Tuesday, April 30, 2013

It's the Real Thing, Baby

First blueberry pie. Almost certainly not the last. 
Whenever I am in the kitchen, there are four little words I love and dread hearing: "Mommy, can I help?"

I love that my kids want to help. I know that someday, it is possible that no bribe or threat I can dream up will get them within twenty feet of the kitchen, so I enjoy their enthusiasm now. Truthfully, however, there are times that their "help" adds an hour, an egg on the floor, and flour in crevices that will never come clean, and I just want to do it myself.

It is a constant pas-de-deux of cooking and trying to prevent salmonella when they climb up on their little stools and, faster than the speed of light, rub their little hands on raw meat. Powdery white substances are irresistible, both for eating by the handful and for smearing onto hair and eyes and siblings.

Despite this, I almost always let them help. I want them to have memories of being welcomed in the kitchen. My mother tells a story about baking cookies as a child for a 4-H competition and burning the first batch. Her mother helped her start over, remix and re-bake, and under my grandma's guidance, the second batch was perfect. This memory means a great deal to my mom; as one of seven children, she did not always have much individual time with her own mother. I am sure it meant a great deal to my grandma, who lost her mother before she was five and probably spent little time with her in the kitchen.

Besides the benefit of time -- which is precious with two working parents and three, soon to be four, children -- learning to cook is a lesson in self-sufficiency and persistence. And in our house, that lesson is built upon a foundation of do-it-yourself. We still buy boxed macaroni and cheese (because it is delicious), but otherwise, we cook, and we teach, from scratch.

I have not bought a box of pancake mix in almost two years. Through much satisfying and frustrating trial and error, I found a recipe and modified it until it was perfect. I have learned to be comfortable making slow-cooking oatmeal and slow-cooking grits. I take great pride in my pie crusts, which my mother showed me how to make. Sometimes they are still too sticky and shaped like footballs, but I persist, and every once in a while, they are flaky and light and beautiful and I want to send pictures of them to my mom.

This is what I want my kids to learn when they "help": it is not okay to eat raw eggs, and if you measure and mix all the ingredients yourself, it will take longer and taste better. We live in a post-Betty Crocker world where you can buy just about anything pre-made, and I am not going to lie, sometimes I would love to cook nothing but things that require me to add water or press "bake" on the oven. Sometimes a Stouffer's lasagna is the best-tasting thing on Earth.

But so much is lost in the instant-ness. A muffin mix doesn't allow a three-year-old to build a brown-sugar sandcastle. When my daughter made her first little pie, it was all she could do to not march around the house, hoisting the ramekin above her head like a trophy. I showed pictures of her pie to my mom, and felt the do-it-yourself implant in a fourth generation.

As long as they want to help, and as long as I can summon the patience, my kids will be allowed to "help" in the kitchen. Someday, when they are living in early-twenties poverty, they will buy ramen and instant oatmeal, but they will have memories of learning to saute garlic, roast squash, and bake homemade pies. They will remember that flour and baking powder just feels better than a pre-mix, and somewhere down the line, I will see pictures of their kids' baked goods: proud smiles alongside accidentally dropped eggs and sugar in their hair.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Growing Life and Combating Stupidity

 The hardest part of being a Kitchen Widow is missing my husband. The second hardest part is parenting my children alone for much of the week. Some days, a long day at my job and the 200th evening viewing of "Despicable Me" and breaking up inane fights over one wooden block that someone wants and someone else threw at my head are more than I can handle.

Yet, we are having another baby. I think some people, privately and not-so-privately, cannot imagine why we would have a fourth child when having three stretches us mentally, physically and financially. It is not easy; that much is absolutely true. And having multiple kids is not for everyone. And sometimes I complain about it.

Pregnancy #1, Summer 2007
But the truth is that we are happy and excited to bring another life into the world. We love being parents and are mostly good at it. I like being pregnant and mostly enjoy it. And most people are supportive and wonderful. I have been discouraged lately, however, by a barrage of comments on my pregnancy and our full household. I have never encountered, throughout any of our pregnancies, such a menu of ridiculous, mean and inconsiderate statements, and I think it is time to stand up for pregnant women and mommies (especially those of big families).

Things Never to Say to a Pregnant Woman (and these are all real comments made to me this year):
"You are so big!"
"Are you having twins?"
"You sure you're not due sooner?"
"You look miserable."

Things Never to Say to a Soon-to-be Mother of Four (again, all real):
"You are crazy/insane/a glutton for punishment!"
"Isn't two enough?"
"You'd think you would have learned your lesson."
And my personal favorite: "Don't you know how to stop?"

Pregnancy #2, Winter 2009
I guess people are trying to be friendly or funny, but let me set the record straight. Being pregnant is hard work, whether you are working outside the home or not, whether you have other children or not. And as pregnant women, we have the amazing privilege of growing life, while balancing changes to our emotional, mental and physical states. We know what we look like, but unlike observers, we also know what we feel like. And some days we feel beautiful, other days we feel wretched. In the end, we are doing an important job that is not easy. You would not tell an overweight person that they are looking pretty fat, so do not tell me I look big and miserable.

Pregnancy #3, Spring 2011
Being a mother of three small children on my way to four is also not easy. But it is our choice. We are fortunate that getting pregnant and delivering healthy children has been relatively easy for us. I know couples who have struggled with this and my heart breaks when I think about those who cannot have or have lost the children they want. We have always felt that it is a gift that we can have kids and, to be perfectly cliche, we are not looking a gift horse in the mouth. A big family has been our dream all along, just as some people dream of one child or two or none at all. In the end, it is nobody's business.

Pregnancy #4, Spring 2013
So in answer to that last comment, I guess we don't know how to stop. We see the three beautiful children in our home that sometimes drive us crazy but always bring us joy, and I feel the baby elbowing around inside me, and it is all a blessing. Even if you feel it is nonsense to have more than one child or more than two, or if you are a perfect stranger who feels close enough to me to touch my stomach, just back off. We all make choices, and we are happy with ours, so my new choice is to have you zip it and just tell me that I look great and you are happy for our growing family.

I mean really, do you actually want to piss off a huge, miserable pregnant woman who is insane and ignorant? I didn't think so.