Seven years ago, as I started this blog, I ruminated a lot on my family’s menus, the “in the trenches” work I was doing daily, raising kids from 6 to 13 years old.
Time has flown.
Now I find myself still parenting, but in a far more limited way. One teen lives with me, the other lives with Dad. The two oldest are adults, mostly on their own. I find myself mostly looking back and wondering, “Was it enough?”
I used to imagine myself, as a very young mother, raising up these immaculately pure vessels. Paragons of ideal health. When my first child was a year old, due to his illnesses and my own, I began to educate myself.
Suddenly I discovered I’d been asleep at the wheel! There were toxins everywhere, the food I’d been serving him was worthless and even harmful. I’d faithfully let his doctor shoot him up with whatever the current pediatrics schedules dictated. I was obedient, and fully in the mainstream of doing whatever everyone else does.
That’s where we all are. Until we aren’t. Information caught up with me and slapped me in the back of the head.
I imagined myself raising perfectly healthy kids. Taking the road less traveled. Protecting them from drinking water out of plastic. My kids would have their stainless steel. Or glass jars, when they were older. I’d make sure they never drank from the tap. Green smoothies for lunch at school, baggies of veggies! They’d be grossed out by the Cheetohs their friends ate. I’d have told them what that orange color really is. This would move them.
I’d buy nutrition books for them, give them summer reading rewards to complete them, tell the family about them.
I imagined myself running healthy treats to their schools, their teachers in church, the babysitting co-op.
Patiently talking to church leaders, teachers, school administration, sports league coordinators who want every kid to be fed a donut and a corn-syrup drink after every athletic event.
I pictured myself taking an alternative “treat” (like boxes of dried fruit, and fruit leather, and carob almonds in Baggies) around to the neighbors before my Trick-or-Treaters hit the streets in their costumes.
Pointing out the Why in everything that I did. So my kids’ education ran deep. Their habits and “comfort foods” as they reached adulthood would include knowing how to make quinoa in 10 minutes and do a variety of things with it, lickety split.
I imagined them as teens and young adults, whipping up a green smoothie before taking off for work. Always choosing a whole-grain option, and opting out of eating grains, where possible, if they aren’t sprouted and yeast-free and non-hybridized.
I imagined them tall and strong, acne free, without cavities or orthodontia, quietly eating a different diet than everyone else. Fiercely committed to it because they’d been educated so well.
Do you moms relate to this? Sure pure intent, such ambition. Had things gone the way I’d imagined, I’d be a “success” by my early definition. I’d probably also be insufferably self-righteous, not particularly compassionate to all the other moms out there mucking around just trying to get everybody fed. Trying to do better, with mixed results.
Where I am now, 20 years later, is a rather different place. Even writing all of that, I confess to feeling no small measure of pain. For all the ways I’ve “let go” of the need to be perfect, of the need to build a fence at the top of every cliff, I still notice, every day, my “failures.” I’m more at peace with them than I was before.
The main thing I rely on, to get me through the disappointments in parenting, is this thought:
“I’ve done what I can do.”
I tried really, really hard. I pretty much did every single thing I wrote, above! And more. It’s tempting to catalog every way I’ve failed in that essentially unachievable imaginary parenting Utopia. (The original plan failed to understand the power of choice—my kids, lacking maturity, with the pull of the world around them, make their own choices, and many, if not most, of them aren’t great, now.)
But then, I’d be depressed, and I’d lower everyone’s vibration. It’s easy to dwell on the fact that I was too “controlling” and less “sunshiny and education-oriented” many times. And beat myself up that I learned too late, how to mother most effectively.
It’s easy to focus on the can of corn-syrup drink, or the wadded-up McDonald’s bag, that I see in my son’s car. It has happened. I know what happens to people who eat genetically modified foods, and fast foods. I talk to these folks all the time: I read their emails, I meet them at my lectures. They’re figuring out how their diet has impacted them and contributed to so many disease states.
Not my boy! Please, not my boy–not after the price I’ve paid to be different. To get him out of his hellish health problems early in life, before his immune system was fully formed. You can imagine these are thoughts running through my head.
What if, right now, I think on a few very good things that have made it all worth it–despite the failings.
First, my kids don’t have “positive associations” with “Happy Meals” and drive-thrus and candy and soda and bags of salty snacks. Hopefully this matters a lot.
Second, their brains are grooved to know what almond bars, and green smoothies, and huge plates of salad and kefir, and fruits for snacking are. They have a thousand memories of homemade whole foods. Childhood programming is powerful. Regardless of what they do now, they have a place to come back to. If declining health starts to teach them a lesson. I talk to people in their 60’s all the time who have never practiced any of these good habits. Maybe, despite the sketchy choices I see my kids making now, when they’re away from home, this alone makes it all worthwhile?
Third, following the Pottenger cat study, maybe having outstanding nutrition while they were growing up, is why none of my kids needed braces. All have lovely teeth. Both of their parents required orthodontia! (The Pottenger cat study showed how you can rehabilitate genetics with a strong diet.)
Fourth, all of them are tall and strong. Baby Boy asks me every day to stand back-to-back with me to see if he’s taller than me, yet. It will happen this summer, as he turns 14.
Fifth, I catch them talking their friends into drinking a green smoothie, asking for one of my books for someone they know who wants to improve their diet, or speaking favorably about the health-nut home they were raised in.
Sixth, aforesaid boy with junk-food wrappers in his car? He texted me, recently, “Mom, I’m dying.” I drove to his apartment, shoveled all 6’4” of him into my car on a Friday morning, and took him by to my house. For 2.5 days, I took him to my massage therapist, and I had him spraying ACS in his mouth every hour. I took him home Sunday night, all better, and ready to go to work Monday morning.
I’m not sure I would even get a passing grade, if the fantasy parenting-Utopia list that began this blog were the requirements of a college class. I’m holding a space for it to all turn out okay anyway. I have done all I can do.