These are things I didn’t know about food or cooking until I was an adult:
- I didn’t know that you didn’t need a box of Jell-O instant pudding to make pudding.
- I didn’t know you could make pancakes without Bisquick.
- I didn’t know the difference between butter and margarine.
- I didn’t know that American Cheese slices were not actually cheese.
- I didn’t know the difference between Non-Dairy Creamer and cream. (Seriously — I must not have read that “Non-Dairy” part too closely.)
- I also didn’t know the difference between whipped cream and Cool Whip.
- I didn’t know that you could make salad dressing without an envelope of pre-mixed spices.
- I didn’t know there was any kind of lettuce besides iceberg.
- I was eleven before I found out you could make cocoa without Swiss Miss (my mom shocked me by making it right on the stove with a wooden spoon and a tin of Hershey’s cocoa).
- I was thirteen before I knew you could cook a hot dog by boiling it instead of putting it in the microwave.
- I was fourteen before I knew you could make mashed potatoes out of potatoes instead of out of a box. (We loved the lumps and embarrassed our stepmother by going on and on about them.)
- I was fifteen before I knew you could make a grilled cheese sandwich from actual cheddar cheese. (And my boyfriend impressed me even more by making it on homemade bread and even added sprouts.)
Sometimes I think about this as a very clear metaphor for the baggage we haul around from our family of origin. Some of it is good stuff, some of it is bad stuff and some of it is just plain wrong stuff. Fortunately you can start to correct the bad stuff just by being out in the world and being open to noticing new things.
I’ll admit that I was a 23 years old before I learned the difference between whipped cream and Cool Whip. Doubly embarrassing since I’d spent a couple of years working the retail counter at Katzinger’s, where knowing about food was part of the job description. But we never used whipped cream there that I can remember so when my co-worker asked me to go grab some for the strawberry shortcake she was bringing to our lunch potluck I headed to the frozen food aisle. Meeting up at the check out line she gasped at my blunder and marched me back to the dairy aisle to grab a spray can. (Later I learned to make whipped cream myself with an ice cold mixing bowl. Miracle of miracles!)
As time went on, I learned to pick and choose from the things I learned from my family and the things I learned as I went along. I only made homemade pudding once — the results were good but not worth my boredom stirring over the stove. But I never use margarine. My kids like their grilled cheese made with “Grandma Cheese,” so-called because I kept our ‘fridge stocked with actual cheddar until they discovered those creamy individual slices at my mom’s house and insisted on putting them on the shopping list. We don’t have a microwave and I never make mashed potatoes out of a box but I do use Bisquick to make these particular chocolate chip cookies my kids love and my husband likes to mix Hazelnut Non-Dairy Creamer with his half-and-half in his morning coffee.
We pick and choose. We learn things, we discard things, we pick new things up and we keep some old things close.
I recently reread The Willow Cabin by Pamela Frankau and I walked around the rest of the day thinking with an English accent.
This is the last paragraph of The Willow Cabin (it holds no spoilers):
In such a moment of solitude as this, she could feel accompanied by every joyful adventure that she had known, every person who she had loved. She brought into the empty room the crowd, of whom she was made.
The book was making me think about acquisitions. The two main women in the book talk about the “tyranny of property.” I am not like this — I like property for the most part.
Then later when I got online to do some writing, I (of course) tried to avoid work by scanning through my bookmarks and I started seeing the tyranny of my bookmarks.
I bookmark things out of greed; I love the acquisition. I have no time to ever look at 75% of them again. Instead I feel guilty every time I open my bookmarks file to find the one or two I use regularly but I can’t delete the rest. Tyranny indeed. When I get a new browser I rarely import the bookmarks. Then for a very brief time, I feel absolutely free of all those sites I mean to visit someday to read in earnest instead of just scan. But eventually it begins again. Someone sends me an article I want to read but don’t have time or the homeschool email list has a link to a nifty science site and there I am drowning in bookmarks again. It’s a terrible thing.
When the kids were small we used to have regular rounds of Twenty-Five Toss, which was when I’d take a cardboard box, place it in the middle of the hallway and tell them to find twenty-five things they wanted to throw away or donate. By the end of the day we’d have a box full of gum wrappers and outgrown socks and toys no longer needed. If we did this once a week through spring or summer we’d end the season with more space to think. Plus the kids like the alliteration.
Twenty-five is a reasonable number — big enough to make a dent but small enough that the kids won’t get overwhelmed. Plus a person can always cheat her way through it if she needs to and just throw away twenty-five magazine order cards and receipts and old envelopes instead of committing to an entire day digging through basement boxes.
So I think I’ll try this with my bookmarks over the course of the next week or so. And maybe if I get really ambitious, I’ll apply it to my iTunes library, which is about to take over my entire computer.
Now please do not bookmark or pin this article if it’s just going to end up tyrannizing you. Or do it and then make it the first of the twenty-five things you’re going to do away with to make your life more free and easy.
Out for a morning walk I passed a mom with her two preschool-aged kids and their respective push-toys. Two-ish year old girl with a pacifier and a wagon; three-ish year old boy with a shopping cart and what is clearly his favorite striped tiger toy. The mom was letting them lead the way, which meant they were going very s-l-o-w-l-y and even backtracking sometimes. Mom was strolling along next to them, pausing, taking a few steps back, helping a wheel get out of a rut and she had this contemplative calm about her that perfectly reflected the contented boredom that is time alone with small children.
I don’t miss those days but I miss those moments.
With my son it was a daily trip to a crab apple tree when he was about fifteen months old. We’d scuffle there (he was in his little moccasins, next best thing to being barefoot) and stop at every. little. thing. It was spring, the flowers were coming out and we would examine each bloom every day. Someone had Pooh Bear window clings in their front window and we’d stop and name them one by one. Finally at our destination, I’d sit on the curb while he picked up the little apples and threw them into the street.
He’d say, “App-o! App-o! Frow frow!” (Apple! Apple! Throw throw!) Every day the same thing until the apples became mush and it was summer and his shuffle turned into a run.
But before that our walk across the apartment complex courtyard and to the back of the first row of townhouses took at least an hour. We left mid-morning and got home in time for lunch but it felt like we were gone for years.
Oh god it was boring. But sweet. But boring. So boring that I would forget to breathe and then yawn so wide I felt like my jaw would dislocate.
Same thing with my daughter only by then our walks included her brother, who would take the dog around our tiny block in the time it took for his sister and me to toddle our way across three sidewalk squares stopping to poke sticks and drop pebbles into the sewer grate.
But at least we were outside. Rain or shine or snow, we tried to make it out for a change of scenery. After being cooped up indoors all those little blooms and blossoms and cracks in the sidewalk are little miracles to capture your kid’s attention so you can take something like a break. Sure, you have to make sure they don’t eat the stick or swallow a rock and you need to kneel down to kiss inevitable boo-boos when they stumble over something and yes, you have to acknowledge the apples, the car driving by, the crackling autumn leaf on the lawn or the dog on a walk with its owner. Sure, you have to do those things but at least you are moving (however slowly) and at least there is the scenery and dang, but your kids are adorable, which is what keeps you going above all else.
And then there is home to grilled cheese or PB&J cut into triangle quarters and a sticky sippy cup and peeled apples or halved grapes. It is a very small world, being home with small children.
I remember being the mom but I remember being the child, too, and that self-important sense of adventure contrasted so comfortingly with the familiarity of the bread your mother always buys with the grape jelly she knows you like.
There were good times, both sides and I miss the moments but I do not miss the days.
(This is a reprint from my now defunct old blog, this woman’s work. I wrote it in 2010.)