Back in the mid-80s, my mom took me and my brothers to a farm to buy the makings of dill pickles. It was five miles and a whole world away. Mom was probably in her early thirties at the time—roughly the age that I am now—and she already had four grubby young children. Somehow, it seemed like a good idea to take said children to the country to buy bushels or pecks or whatever the hell you call them of cucumbers and dill.
As an official pickle helper, the trip to the farm was a thrill. It was Pickle Day, by God, and the boys and I thought we might just spot some cows or perhaps a chicken. Even the smell of manure was a novelty. When that distinctive odor met our nostrils, we giggled and held our noses with dramatic flair. Mom bought the cucumbers and dill from the farmer, and we all helped carry baskets of produce back to the car, burying our noses in the fresh dill.
After trucking the whole lot of children and farm-fresh produce home, Mom took out the huge pot that under normal circumstances was a much-abused drum. She canned dozens of jars of pickles, and by the end of the day, they were neatly lined up in the cupboard. Pickles were only one of the many foods that Mom canned throughout the year, and it was always a family affair. We did peaches, pickled beets, and just about every kind of jam imaginable.
I know that not every family ate as well as we did. Not every kid was raised on fresh, from-scratch bread and cookies. I value these memories because to me, they symbolize another era where people took the time to do things the old-fashioned way. Often the hard way. My family didn’t have a ton of money, but my mom took the time to make the best for us. It was one of the ways that she showed her love for us, and herein lies my parenting pickle.
When she’s grown, will my daughter reminisce about the chicken nuggets and sweet potato fries that I throw in the oven? Will it make a lick of difference that they’re organic? I do know how to cook and bake, and I sometimes do. It’s a matter of choice. After working all day and then commuting, I don’t always have the time or energy to make fabulous meals. I aspire to be an organized meal-planner, but I often fall short, and by Friday, it’s take-out time.
I know I’m not the only parent to feel this way. Just last week, a co-worker told me that she had a horrifying realization that the homemade spaghetti sauce that she slaves over—chopping, cooking, and canning—is largely unappreciated by her family. She makes the sauce because her mother did the same. The tradition means a lot to my coworker, but her husband and kids would probably be just as happy with Ragu. Should she stop making the sauce? Give up a piece of her family culture?
I asked Josh if there’s anything about his childhood that is analogous for him—something that his parents did that he doesn’t feel equipped to do for our daughter. He took my question seriously, but he couldn’t come up with anything. It got me thinking: Is the guilt that I feel unique to being a mom? When I think about it intellectually, I know that I’m sometimes too hard on myself. After all, Josh, Linnea, and I are all relatively well fed, and in addition to my job, I have a lot of hobbies and volunteer responsibilities that take up my time.
Even my mom has let the pickle-making fall by the wayside. She was a stay-at-home mom until I was in high school, but once she started working full time outside the home, our food traditions changed. And you know what? Some of them are just as memorable. We got to order pizza on Thursday nights, and because we’d been raised on homemade, whole-wheat, vegetarian pizza, there was something very sinful and delectable about pepperoni pizza from Domino’s. On Fridays, Mom picked up Italian bread from the bakery downtown, and we would crowd around the table for spaghetti and “Friday Bread.”
I’m trying to strike a balance between trying to recreate some aspects of my childhood for Linnea and trying to be my own kind of parent. I won’t be making homemade dill pickles anytime soon, but I’ll probably tell Linnea all about it as she munches on her first store-bought baby dill. When Linnea is old enough to help, I may even talk my mom into finding that huge pot in the garage and flexing her old canning muscles.
I want to know:
Is there something about your childhood that you’d like to share (and/or feel pressure to share) with your own children or other special kids in your life?
Do any men out there feel similar pressure, or is this a woman thing?
I had a great time yesterday at the first-ever Minnesota Blogger Conference, and I started this post in a session with Kate Hopper, a writer and writing instructor who blogs at Mother Words: Mothers Who Write.
If you’re in Minnesota and like to run, please consider running the Bolder Dash next Saturday, September 18, at Lake Nokomis in Minneapolis. It benefits Bolder Options, a wonderful youth mentoring organization, and I am on the committee. I know that many local bloggers will be at Walk Run Hope to benefit the Liz Logelin Foundation that evening, but I challenge the crazy among you to do both (this one’s in the morning)!