Wednesday, February 29, 2012

In the Scheme of Things

I told George that our baby Claire was born carrying all her eggs inside her tiny body. He asked in amazement, “So you’re telling me she has our grandchildren inside her already?” I said, “Well, if she has children, yes”.

Right now, it’s all beautiful potential.

Claire was a promise for me for a long time as well. Nine months in my belly, yet the possibility of her has been with me my whole life. That must say something about the psychic bond between mother and child. For Claire and me, it’s been a long journey together. Forty-four years together, then George joined the mix and she became her own separate person. I like to believe that she was born wiser than the rest, because she lived a half a lifetime as part of me before started her own lifetime.

It’s a wonder she or any of us are born at all. Remember when they used to give a prize to the thousandth customer to walk through the department store doors? It’s kind of like that. One lucky somebody gets to be the thousandth customer, but many, many more need to make up the nine hundred ninety-nine who go before.

And that’s just the half of it, literally. You get one shot to swim better than 300 million others.

Right from the start, the male and female impulse seems so contrary – on the feminine side, hanging out patiently and waiting for just the right moment to take the plunge, on the male, jumping from the gate and enduring the race. With each, there’s an indefinable measure of grace.

As I look at her sleeping, she is so substantially her, so uniquely Claire. The seeming randomness of it all makes me shiver.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

The Farm System

Claire's been reading propaganda lately. Or, more accurately, we've been reading it to her: Animals living happily on the farm, lovingly tucking their babies into bed, greeting each other with moo’s and baa’s, rolling in the mud or frolicking in the meadow. This pastoral vision has past. Corporate farming has squashed it.

But I’m conflicted. Do I really want to Claire to know the real picture? Like most people, I cringe  thinking about the realities of farming myself. Plus, there's plenty of time for Claire to learn about the cold, harsh world. The book with the truth would be sure to rip the rose colored glasses off at such a tender age: Page one, “Oh look, Claire, the hens are fighting, because they live on top of each other." Page two, “Here their beaks are being sliced off, so they don’t kill each other.” Page three would show dark boxes enclosing baby calves their entire short life; “We call them ‘veal’, Claire, so we don’t have to think about eating babies." The book would be long.

I don’t want to be holier than thou, either. I have my own set of blinders on. I’m blissfully oblivious to which of my clothes were made by little hands in third world sweatshops. Obviously, my sensitivity to this particular issue is influenced by my own vegetarianism. I don’t want to force my belief system on my daughter. She should be able to make her own decisions. I do plan on educating her about why sugar is for special occasions and why she should eat her vegetables. But these issues just seem a lot more straightforward. The truth about the dark side of corporate farming is a lot harder to swallow. That doesn’t make it any less true.

Photo Source: Dave, Rip the Skull, Flickr

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Essential Vitamins and Minerals

George and I are starting to relive our childhood through Claire. As products of the 70's, he and I are finding that we have much in common. Some of our memories are joyful, others painful or perplexing. Some make sense for the first time, now that we are on the other side of the family table.

And speaking of tables, the 70’s diet has had George and me laughing lately. Waking up to cereal that turned white milk into chocolate or had marshmallows shaped like stars, complete with promise of talismanic powers. Perhaps, mom rationalized that they were “fortified” with vitamins or that the milk made up for the sugar high.

Lunch was manufactured instead of cooked. Wonder bread and Kraft American cheese – the American public actually paying companies to deplete foods of their natural goodness. Bologna earned the term “mystery meat”. Likewise, I’ll give someone a dollar if they can tell me what fruit was in Hawaiian Fruit Punch.

If breakfast smacked of Willy Wonka and lunch represented the Corporate American Wasteland, dinner was purely puritanical. The dinner plate divided into a peace sign – a dry, unseasoned piece of meat in one quadrant, a potato in another. The last section held frozen vegetables revivified by boiling. Calling something a “medley” does not make it more appetizing. And carrots and peas are not tastier because they make pretty colors together. Either way, vegetables handed off to the dog or chucked into the nearest spider plant have no nutritional value whatsoever. Nor did the salad served up in individual wooden bowls. No one knew that iceberg lettuce is devoid of nutritional value. Much to our surprise, the tomato turned out to be a fruit. Thousand island dressing was a fancy term for ketchup and mayonnaise. The red flecks in Wishbone salad dressing were supposed to be red pepper, but really had the consistency of wet confetti. Dessert required no cooking, just a can opener and a flexible wrist. Heavy syrup cancels out the anemic nutritional value of a canned peach anyway. No one knew then and we are still scratching our heads over why they were called "cling" peaches?

But, all joking aside, let’s let our moms off the hook here. First, dad wasn't pitching in. Second, meals weren’t always that bad. There was the occasional French bread pizza or stir-fry when woks were all the rage. Third, even when the food was bad, we did gather around the dinner table as a family every night. And fourth, it’s clear our moms didn’t create this culinary poverty. It was a national phenomenon. The 70’s cultural vibe reached from George’s Connecticut upbringing to mine in Kansas. And it spanned our different socioeconomic backgrounds too. TV and Family Circle are probably partially responsible.

Surely, there will be culinary contradictions in the water that Claire will make fun of also. When did Cheerios served up in Glad Baggies become a ubiquitous snack? Do we really think cheese crackers shaped like fish are any more nutritious? Has anyone seen the sugar content in Dannon yogurt with the “fruit” on the bottom? And juicy juice, really? Or just because Subway is a little more nutritious than McDonalds, does it really mean it’s healthy? Plus, right now, Claire eats anything put in front of her. If and when she reaches the picky eater stage, maybe Count Chocula will do his thing on Claire’s milk too.
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