Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Wading through the pudding of parenting

Yesterday I made tapioca pudding. From scratch, of course; I've never understood the appeal of using a box to save five minutes and lose 75% of the flavor. (Early on in my forays into cost savings I looked at the price of snacks and decided that if I wasn't willing to bake goodies, we didn't need to eat them. Yes, there have been occasions when I've bought cookies, but it's not a regular occurrence.)

So I soaked the tapioca in sweet milk, and went off to do other things. Eventually I remembered to come back and simmer the concoction; I mixed up eggs and let the mixture thicken on the stove, then added vanilla. Half an hour of cooling, then transfer to ramekins. Oh, yum! I covered the ramekins with wrap and put them in the fridge.

After an early supper I took Little Guy to Cub Scouts. My tummy was rumbly on the way home, and I thought happily of the treat awaiting us. When we arrived, Little Guy looked in the fridge and said, "But there's none left! There's only one that's half eaten." I rummaged around and located a ramekin that had been pushed toward the back of the shelf. Then I counted the empty containers on the counter: one, two, three, four... Indeed, the only tapioca pudding left was the one that was half eaten. Someone had taken more than his or her share. Although I was the one who had taken the time to make the pudding, I wasn't going to get to eat any.

The feelings that go through a mom's head at moments like this -- and I assume others have moments like this -- are mixed. There is sadness that one of your own children could be so self-centered. There is a woundedness, too, from having done something generous and getting a punch in the gut in return. There is anger. There is bewilderment. There is disappointment. How can this be?

To eat someone else's share when you've already had an ample portion is just wrong. My kids know this. I know they do. I have taught them, by word and example, to be thoughtful of others. And yet there was half a portion of tapioca pudding instead of a whole one.

No one confessed, of course.

I considered my options. It was a blessing that I was more sad than angry, because often when I'm angry I rant, and that rarely helps anything or anyone. Feeling sad helped me see that the issue wasn't getting the perpetrator know that what he or she had done was wrong. The child knew that, even while savoring my dessert. The issue -- or at least the one I could do something about while my pudding was being digested in someone else's belly -- was honesty. So I gathered the kids who'd been home while I was gone, and said, "What makes me most unhappy is that someone's not telling the truth. I am not going to yell at you. You know I value honesty. I just want to know who ate the pudding."

There was awkward silence. Then one of the children said, "I ate a little bit off the top."

I nodded, ignoring the disparity between "a little bit" and how much was missing.

I thanked the child for admitting the wrongdoing.

I did not impose a consequence, because frankly I am not able to think of something appropriate in the midst of strong emotion, and at that moment I had enough work to do keeping my other feelings at bay.

This morning I decided the fitting response is to require the perpetrator make dessert for the family next week, at his/her personal expense.

And I'm reminded, once again, that the reason to be a good parent is because that's what you are called to be. You can hope to get other things -- like honest and hardworking kids, or the good opinion of others, or gratitude -- out of it. But there are times when what you will get for your effort is a half-ramekin of crusted-over tapioca pudding, and a headache.

That doesn't mean it was a mistake to make the dessert. It just means that I am not, and never will be, the person making the decisions in my child's head.

Friday, January 25, 2013


Hannah's doing a bit better. Thank you to all who prayed for her! Her kidney has started doing more of what it's supposed to, and the preliminary bone marrow results are negative for leukemia (rah!). It's been a rollercoaster. Hopefully the ride will be over soon, and they'll know exactly what's wrong, and she can go home.
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Dancer and Snuggler have survived their first-ever midterm exams. What a bear! Dancer had only one two-hour test a day, and she could leave after the exam was done. Snuggler's schedule was more condensed, with a 90-minute exam followed by a 45-minute study hall, lunch, another 90-minute exam, and then regular classes. I'm glad all that is over! I've been working with Snuggler on how to handle test anxiety, which is one of her personal plagues.

One of my major sanity-gripping techniques in times of stress is to remind myself (frequently) of how long a the particular stress will last. Stress from midterms is a one-week problem. It is not endless, no matter how it feels. Very few things in life are endless.

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I've been going through a bad spell lately, exhausted by a series of intractable difficulties. I was feeling down the other day, and then while re-reading parts of Carol Dweck's Mindset, laughed to find that she says people fall into two categories: those who plunge ahead and keep doing what they need to do when they're feeling down, and those who give up. I am solidly in the first category. Which may be why I'm so worn out. But it's also why I'm a survivor.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Prayers for Hannah

Photo: Mary and Hannah, best cousins!
Best cousins: Hannah and Dancer after Nutcracker this year

I'm asking your prayers for my niece Hannah, my sister Beth and her family. Earlier this month Hannah was diagnosed with endocarditis, which is an infection in the lining of the heart. The IV antibiotics seemed to be working, but then Hannah was sent back to the hospital because of severe pain and fever. It turns out that Hannah has developed a clotting disorder, possibly triggered by the antibiotics. One of her kidneys has shut down, and they're still trying to figure out what is going on. Last night she had a severe allergic reaction (seizures, high fever) to a dose of vitamin K, which she'd been given in order to slow blood coagulation so she can have a kidney biopsy today.

Hannah is 14, and has Down Syndrome. She loves firefighters and animals, and has a wickedly good sense of humor. Please pray for her recovery, and for comfort and peace for her parents and siblings.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Bread, considered

I discovered  remembered this morning that I'd neglected to buy bread yesterday. Contemplating ways to  make breakfast and pack lunches without the staff of life is an annoying way to start the day. I knew my problem-solving skills wouldn't up to it without coffee, and thankfully there was just enough milk to have some. Though I vaguely noted, in my 5:30 a.m. haze, that making breakfast without milk added to my challenge.

So I sat in the dark for a while, waiting for the caffeine to pummel my brain into some semblance of functionality. I thought about Little House on the Prairie. Back when people had to make their own bread, they didn't forget to do it. I can forget to buy bread because it's a matter of running an errand. It's barely on my to-do list.

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It takes a lot more time to make bread than buy it. Still, 150 years ago it got made every week. How much bread did the Ingalls' eat? How many loaves did Ma bake in her small, makeshift oven?  I tried to visualize that massive lump of dough -- three feet by three feet? -- and the arm strength it would take to knead. How many hours, from start to finish?

Where, in that tiny log cabin, did they keep the bread? Where was it safe, free from little hands, insects, mice? Didn't it get stale by the end of the week? How does one figure out how much flour to buy if you're only going to the store once every six months?

When something is a major priority, one tends to figure out the logistics. If I lived on the prairie in the 19th century, I would not wake up at 5:30 and realize we had no bread. I couldn't afford to forget.

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I manage generic gratitude for food, but I daresay that I am more grateful for having choices than for having bread at all. Don't you ever wonder what percentage of your brain is dedicated to keeping track of who in your family will eat what? Even on a very limited budget, we are not deprived of food, but of options.

When I read Poor Economics (a book well-worth reading), I greatly appreciated the authors' exploration of why those who live on a dollar a day don't behave the way we think they should. If every moment of your life required thinking about how you're going to get the next meal, if your brain were perpetually weary of making hard choices and maintaining momentum, you simply would not make decisions in the same way as a middle-class American.

Consider this, merely from an American perspective: if you have not eaten out in nine months, have foregone all creature comforts, have exhausted yourself coming up with dirt-cheap meals, and someone gives you $25, do you save it, or take the family out for pizza? 

It's pizza, of course. Because what you are buying is more than pizza. You're buying the luxury of convenience, of not-having to plan, of not-having to feel poor. For once, you don't have to think. For once, you have a stress-free option. There are times that is worth more than anything else $25 can buy.

The thing is, you have genuine gratitude for that pizza. I don't have that kind of thankfulness for bread. I wish I did. Though I wish it carefully, in the abstract: deep down, I do not want to endure the kind of hunger that would open my eyes fully.