Over and over, I’ve wondered how parents of young kids are making it these days. Because I stayed home with my kids when they were small, doing that with a side of pandemic thrown in is where my mind goes first: The isolation of new motherhood without being able to go to a parent group or meet a friend for coffee. The relentlessness of active toddlerhood at home without being able to get relief from a grandparent or even mix it up with a Target run or story time at the library. And supervising remote kindergarten? I’m exhausted already.
Now add in working full-time without childcare, single parenting, and/or parenting a child with a profound disability, and you get the situation of many American moms right now as laid out in this devastating New York Times profile of three women on the brink.
I can’t fix any of this. We need big policy solutions and an end to this stupid pandemic. But I guess the small thing I have to offer are two things that I wish I’d known in the hardest years (it does get easier—some of it, at least!):
- Experts don’t know everything. There are so many ways to get parenting right. I’ve recently been reading a ton of books about parenting practices and advice across different cultures and time periods. It’s all different. In fact, expert advice has even changed in the mere decade and a half that I’ve been parenting. Over the last few centuries, “experts” have advised everything from not hugging and kissing your child (ever) to letting your baby nurse donkey milk directly from the animal. So, in the words of mid-20th century expert Dr. Spock, “You know more than you think.”
- Optimism is a parent’s best friend. The optimism that our kids are inherently capable. That with our love and guidance as their home base, we can trust them with trying for themselves, with messing up, with figuring out what to do next. That they’re going to be OK—even if they’re going through something really hard right now. We don’t have to be perfect or perfectly happy, and neither do our kids. Really. It’s natural to be anxious about getting a job as important as parenting right, but quiet confidence that we can do this—that we already are doing this—are the brakes we all need on the runaway worry truck.
The Latest: Quests
I (and maybe you) keep returning to the same question this winter: How can we fill and mark time right now? The sameness of being at home amid dark and cold weather cries out for something to shake off the lethargy. It’s what’s behind my wishes for tiny parties and small comforts.
Let’s add The Quest to our toolbox. I think I originally heard this idea from writer Gretchen Rubin, who’s the queen of searching for small things that add meaning and happiness. Why not take on a quest—a committed search for a certain item or accomplishment? It sounds ambitious, but it’s not supposed to be. It can be as simple as visiting every playground in your town, finding the best recipe for pancakes, or stopping to photograph every colorful front door you see on your walks.
Quests should be fun, provide a small sense of purpose, and insert a little novelty into our days. My quest, right now, is to see a snowy owl in person before winter ends. Most winters, the occasional snowy owl pops across Lake Erie from Canada and settles along our Cleveland lakeshore. This winter, they’re definitely here. No luck yet, but this video of one of our local visitors keeps me going. Magnificent.
If you have a quest, I’d love to hear about it!
The Latest: Something Delicious
Sure, desserts are amazing, but what I need more of in my life are delicious vegetables. We’ve come a long way from the canned and boiled options of decades ago, but I’m greedy. I want them to be just SO GOOD, and I want to add lots and lots of vegetable goodness to my whole day.
I’ll start—these brussels sprouts are my favorite. Trust me, I’ve converted a lot of brussels sprout nonbelievers.
Simple Roasted Brussels Sprouts
- Heat oven to 400 degrees.
- Cut stem ends off (you don’t want any woodiness), and then chop sprouts into roughly 1/2 inch size pieces. Don’t worry if leafy bits fall off while you’re chopping—use all of it.
- Spread the amount you want on a baking sheet (you can keep the rest of the uncooked chopped sprouts in a container in the fridge for at least a week and roast as needed—better to do this than keep cooked leftovers— they lose their crispy magic).
- Toss on the pan with enough olive oil to make them glisten, spread them out, and sprinkle generously with kosher salt (not table salt) and pepper.
- Roast until nice and crispy for 30-45 minutes. If you peek and they’re mostly done and you want to hurry things along, you can raise the oven temp to 425 for the last five minutes to brown them up so you can get to the table.
- Eat them up. You can try reheating any leftovers but they’re never, ever as good!
Pay me back with your own vegetable goodness, won’t you?
Sending you my wishes for a peaceful week with small joys and light burdens.
p.s. Broke out the cross-country skis for the first time in years. If not now, when?
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