Dalai Mama Dishes

by Catherine Newman

Catherine Newman cooks for the family

Dalai Mama Dishes

Catherine Newman cooks for the family

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It's Not Good-bye — It's Bon Appetit!

Posted October 13, 2008
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Catherine and Birdy

It's what they call one of those days. It is. Everything is fine, and nothing is, and I have an image of myself as the mother sitting with her children in a sunny room, everyone working peacefully on a quiet little sewing project, a quiet little pencil drawing, and sometimes my life is just like that, only not today. Today I am frantic and stumbling, frazzledly inattentive, while the kids need need need something from me. What do they need? I'm not sure. It's all very "Mama, Mama, Mama!" Very interrupting each other and clamoring for my attention. There is not a single moment when someone isn't asking me a question, not a single moment when someone else isn't on deck waiting for a turn to ask me something else. "Why do you have to put that little comma up high sometimes? Well, what if you just put it low like usual, even if you were supposed to write it high up? I know, but what if you just did?" The wonder of children! My greatest pleasure. Only today it is as smothering as a wet wool scarf wound around my face. What are you going to say? Hey, sparklingly curious children, don't ask so many questions? Only, this is what I say. "Please," I say, "give me five minutes of no questions." After four nanoseconds Birdy says, "Was that five minutes? Are you, like, looking at your watch the whole time, or did you mean around five minutes? Which?"

I feel like a sponge full, full, full of water and holding - but tip it slightly and the flooding starts.

The maples surrounding our house have lit up in such shocking golds and oranges that they change the way light enters the rooms. Change is in the air. It is the very air we breathe. I have been writing this column - or a version of it - for longer than six years. And I have become a parent through this writing. I don't know quite how to say what I want to say. Someone once said that when you discover a writer who articulates your thoughts and feelings, it's as if a hand has come out and taken yours. (Okay, who said it was someone in preview for a movie - The History Boys - that I haven't actually seen, and when I sighed over the line in the preview, Michael said, "Should we rent that?" And I said, "Nah." And settled in to watch Talladega Nights or whatever it was we had rented. But still.) The thing is - and it almost goes without saying - because of the way the internet is, you have reached your hand right back to me. You have held me, held me up. I am a better parent because of you; I am a happier person; I am almost never lonely.

As always, I don't know how to thank you. Thank you.

And even if I kind of imagined doing this forever ("Ben got his first armpit hair!" "Birdy was fitted for an IUD!"), I can't, of course. I have never written about the children - not really. I have written about myself as a parent with respect to them. And yet, in that writing, I have actually written a great deal about children, and as they get older there are fewer and fewer stories that are mine to tell. And so I don't tell them. And now the not telling has accumulated into a kind of giant tarp-covered mound of unspokenness between me and this column. And I can't do it that way any more, or don't want to. I had imagined writing, too, that I don't need it as much now - that I'm less panicky, less impatient, less uncertain as I grow up as a parent. But then a day like today and I think, oy, I need it. I do.

So here's what's going to happen: I'm sticking around, staying right here, but the column is going to become a weekly column about food - about me feeding my family, about you feeding yours. There will be recipes and photographs and (I'm hoping) back and forth between us about what you need, what I can offer. And, of course, if you know me, then you know that food has always been an idiom of parenting for me. It is often the way I express myself best - both literally and metaphorically - and the way I know how to take care of people. At the end of the day, if I can feed my children food that speaks of my love for them and the planet, that speaks of the season and the fact of a family sitting down to eat, then we are all nourished. And, of course, so much of daily life happens around meals. Last night Birdy was in tears because I was going out with friends, leaving right at bedtime. And when I tried to distract her with dessert, she said, "It's not that I want pear cake, Mama. It's that I don't want you to leave." Indeed.

So, maybe, it's not that I want pear cake (or plum cake - the first recipe, which is running this week). It's that I don't want to leave. Stay with me. Let me feed you. It's what I know how to do.

Enjoy Catherine's Plum Cake Recipe.

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It's Not Good-bye — It's Bon Appetit!

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About Catherine Newman

Catherine Newman is the author of the memoir, Waiting for Birdy: A Year of Frantic Tedium, Neurotic Angst, and the Wild Magic of Growing a Family, available online and in bookstores nationwide.

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