Tag Archives: parenting

Biscuit Guilt: Modern Southern Motherhood

My kids love biscuits for breakfast. They take a while, so we only have hot biscuits on weekends. Saturday morning, I realized that every time I fix biscuits for them, I get a side of guilt. It’s all part of being a mom in the modern South.

Before we get too deep into the story, I should share my recipe. Feel free to pin it:

Modern southern biscuits

Family biscuit recipe since 2004.

The buttermilk is the secret. Pro tip: use the kitchen scissors to open the bag. Keep your sewing scissors hidden from the children and Gennaro.

I got this recipe from my father, who knew how to make fresh biscuits. He also had the good sense to know that these frozen biscuits were 92% as good as homemade and they saved dirtying up dishes. They’re always ready to pop in the oven and you can make four if four is all you need.

But why the guilt when frozen biscuits make so much sense? My modern southern motherhood guilt stems from the fact that my Grandmama Irene kept a plate of cold biscuits on her kitchen table always. ALWAYS. Whatever she and Pop and Aunt Eula didn’t eat hot at breakfast went onto a plate to cool then they were covered with the lid of an old aluminum pot. Nobody had an excuse to be hungry at Grandmama’s house because you could always fix you a biscuit. She even kept the preserves and jelly right there next to them on the plastic tablecloth that covered up the good tablecloth.

I can see Grandmama Irene making biscuits. She took out the wooden biscuit bowl, which was never washed with soap, just scraped out good after each batch. A five pound bag of White Lily self-rising flour. A blue can of Crisco with the snap on lid. A half-gallon of buttermilk from the fridge door. Cut in the Crisco, make a well for the buttermilk, mix it together with fingers that have never thumbed through a cookbook for a biscuit recipe. Knowing how to make biscuits came down like family stories–watching the rhythm of her hands, hearing the scratch of the biscuit cutter against the side of the wooden bowl, smelling the sharp tang of buttermilk, that same gentle bite that you’d taste in the biscuit hot out of the oven. A little sharp to balance the sweet preserves.

She rolled her biscuits on a Tupperware pastry sheet, the white one with the red circles for measuring pie crusts. A wooden rolling pin dusted with flour. Then the tiny biscuit cutter–Grandmama’s biscuits are about an inch across, instead of the typical, sausage patty sized biscuits. She lined them up on a shiny greased baking pan while the oven ticked to the right temperature.

The next generation carried on the biscuit ritual, but with a little bit of a nod to busier times. My mom worked full-time but she made scratch biscuits too. Instead of rolled and cut biscuits, she made drop biscuits. Faster and less mess. The flavor is the same, but instead of uniform circles, her biscuits went more oblong, echoing the shape of the spoon that had dropped the dough onto the baking sheet. The tops of those biscuits peaked and rippled, not smooth and flat like her mama’s biscuits. In our house, biscuits were already becoming a dinner time or weekend thing because mornings were for getting to work and school.

I’m stuck in a strange middle land of the past and the present–on the one hand, I don’t make scratch biscuits like DeeAnn or Beth or Saralynn do, daughters of my generation who learned from their mothers. On the other hand, I also DO NOT use whop biscuits (that’s those godawful biscuits in a can that you have to whop on the side of the counter to open. As Jerry Clower used to say, that WHOP is the sound of a Southern husband’s heart breaking.) So I’m stuck in between whop biscuits and scratch biscuits and that is right where you find frozen buttermilk biscuits.

The guilt, though. Will my kids lose all connection to their floury shortening buttermilk heritage? Will my kids take one more step and–gasp!–feed their kids whop biscuits? THOSE ARE MY (theoretical) GRANDCHILDREN.

The children of every culture walk this line away from the past. We all cling to some recipe from our ancestors. Donaley spends Sundays making Dominican food for her family. Thien-Kim flies home from her mama’s house with a suitcase full of spring rolls. Luvvie pines for her mama’s jollof rice when she’s traveling. Beth makes biscuits in the south of France when she’s missing her granny. Martina makes sauerkraut like her mama taught. Ginger cooks red beans and rice on Monday because that’s laundry day, or it used to be before we all had a washing machine and a dryer in the house.

Yes. I am different from the women who came before me. I don’t make biscuits from scratch. I could if I chose to, but I don’t choose to. At least I don’t today. There will be a day soon from now when I wake up wanting to make biscuits. The recipe and the rhythm will be there in my DNA. It can’t not be there.

But for today, I’m going to put down the guilt. While the frozen biscuits were in the oven, my daughter sat down next to me to show me what she was doing on her laptop. She was coding in Scratch. She dragged an orange cat to the center of the screen then added another version with his legs in a different position. She made him say “Hello there!” She flipped him sideways and it looked like he was swimming, so she drew air bubbles. She changed the line width and color to add a tiny white arc on each gray bubble–voila. We talked about animation and if/then statements and loops and timing. All while the smell of hot biscuits whispered from the kitchen. For her, Saturday mornings aren’t about watching cartoons. They’re for creating.

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And that feeds her spirit and her soul and her future.

Our kids are growing up differently and that’s not so bad. In our house, Sunday morning are for pancakes. Daddy’s in charge of pancakes. Daddy lets you sit on the counter in your underwear and mix in food coloring because blue is your favorite. And Daddy gets you to count how many pancakes will fit on the griddle. He makes little ones and big ones. Daddy teaches you to watch for the bubbles and when there are enough bubbles, how to flip the pancake. Maybe that’s what seeps into your DNA. Maybe that’s the recipe that keeps us connected to each other. The time together, not the taste.

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A Letter Home

Oh, Happy Day!

I opened up the mailbox to find a real envelope with a real stamp…a letter from Vivi at camp!

camp letter3

Before I even took it out of the mailbox, I was asking myself if I should open it right away or wait until G gets home. In less than a second, I decided he would be OK with me opening it right away. So I flipped it over…

camp letter2

And I began to get a little worried that I…

camp letter

NEVER TAUGHT MY DAUGHTER HOW TO SEAL AN ENVELOPE SO THE LETTER DOESN’T FALL OUT SOMEWHERE.

This kid knows how to sign in to her Google account, create docs, save and email them. She does not, however, know that you have to pull the little white strip thingy off the sticky part and smoosh it together.

Or maybe she’s pulling my chain?

I Tiptoe Into Your Room at Night

November 8, 2014

November 8, 2014

I tiptoe into your room every night, and it’s never to whisper, “For the last time, untangle your underwear from your pants legs before you put them in the laundry basket.”

Just before midnight, I stand beside your bed and not once have I come there to say, “Did you put something down the toilet again? Because it is clogging up and I sweartogod if I have to replace another toilet it is coming out of your college fund.”

In the soft glow of your night light, my finger reaches out to trace the perfect curve of your cheek and I don’t ask, “Why are you so sticky?”

I tuck the covers around you without saying, “You’re not even supposed to have Go-gurts in your room. We don’t want ants.”

I push the dark curls off your forehead and it’s never crossed my mind to take this opportunity to say, “Cough into your elbow!”

And every night, every single night of your life, I stand there in the dark and whisper, “I love you sooooo much.”

Every day I tell you that too. But at night, I tiptoe into your room to remind myself what a miracle you are. And how lucky I am to be your mother.

But honestly, what is that smell?

Jumping Monkeys

In a parenting group, a very funny mother posted this commentary about the ridiculous nature of parenting groups (yes, IRONY. But we’re totally different, super cool and laid back):

Ten little monkeys jumping on the bed,
One fell off and bumped his head.
Mama asked the mom group and the mom group said:
Have you tried essential oils? I hear hyperactivity is a vaccine injury. I’m calling CPS.

RIGHT?

After I had my laugh, I rubbed some Vitamin-E on that scar Carlos has on his cheek from the time he slid in his own pee dribbles while getting off the toilet and cut his face on the rim of the trashcan. I felt like the World’s Horriblest Mother after that accident. Yet somehow, the cut gave him a dimple. Who else could turn a pee slip into a beauty mark? That boy is MAGIC.

Trauma induced dimple. (Yes, I know that is not the proper way to secure a helmet. It was corrected before he started juggling machetes.)

Trauma induced dimple. (Yes, I know that is not the proper way to secure a helmet. It was corrected before he started juggling machetes.)

Anywho, now that you’ve been blessed with a photo of The Cutest Little Boy In the ENTIRE WORLD, let me get back to nutjobs who think their kids are the specialist snowflakes of all the special snowflakes.

When I was still pregnant with Vivi, my stepdaughter Victoria sorted through her books and picked a few to pass along to the baby. One of the books was a bright yellow copy of “Ten Little Monkeys” with fingerpuppets for the monkey heads. “I loved that song!” I cried. She and I started reading it together.

Ten little monkeys jumping on the bed, one fell off and bumped his head.

Called up the doctor and the doctor said,

“No more monkeys jumping on the bed!”

 

I blurted, “That’s not how it goes.” Victoria showed me the page. I even flipped a few pages ahead–they were all like that. I figured it was some knock-off Montessori book or something G had picked up in an airport in a foreign land, because every kid born in my generation knows how that rhyme REALLY goes:

Ten little monkeys jumping on the bed, one fell over and broke his head.

Mama called the doctor and the doctor said,

“THAT’S WHAT YOU GET FOR JUMPING ON THE BED.”

Walk it off, monkey. Gravity always wins. Here, bite this stick while we flush it out with Bactine then you can get back to carousing.

Trampoline with no safety cage, no padding. And the ground is littered with dirt.

Trampoline with no safety cage, no padding. And the ground is littered with dirt.

Now that I’ve been parenting actual children for almost a decade, I think the shift in the nursery rhyme reflects the shift in how we parent our kids. The current trend is to shield them from harm–by order of the Department of Health, no more monkeys will be allowed to jump on the bed.

Back in MY day, we were raised with less bubble wrap and more natural consequences–that’s what you get for…fill in the blank. Even the doctor knew it was your own damn fault if you broke your head falling off the bed after your mama had told you 100 times not to be doing that in the first place.

I had every intention of being the kind of mother who can lord it over the others in on-line mothering groups. While I was still percolating my first baby I was already reading hand-me-down copies of Mothering magazine about the proper way to grow, preserve, pulverize and compost my own organic food for my child. I tied myself up in a ring sling and smeared medical grade lanolin on my nipples and it wasn’t even Valentines Day. My kids would be raised with every bit of Mother Henning I could muster. They would suffer no trauma, not even a mild inconvenience.

Then some actual parenting hit and I find myself letting my kids teach themselves more and more of those lessons that only make it into our brains the hard way.

So what about you? Were you taught no more monkeys jumping on the bed or that’s what you get for jumping on the bed? Or did your mom rub some essential oils on your head and file a lawsuit against the mattress manufacturer?

Hang on tight buddy. That ground is hard.

Hang on tight buddy. That ground is hard.

The Meanest Thing I’ve Said to My Daughter, So Far

Sunday night, just before bath time, my last nerve ran out into the street and threw itself under a car. About 45 seconds after that, I made a simple request of my daughter. About a minute after that, I said the meanest thing I’ve said to her….so far.

Image courtesy morguefile.com

Image courtesy morguefile.com

Vivi was supposed to be getting ready for her bath. I looked over and saw a stack of orange peels and other snack detritus on the coffee table in the den. From the couch, I hollered down the hall, “Come get your dishes and put them in the sink!”

She thundered down the hall, running wide open through the den and straight into the kitchen, right past me. Then she wandered back into the den.

“What are you DOING?” I asked.

“Seeing if I could outrun the cat.”

“Dishes.”

She meandered over to the coffee table, picked up a book that had been left open there earlier in the afternoon, and started to read. I gave it a few seconds then said, “DISHES.”

“Oh, right!” She came very very very close to the dishes, but then the cat walked by again and she pounced on him.

“Leave the cat alone and just take the dishes to the sink!” By now, she had the cat draped across her left arm like a dish towel and ignored me when I repeated, “Put the cat down!” With the cat wiggling to get free, she stacked her water cup on top of her plate. Teeter totter sway and wobble…y’all can see where this is going, right? I’m not sure if the cat knocked the cup over or the cup fell over and the water landed on the cat, but all of that happened at once and now we had a bigger mess and water all over everywhere.

And that’s when I blurted: “Why can’t you just……BE NORMAL….for one minute?”

I meant to say, “Why can’t you focus on this? Why will you not listen to me? Why can you not leave the goddam cat alone? Why can you not remember to clean up after yourself? When will you learn to respect the laws of physics? Especially where cats and water are concerned???”

Instead, I said “Why can’t you be normal?” And I’m still beating myself up for that.

She paused for a moment but didn’t answer me. I hope she was too busy dealing with the mess to register what I had said,

After the mess was sopped up and thrown away and Rufus had escaped to the backyard to recover his dignity, I should have apologized to Vivi for that word. She was already giggling in the tub. “Normal” is the last thing I want her to be. I want her to be clever and kind and free and confident and courageous and content. I want her to be herself, authentically and unapologetically. I also want her to put her own damn orange peels in the kitchen trash can. Not the wastebasket under the desk that only gets emptied every few weeks–the KITCHEN trashcan. And I want her to do that the first time she is asked, while bearing in mind that cats and water and gravity are all fickle fellows. I want her to be a centered individual who knows how to live in the world with other people.

Normal. Ugh. My daughter isn’t normal. But I didn’t need to remind her of that.

I’m beating myself up about this slip of the tongue. Worrying that this one thing will become the inner voice that she hears. Wondering if this was the straw that broke the daughter’s back.

The mom guilt is strong on this one. Was this my big mistake that wipes out every positive thing I’ve ever done for my girl? That’s what I worry about with EVERY mothering decision. I guess that’s….oh what’s the word?

NORMAL.

Making Pie From Pumpkin Guts

I made my first homemade pumpkin pie today. It seemed like the most effcient way to put away Halloween decorations, since I didn’t feel like climbing the ladder into the attic. I took a couple of the small pumpkins off the front steps and roasted them.

Scooping out the seeds and stringy guts of the pumpkins reminded me of a story my friend Edna told 20 years ago. The first time she decided to make a pumpkin pie from scratch, she cut open the pumpkin and all she found inside was that stringy mess…so she picked all the seeds out and used that stuff my kids call the “pumpkin guts” to make her pie. I wish y’all could hear Edna tell this story in her Glenville, Georgia accent. She said, “Welllll, I just kept adding more seasoning and blending it and blending it. It turned out OK, I guess, not too bad.” I think it was one of her sisters who explained to her how you have to cook the pumpkin to get to the part that actually makes the pie. She was trying to make pie out of the part you’re supposed to throw away.

Edna’s story made me smile today, but it also taught me a little lesson. Sometimes we get in a rut and just assume that life is supposed to be THIS hard. That we’re supposed to be making the most out of the stringy guts. That this really is as good as it gets. At the beginning of this year, when I was having so much trouble getting Carlos into an after school program, it turned out that the root of the problem was one person had said one thing to me that was incorrect. When I asked the nice lady behind the desk if after school could make accommodations for my son’s IEP (special ed plan), she said, “Oh, we don’t take kids with special needs. We just don’t have the staff.” Instead of saying, “That can’t be right,” and taking things up a level to her manager, I just assumed that life is supposed to be this difficult when it comes to my boy. And that’s wrong-headed. That’s trying to make pie out of pumpkin guts.

We put so much effort into turning that piddly stuff into a sweet and savory dessert, when the real stuff is so close, right there waiting to be used. Then a friend comes along and says, “Oh, honey! Let me show you a trick.” And you finally learn how pumpkin pie out of pumpkin instead of pumpkin guts. In my case, that whole problem got sorted out because I happened to bump into the principal at the school where Carlos was supposed to be and when she asked me in passing, “How are you today?” I told her the truth–not too good and a little pissed off. She stopped in her tracks and asked if there was any way she could help. I explained that one of her employees had told me that the after school program didn’t take kids with IEPs. She immediately apologized and figured out the employee’s mistake–that student worker had misunderstood. The after school program can’t make accommodations for kids with IEPs, like no student aides or special equipment, but they certainly TAKE kids with IEPs. We got it sorted out in a few minutes and Carlos loves his after school time.

I learned how to make pumpkin pie with PUMPKIN instead of pumpkin guts. I needed a little help with figuring it out, just like Edna. And just like Edna, I was doing my best to make something out of the stringy parts, something that looked like my goal.

Anywho. Vivi decided we should make pumpkin tarts instead of one big pie. I told her to put pecans on top of a few of them. She made faces. I hooted when we pulled them from the oven because they really look like how I feel sometimes:

pies

At Loose Ends

We had a kindergarten tradition at Flint River Academy. Every fall, Mrs. Nina Lemmon (yes, with two ems…and it’s a long i in her first name, not a short i) taught her students to tie their shoes.

shoe lace practiceShe cut out dozens of little shoes from yellow construction paper. You end up with a lot of yellow construction paper when you are a school teacher named Mrs. Lemmon. She wove one white shoelace through each, and labelled them with the names of her new students. The shoes hung on the wall inside her kindergarten classroom with their laces loose and dangling.

Every few days, Mrs. Lemmon, who was an angel of patience, gave us a chance to practice tying our shoes. If you did it right, your shoe was moved out into the hallway under construction paper letters that shouted: “I CAN TIE MY SHOE!” If you couldn’t get it to work, your shoe stayed in the classroom and waited for you to solve the magic puzzle that brought the loose ends together into a neat bow.

I wasn’t the first to get my tied shoe moved out to the hallway. Or the second. Or third. Each day, as we walked in a rambling line to the lunchroom or the library, we passed the parade of neatly tied shoes outside Mrs. Lemmon’s classroom.

It had started to worry me–yes, my neurotic little five-year-old self was already worried about measuring up. What if mine was the last shoe added to the line? What if I never managed to make the rabbit go around the stump and into the hole?

No kid got out of Mrs. Nina Lemmon’s kindergarten class without learning how to tie her shoes. NOT A ONE. I should have known that she wouldn’t let me miss out on this important piece of knowledge, but I wanted to be done with the hard part of learning and on to the celebrating. I wanted my shoe in that hallway for everyone to see. So they would know that I was smart. That I was capable. That I was OK.

One crisp October morning before sunrise, I sat on the living room floor in our trailer and I worked on tying my shoes. It wasn’t happening. I remember my dad’s boots stopping near me (boots–that could be my Plan B if I never figured out the laces!). He squatted down and showed me again. Maybe it was the angle or maybe something clicked or maybe I was just ready, but IT WORKED. I tied one shoe and then I tied the other. I couldn’t wait for Mrs. Tigner to pull up in the driveway and honk the horn on her brown station wagon so that I could get to school and show Mrs. Lemmon that I knew how to tie my shoes!

A couple of weeks ago, G took the kids shoe shopping. Vivi came home with a powder blue pair of sneakers…with laces. Oh boy. That’s when it hit me. My kid is in third grade (gifted, no less!) and still doesn’t know how to tie her shoes. Thanks, Velcro. What would Mrs. Lemmon think?

Every morning, when I had to tie her shoes for her, I added “teach Vivi how to tie her shoes” to the running list of things in my head that I have to do or someone will find out that I’m an incompetent mother. It’s overwhelming, that feeling. That dark gray shadow in my mind that says, “What have you forgotten?”

loose ends

We sat down last night after dinner with no distractions. I took one blue shoe and held it in my lap while Vivi sat across from me with the other.

“OK. Before we ever start, let me just tell you–you’re going to mess this up about 20 times before it makes sense…OK?”

She got it after seven.

After she tied the laces correctly a couple of times, she was ready to quit and go watch Pokemon on Netflix. When I insisted that she sit there on the rug and tie her shoes at least 20 times, she moaned and groaned.

“Hey, Viv. Watch this.” I closed my eyes tight and tied the shoe. She marveled. I took the shoe with loose laces, put it behind my back, then brought it back tied neatly.

“Whoa! You’re a magician!” she laughed and grabbed for the shoe to try it herself.

“No, it’s just that I’ve practiced this since I was in kindergarten. Once you’ve practiced it enough, you won’t even have to think about it. You won’t even be able to remember the time when you couldn’t tie your shoes.”

Ah. When I find myself at loose ends, I have to remember to keep on practicing. Even with mothering, or forgiving myself or breathing through the hard stuff. Eventually, it gets easier. Eventually, I won’t even remember that there was a time when I didn’t know how to do this.