Wednesday, December 9, 2009

My Mother's Book

My mother had two tricks in her book of half-assed parenting, and my father had no book at all. According to my mother, he never wanted kids (thanks, Mom, for sharing that fact with my sister and I... it really helped us feel unwanted and unloved from a young age), and this explained his lack of parenting. As for my Mom, she alternately claimed to want as many kids as she could push out but was stopped in her tracks by a uterine infection that required a semi-hysterectomy or to have not had sufficient access to "rubbers" when she was younger.

Getting back to her slim volume on parenting though... My mother either was completely slack about monitoring us in vital aspects of our childhood or adamant about adhering so strongly to her principles that she exhibited no flexibility whatsoever. She never pushed us to brush our teeth on a regular basis, for instance. Though she claims to have told us to do so, I can't recall her telling us past the age of 6, nor did she ever buy toothpaste. When I got old enough to care because of my own concerns as I approached adulthood, I'd already lost two molars to cavities, was in need of some fillings (which I never got until my 20's) and had to buy my own toothpaste.

When I asked my mother about why she didn't push us harder to brush our teeth, she shrugged and said, "I tried, but you didn't do it." I guess it was just too much trouble to come upstairs to the bathroom every night and check on us when she could just sit on her ass in front of the T.V. and leave us to fend for ourselves. It could also be that having lost all of her perfect, white teeth to gum disease around age 26, she found it hard to care about our dental health.

In terms of the things that she did care about, there was generally a patchwork quilt of things she'd insist on then drop from consideration. One of those things, of course, was food. My mother is a terrible cook and most of the vegetables that I was offered as a child came from a can. Canned vegetables might be okay if you are putting them in soup or cooking them up creatively with some other ingredients, but slopping them into a pot to reheat them and then dropping them on a plate is a singularly awful experience, particularly for a child.

I recall one situation where my mother served us canned peas when I was around 10. Usually, she didn't care about what we ate, but she insisted that I eat those peas and wasn't going to let me up into I consumed all of the vile things. They were mushy and tasted bad and I loathed them. In the end, I think she gave up before I gave in and I didn't eat them. I love all sorts of vegetables, and eat them everyday, but I still hate peas and have never bought them fresh, frozen or, shudder, canned.

This little anecdote is being offered to illustrate how our eating habits are influenced by people telling us what to eat and not to eat. Despite being very open-minded about sampling new foods, I've formed a seemingly life-long dislike of something because I was forced to eat it when I found the experience repugnant. I think parents often make the mistake of forcing foods on their children in an effort to make them eat more healthily without considering the palates of young children. Kids have a much stronger sense of smell and taste than adults and are naturally still more in touch with what and how much they need to eat than adults. It's only after years of being pushed to "clean your plate" or to "eat your vegetables" that they grow into adults who overeat and eat junk food continuously as an act of rebellion.

In my mother's book of parenting, we were poor and food should not be wasted so if she peeled 10 lbs. of potatoes for mashing and dropped a bucket of them on the table, we were supposed to put away as much as possible. If she opened up a can of some mushy, over-cooked, salty canned vegetables that even most adults would not eat, we were obliged to help her finish it. It wasn't about healthy eating, it was about what she felt should be done in line with her valuing the cost of food over our health. In the end, she obliterated any healthy relationship my sister and I could have had with food, but she absolutely was unaware of what she did.


dlamb said...

Though I am so, so sorry for your experiences and the completely distressing fact that you had to live them, I delighted at your humor in this post and actually found myself laughing out loud at your writing style.

dlamb said...

Oh crap, I didn't mean laughed AT your writing style but DUE to your writing style, your wonderfully amusing touch with a painful, difficult subject.

This reminds me of one of my mom's gaffes;one of those language things that sometimes happens...with people just off the boat, or in our case, plane.

Our team was involved in one of those incredible relays in which everyone was up and screaming and it was not clear who was going to win. We were out touched by, probably 1/100th of a second. It was the last event of the meet and needless to say, we were all a bit down.
When the boy who completed the last leg (and lost the event for the team) came into the stands, everyone made the polite noised that you do when you know that person feels really terrible. With the most distressed face, my mom announced for everyone to hear "Kevin, that made me sick". We all froze, especially her 15 year old daughter who didn't like attention in the first place, let alone under these conditions. I asked her what she meant and had to translate for everyone that she was attempting to say that she was "sick at heart" for him. Hmmm whew, so she was trying to express empathy, not mortify him (and me, since we tend to be just a tad egocentric at that age).

screaming fatgirl said...

LOL. I didn't think you were laughing in any way that was offensive to me. ;-) Not to worry! I was complimented!