Sunday, December 5, 2010

Weekly Column: It Takes A Village

My kitchen was bright with morning sunlight and cheery-faced little girls, and I was doing my best to keep it that way. 
I fluttered around the cabinets, putting together a quick breakfast with a side of happy banter.  Intent upon the perfection of the morning, I completely forgot my preschooler’s long-held preference, and one I see no problem with: no milk on her shredded wheat.  It’s a texture issue, and one I understand – no soggy cereal gets past my lips, either – but nevertheless, I forgot.  I doused her cereal with cold milk, sat it on the table in front of her, and went on fluttering. 
My forgetfulness, though, was no match for my 4-year-old’s disinclination.  She immediately began to wail, pointing frantically to her milk-filled bowl.  Startled from my sunny haze, I realized the problem.  Actually, I realized multiple problems.  The accidental milk, yes, but the bigger problem was how on earth I should handle it. 
After my daughter settled down enough to ‘use her words’, I thought about my choices.  I could force her to eat the breakfast anyway, probably ending with her refusing any breakfast at all.  I could dump everything into the trash and start over, but think of the waste!  I could carefully spoon each piece of barely damp cereal into a different bowl, but for pity’s sake!  That would take longer than for her to just eat the cereal in the first place. 
The only practical option I saw was to force her to eat the breakfast.  Which I promptly began to suggest, promising that if she ate quickly, it wouldn’t get soggy.  As I expected, she broke down again. The perfect, sunny morning suddenly seemed gray and dismal.  I sighed heavily, and made ready to be the firm enforcer. 
My mom was visiting that morning, but it never once occurred to me to ask for her advice.  In the middle of my attempted explanation, she quietly gathered a colander and bowl, and began pouring the milk off the cereal.  She solved the problem without fuss – without catering – without arguments.  The gathering clouds floated away, the morning’s light was rekindled, and we went about our merry way. 
You see, she’s done this before. 
I’m not the first mother in the history of mothers to deal with a tiny glitch like this one.  I don’t, in fact, know how to do everything.  I know very little in the grand scheme of parenting, but that doesn’t stop me from assuming my ideas must be correct because, after all, I’ve expended countless hours in trying to figure out this mothering gig. 
Sometimes I get so used to being a stick-in-the-mud that I fail to see the mud turning to concrete.  I get stuck beyond my own ability to free my bound ideas, and I forget that there are those around me who could dig me out, if only I’d look to them for help.
If I’d look around myself more often – to my husband, my mother, my aunts, my friends – I’d see something very clearly: I am not alone on this journey.  I’m not the first woman to worry about the best way to raise her kids.  I will not be the last.  Each problem or frustration I encounter has, almost without exception, been encountered by another mom just like me. 
I don’t have to re-make the wheel with every action I take. 
It’s perfectly acceptable – wonderfully comforting, even – to know that I can ask for help.  And to know that I’m surrounded by years of practice in parenting: almost none if it my own. 

4 comments:

  1. Oh, I have so been there! I learned to let my children get their own breakfasts. I have three picky eaters. Breakfasts can be a disaster until someone suggested that I teach them to be responsible for their own breakfasts. It was an enlightening moment for me and a totally freeing moment for them. They have been helping in the kitchen and getting their own breakfast every since. They have even learned to like "normal" food like pancakes and breakfast rice. It was hard to let them learn. It was hard to deal with the mess at first, but the rewards far outweighed the problems. They learned and so did I.

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  2. The collander was genius! Props to grandmas. They rock. :-)

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  3. I love this column, Sarah -- LOVE it! First, your mom is a genius. Never would've thought to strain the milk out of the cereal like that; will we ever be that savvy and cool?!

    I have a problem with thinking I need to "re-make the wheel" with every single parenting move I make. This is a great reminder that there is a rich community of mentoring out there to make my path an easier one :)

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  4. We have milk-and-cereal issues at our house, too; so I mean it when I say, your mom is brilliant!

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Hmm...And how did that make you FEEL?