I’ve been away for a few days, celebrating my birthday and P.’s with family. Whenever I go anywhere that’s outside of our home environment, it’s inevitable that I’ll be confronted in some way with the reality that we, the RRG family, have constructed a little bubble for ourselves within which things are just done differently and thought about differently than they are in most places outside our bubble. It’s not a value judgment; it’s just a fact.
We went home this weekend. Home, for me — Upstate New York. We spent three and a half days with my folks, during which time I also got to see some old friends I grew up with; we ate meals around my parents’ dinner table, as well as in restaurants both old and new in my hometown area. We celebrated. We had an AMAZING time, and I had an unbelievably fabulous birthday. Things were beautiful. P.’s second birthday was as much fun and chaos and toddler mayhem as I’d wanted it to be for him. We didn’t want to leave.
I think, though, that in the midst of being in old, familiar surroundings, it’s not uncommon to have an epiphany of sorts about where you’ve come from vs. where you are or where you’re going. And I got thinking about all of that today as we re-entered our own RRG reality back here at our house in Rhode Island — thinking about choices. Thinking about the way we all, as adult human beings, make our decisions, and the way it can sometimes feel as though somebody with a strong (differing) opinion is judging us for those decisions. Thinking about how to carry a message with passion AND grace, conviction AND balance.
My childhood best friend, C., and I attended a baby shower for an old, dear friend of ours this weekend. After the party had ended, C. and I went to say our thank-yous and goodbyes to the guest of honor and her family. During the course of the conversation I mentioned that I was planning to go back to my folks’ place and keep working on P.’s birthday cake, which I’d started the previous day. The beaming mother-to-be mentioned that she’d seen this blog quite a few times and wasn’t surprised; C., in her inimitable, affectionate, straightforward way, said “The stuff that makes you want to just shoot yourself?” We all laughed, and I pointed out to her that she’s SEEN my house — anyone who’s seen my house can feel pretty good about the fact that I’m no Martha Stewart. I’m capable in one area of household management, and only one, which is why you’ll see no clutter control tips on this blog.
We joked about it for a few minutes, and I said that I thought in an ideal world, I’d do the cooking for our two families, and C. could take care of the cleaning and organizing (she’s brilliant at that stuff, quite seriously). But under all the lighthearted banter, there’s a point somewhere — which may be that, no matter how many times I try to explain to all of you that I’m a spectacularly flawed human being who’s sharing her one particular gift in this space while sweeping all the other, less pretty stuff under the rug with the old Cheerios and dust bunnies, you may not believe me. And in not believing me, you might look at all of your own perceived shortcomings and start to feel kind of rotten.
That’s not the intention. Neither is it my intention, in being the person I am and trying to change my habits and my family’s habits, to subtly drive my parents crazy and make my poor mother second-guess everything she’s trying to feed us. But that is sometimes the effect this blog has (cue inward guilty cringe). I’ve said before that I owe so much to my mom in terms of food and cooking and knowledge — my mom was the BEST cook of all the mothers, when I was in school, and everybody wanted to eat dinner at our house. I was blessed to be raised with a homecooked dinner every single night and with a mom who did make serious efforts to not only provide fruits and vegetables, but point out what kinds of healthy cooking and eating choices we were making as a family. We also ate our fair share of Hostess cakes and chips, drank Schweppes’ grape ginger ale freely, and ate the occasional bowl of Froot Loops for breakfast. And, as my mother pointed out to me this weekend, I’m perfectly healthy.
It’s not about that. It’s not about whether I’m healthy or unhealthy, frankly; and in part, I say that because I don’t think there’s any true way to measure whether any of us who grew up in the 1980s eating and drinking processed foods with relish have sustained any kind of hormonal or metabolic change, no matter how slight, as a result of those foods. I’m also not losing any sleep over that possibility, because yes, I’m perfectly healthy by measurable standards. That doesn’t change my thinking or my conviction.
Why? Because it IS about choices. And as much as it bothers me to wonder, at times, whether writing in this space and making these choices might somehow hurt, offend, or otherwise cause emotional distress to the people I love dearly, I just am not a person who can back away from this arena and go quietly into the night, clutching my reusable grocery sack and slinking away to the organic produce aisle alone. It doesn’t mean I carry any judgment or ill will towards those who think and choose differently. I just do what I believe to be the best thing I can do with the information I have.
When I was growing up, processed foods, with the modern additives I’ve so come to loathe (like HFCS, hydrogenated oils, etc), had just really become mainstream staples of the American diet. My parents were among the first generation of parents who had the opportunity to choose to feed their kids a rich array of these items; they were in the first wave of people who were parenting in the midst of the minefield that has become the “Western” commercialized food supply. At the time, they had no information that said these things were anything but TOTALLY FINE to feed to us. I have no illusion that it was any different; I don’t have any problem with the fact that my mom packed Twinkies in my lunchbox or let me snack on Doritos on the weekends. Because she’s a GREAT mom. The best. And, like me, she was a Momma Bear. So if somebody had mentioned to her, at any point in time, “Um…that stuff is probably not really great for the kids, not even in moderation…and it might compromise their long-term health and weight management. Oh yeah…and some of it even might give them cancer someday or alter their hormones. We don’t really know. Okay, have fun grocery shopping!” I’m absolutely, 100 percent convinced that my mother would have started at least asking questions before another Twinkie ever touched our lips.
But nobody ever said that to her, or to thousands and thousands of other parents. Absent that piece of information, but richly inundated with marketing and brightly stocked grocery aisles and “fortified” vitamins and all of that insidious nonsense, all of those parents made the best choices they could make at the time WITH THE INFORMATION THEY HAD.
And every day, my generation of parents — who have more information, sometimes too much, on too many subjects — has to make our choices based on what WE know. We’ll all choose differently. When I publish my post later this week with a picture and description of P.’s birthday cake, there may be a riot among some readers over the ingredients. I get that. But I was comfortable with it (enough, even, to have just polished off a piece of the leftovers before coming up to the computer to write this post). I know that sometimes, friends of ours feel badly when they tell me, usually in a hushed and defensive tone, that they packed hot dogs in their kids’ lunches twice in a week. I get that, too — but it’s not necessary. Because I probably still think you’re a great parent for a million other reasons, and a great person, and I probably still love your kids, and I’ll forget tomorrow that you gave them hot dogs and just remember that you totally ROCKED when we chaperoned the school field trip.
The point is, our parents made their choices. We make ours. Our kids will make theirs. And we all need information and perspectives and points of view to be able to make those choices; let’s face it, no decision, in parenting, is becoming EASIER as the decades evolve. This is my space, which I have carved out in order to speak publicly about one particular kind of choosing, in the hope that my struggles and my thoughts might contribute to a larger dialogue. That’s all it is. I was raised by great parents who made good choices and did a million great-parent things. Now, this is me, trying to be a great parent…and hoping that this blog is a good choice that will lead to more great parenting, in my household and in other households.