is hidden under the spice drops.  And lastly, my childhood philosophy of the black jellybeans still reigns strong today.
There was always a candy dish in our living room.  A fancy blue painted one with a gold trim.  My mother kept a variety of candy in there that would change seasonally, but near Easter it was always filled with jellybeans.  Everyone knew it was there – friends and all of the kids in the neighborhood.  In a matter of minutes, the candy dish would be empty except for the black jellybeans because no one ever liked them. 
So it would go that the candy dish in my very own house that should have belonged all to me (I have no siblings to share with), would more likely be bare than not.  Except for those leftover black jellybeans.
One day I decided that if I wanted to have any sort of candy, I was going to have to eat those unwanted ones, so I forced myself to eat one.  Was it my favorite?  No.  Was it tolerable?  Yes.  Perhaps if I trained myself to eat them and actually enjoy them, I would forever be guaranteed my own personal stash of candy that no one ever steal!  Not only that, but I could have easy access to all of the black jellybeans at the houses of everyone in the entire neighborhood!  People would practically be begging me to eat their candy!
I thought this was brilliant, and to this day, I still agree.  Although still not my favorite, I have assured myself a candy supply of black jellybeans.
Nowadays, it’s harder to find jellybeans that include the black variety, but I’m still fighting the same candy dish battles with my family.  If I put out a bowl of candy, whatever it is, it will be devoured in the blink of an eye and I’m left licking sugar crumbs out of the bottom cursing candy companies for not including black jellybeans anymore.
But then something happened.  A friend bought me a bag of spice drops.  “These are my favorite candy!” I cheered, because I think all those years of training for the spicy beans has tweaked my tastebuds to prefer those flavors.  I ate half the bag myself and then, not wanting to be a pig, set out the rest.
No one touched them. 
“Those are disgusting.  How can you eat them?” I heard them say.
And so, next to the kitchen sink is a dish of spice drops. 
And below them, a secret layer of the sweetest non-black jellybeans ever.

Shhh.

Published 4/20/14

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Actually, no offense

Oh, to be a kid.
The carefree lifestyle of decorated cereal boxes that don’t flash the word FIBER across the front to lure in adults and other boring people.  The wonderment of the latest toy craze.  The magic of simplicity, like swinging on a swing and not feeling like you’re going to toss the cookies you had at lunch.  There are rewards of ice cream and early bedtime.  There are naps.  
Oh, the naps.
But there’s also the fact that kids can presumably act like a grown up and be fairly cute about it.  Kind of like those old painting where animals are playing poker or shooting pool.  Totally unrealistic and yet so comical because they are trying so hard to be like us, but they are so very far away.
That’s what my daughter has become.  Not a bulldog shooting the eight ball in the corner pocket.  She’s become a wanna-be adult.
Two very important phrases come to mind when I think of her five-year old brain and what it must be going through.  The first phrase is: actually.
As in, “actually, whatever I say after I say the word ‘actually’ is really just a rambling sentence that explains that whatever you said was completely wrong and whatever I’m saying is completely right.”  
For example, I might say, “time to go to bed, dear.”
“Actually,” she replies, “the time is only 8:24 and you said that I have to be in bed at 8:30, so I can stay up for six more minutes.”  
“You need to eat some of everything on your plate.”
“Actually,” she retorts, I have eaten at least one of everything.  I just took a little bite out of it so there is still a lot left, but actually I tasted it, and, no offense, mom, but it makes me want to barf.”
And that, my adult friends, is the next phrase that makes me want to be a kid.  “No offense.”
I don’t know where my daughter heard this, but if I find the person who introduced her to it I will, no offense, slap them to next week and feed them food that will actually make them vomit.  Apparently my daughter is under the impression that she can say whatever the world she wants to say as long as she puts the words “no offense” in front of it.  No amount of explanation or discussion will change this.  I tell her it’s not kind, it’s not nice, and it’s not the polite thing to do.  But she just looks at me and says, “no offense, mom, but you’re wrong.”
So I get to spend my days blushing and shaking my head when this cute little blonde haired girl says things like, “no offense, but that lady’s outfit is really ugly.”  And the lady in question is well within earshot.  I glance over at her and offer an apologetic grin hoping that she didn’t quite hear that correctly or that she thinks my kid is being funny, when I notice that my daughter was actually right.  The lady was indeed wearing rather hideous looking clothes.
And that right there is the other main reason I want to be a kid.  
Kids are honest.  They say it like they see.  They see the world through truthful eyes and let those truths come out of their little sticky mouths and remind us, now and then, that honesty is the best policy.  
They also remind us that we should check our clothes in the mirror once in a while, taste the food we serve our family and our guests, and that 8:30 means 8:30.
No offense, but actually, they’re pretty smart.

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