4 kids in 3 years: reflections on motherhood, art and life.
“Is this celeriac? I love this celeriac!”
Five-year-old Mica exclaimed this while sitting in the bar of a funky little Mexican, biker, gourmet, locally sourced Mexican restaurant in Brunswick, ME. The host and owner was floored. Mica was eating what I call the decoy vegetables: the huge, tacky plastic bin of vegetables I bring when we go out to eat so that the kids sit quietly if there’s a wait. While Mama sips her pomegranate margarita in peace, they stuff their faces with… celeriac. Then they don’t hog the chips and guacamole when it comes to the table. (The grown-ups need to munch something salty with the margaritas. Am I right?)
That’s why I love our local organic farm stand. We bought a community share and thus each week finds us picking husk cherries, and choosing between bok choy and mustard greens, celeriac and kohl rabi. And if my kids think they invented the food, then they’ll joyfully eat it. No kidding.
Needless to say, growing up in suburbia New Jersey in the mid-70’s to an overwhelmed mother who, it turns out, hates cooking, well, I didn’t learn much about obscure root vegetables from her.
I remember coming home from college my first Thanksgiving break. Picture me walking through the door, sniffing the air. “Ugh! It smells like dog in here. I never noticed how much it smells like dog. A-choo! Is there anything to eat?” I open the refrigerator. “No avocados? No Brie? What does a girl have to do to get the fixins’ for a good turkey sandwich around here?! What’s this? Wonder bread?! Gees, Mom. Is there any cilantro at least? I’ll make a salsa… Wait, no cilantro?!”
My mother replied that not only was she unsure of what cilantro actually was, but she guaranteed that Shop N Bag would certainly not have it.
Game on. I drove to the grocery store to find that in fact not only was there no fresh cilantro but there was currently a can-can sale. And not the Toulouse-Lautrec can-can, but the cases of cans of gray green beans (perhaps Toulouse-Lautrec would say gris haricot vert?) for, like, $2 a case. Seriously.
And a little bit I’m exaggerating. I’m pretty certain I didn’t expect either Brie or avocados that first visit although I did sort of want them, and I may not have discovered cilantro myself until I started working summers at the loveliest little gourmet prepared food store in Tiverton, RI, The Provender, during my first few years of teaching. I wasn’t quite so abrupt or heartless in my cultural coming-of-age.
But I do remember leaving home and discovering this whole new world- of art, food, music, culture- that I had no idea existed before. And I recall feeling somewhat lost in so many social situations as I encountered things I had no reference point to. I was Babe, Pig in the City, but all the time. People make soup from scratch? Totally confounding! I don’t have to order the cheapest thing on the menu on a first date ? Are you sure?! Some young women still actually have debutante balls- wait, all three of my college roommates have had a deb ball?! Is this Gone With the Wind?! There are other artists besides Norman Rockwell, Andrew Wyeth and the guy who paints the limited edition Labrador Retriever prints sold at Eddie Bauer?! Probably should have understood this last one before becoming an art major…
Where does anyone learn any of this stuff anyway? As full of important life lessons as it was, my suburban New Jersey household certainly wasn’t the place.
I know my kids are likely going to have to do this themselves, create a world beyond home, bigger and better. And I assure you, I’m going to want to shut them in their rooms and put their iWhatevers in the food processor when they say rude things to me about they way the house smells or the contents of my refrigerator. But I hope with enough celeriac (seriously, it’s a vegetable that looks like it has a tumor disease…) they’ll at least have the confidence in themselves to know they’re bringing something to the table, even if it’s just a tumorous root vegetable, good Mexican food and Jasper Johns.