It’s 5 p.m., winter. The days are just slivers of light sandwiched between thick slabs of darkness. There are two extra kids at our house, a sinkful of dishes, and piles of discarded clothes festering in sparkly pink clumps. The kitchen table is layered with paper flotsam. The fridge winks with unaccommodating raw ingredients, which need shaping and massaging into something resembling dinner. My 10-year-old daughter, Rose, and her friends are shrieking, ramped up like teenagers on spring break, drunk on shared enthusiasm. Col, 12, has drawn a cloak of quietness around him, sitting at the table drawing airplanes.
“Do you think he’s changing?” I asked Dan recently.
“How so?” He wondered.
Like he needs us less, like he’s pulling away, separating a little. More defiance, more sarcasm. He dodges my goodbye kiss when I drop him at a friend’s house, then, unable to fully embody surly tweenhood, mutters reflexively, “love you.” Later, he throws up his hands and huffs, “Why do you think I need to wear a jacket! I know what I need!” I ask Col to come to the table, to brush his teeth, to hang up his jacket; he hunches over his sketch of a Corsair F4U, closing the door of his body on me.
The floodgates of tween boyhood have opened. Col carries a knife and became instant hero at a recent birthday party, brandishing it to separate two conjoined legos. He rides his bike no-handed while eating a tamale, covets lighters, begs to wield his BB gun on the skunks that case the joint of our chicken coop. He zips down heart-clenching trails on his mountain bike, and I’m like one of those Russian nesting dolls: If you remove the outside, terrified shell of me, the next layer is like, “Wow, that kid has some killer balance.”
And still, every morning, Col tucks his sleepy body into mine. He murmurs, “You’re the best Mama for me,” and I remind myself to take what is offered with gratitude not grasping. I miss the little boy who once needed large doses of my lap daily. And I want to be the mother he needs today, offering unbounded love and support. And yet, “love and support” is an arrow stalking the moving target of a child growing up.
This is new territory, as is every other geologic layer of childhood that has adhered to the children’s bodies like their own limbs stretching and elongating. This parenting is like a progression of dance moves, where children start out literally in your body and move increasingly further away. It’s beautiful and terrifying. As usual, I’m being called to get with the warp-speed program of impermanence. Nostalgia lives in me like a dormant virus, while the kids seem to be saying, “Don’t look back.”
I get the dishes done, creating a teetering tower of bowls, plates, and cups in the dish drainer, which will incite Dan to explain in his beyond-calm voice, “If you start by putting the clean dishes away, then you have room for–”
Rose and her friends are suddenly in new outfits; it’s like a nudist convention for how many clothes have been tossed aside in the past hour. I begin clearing off the table when Col announces, “I want to make dinner tonight. I want to create a new recipe.”
“OK. What do you want to make?”
“Something with eggs and cheese and carrots and raisins.”
“How many eggs? How many carrots?”
“Four eggs. Two carrots.”
“Get a piece of paper, write it out,” I suggest. We approximate amounts. We nix the raisins. He gets out the grater and starts grating exactly two carrots.
“We need spices,” he tells me. He adds kale upon my suggestion, beats eggs, grates cheese, dumps milk, sprinkles in rosemary. Rose’s friends get picked up and she tractors around the living room, lifting bundles of clothes into her arms.
We pour the batter in a heated cast iron pan and I clear the table while dinner bakes. It comes out of the oven and everyone gathers to admire its puffiness, its kale- and carrot-confettied beauty, its ready-to-eatness. We flood Col with gratitude and he beams while we devour it. He calls it “mungo.” My twelve year old made dinner. I feel the sting of grateful tears building. I can do this. I can be the mother my children need in this moment and the next. We devour every last crumb. 6
Rachel Turiel raises children, vegetables and foster dogs in Durango, Co. See more work at her website: 6512 and growing.
MUNGO (by Col Turiel Hinds)
1 cup flour (we use tapioca)
1 cup grated cheese
3/4 cup milk
1/2 cup shredded kale
2 carrots, grated
3 TBSP butter, melted
1/2 TBSP each rosemary, salt, garlic powder
1/4 cup salsa
* This recipe lends itself to much fiddling. Add sausage, add
other veggies, get creative
Mix all ingredients in bowl except salsa.
Warm a large, greased cast iron pan at 350F.
When cast iron is hot (approx 20 mins), pour ingredients in.
Bake for 30-40 minutes, or until browning on top. Spoon salsa
on top. Turn off heat and let stand in oven for five more min