What I’ve Learned from Making 10,000 Meals for My Family

I was recently inspired by this excellent article in Bon Appetit, I wrote a list of things I’ve learned from feeding my kids.

“I sat down and calculated this morning. Counting breastfeeding–which I think counts–my husband and I have fed our children well over 10,000 meals.

Let that number sink in a little. And I bet, if you sat down with a calculator, your number wouldn’t be far behind and maybe way ahead. (My oldest is 11).

Have you heard the theory you need at least 10,000 hours of practice to become really good at something? Well, surely this can apply to these 10,000 meals. And although I’m no cooking expert, I have learned a thing or two. Well, 20 things, actually. Here they are–in random order.”

La Temporada

It’s mango season again. Have you tasted a perfectly ripe mango? There might not be a more delicious thing in the world.

The first mango I ate was the first time that Dave and I went to Mexico. We went to Cabo San Lucas, in June. It was hot. Very hot. We spent a day or so on the popular, touristy beach and got our fill of margarita soaked, sun-burned, belligerently-English-speaking tourists and decided to rent a car and go to a smaller beach. The only car we could rent was a stick shift, so I got to drive. The road was winding, hugging the coast, and providing lots of blind turns. We didn’t really know where we were going but passed several small coves with beaches in them. Finally we settled on a small, white-sanded beach and for a few hours we were the only ones there.

Then, out of nowhere, like a mirage, or a miracle, a fully-dressed man came walking down the beach. We saw him from a long way off and watched as he walked toward us. What could he have? He was carrying a cooler. He stopped and offered us cold mangoes on a stick. For 20 pesos. We looked at each other–mangoes? Do you like mangoes? Are you hungry? Well, I could go for a little snack…it’s safe to eat this, right? That seems a little steep but, let’s do it.

The mangoes were bright orange and cut so that they bloomed, like a flower. They were cold and juicy and the absolute perfect snack to have while sitting on a hot beach in Mexico. If I could go back in time and hug that man, I would. He introduced me to happiness.

Yes, I’m talking in superlatives here. It’s true. And usually superlatives are the sign of lazy thinking or dishonesty. But in this case, I cannot say it any other way. A perfect mango is perfect.

I used my love of mangoes as the basis for an essay many years later. My first “Spanish Lesson.” It’s called La Temporada.

And since then, this little essay has been rejected by three different publications. So I thought I might as well give it a home here. It takes me back to a very sweet temporada indeed.

It turns out I love ataulfo mangoes. They are small enough to comfortably fit into my hand and have a bit of a hooknose. They are the color of a late afternoon sun and when they are at the peak of ripeness they ooze a little from the stem. They are heavy, full, with skin stretched tight. And inside the flesh is smooth and slippery and sweet. A big parrot mango, so called for its red and green skin, the most common kind around here, can be stringy, watery, and a bit sour, even at its peak ripeness. Not so with ataulfos. They are the perfect blend of texture and taste, sweet without being overly saccharine tasting. All this would make them treasure enough but ataulfos are also rare. They have a temporada within the temporada.

So we overdose on them. We have them at breakfast with corn flakes, mid-morning with yogurt. Then Michelle will make a mango salad with rice and beans and cilantro and vinegar for lunch. They are stir-fried into dinner and for dessert—a marvelously unadorned mango. Any time I think, really that’s enough, I remember they’ll be gone before the rainy season begins and I stuff in one more.

Consequently when the temporada is over, we have made ourselves sick of mango. I think if I ever eat another mango again I’ll throw up. And slowly, slowly the months will pass and I’ll find myself asking my fruit guy again, “Por favor, donde estan los mangos?” It’s a roller coaster of longing and loathing.

Like motherhood.

What I wrote before I turned 40

I found this in my google drive and it transported me to that magical fall before Zev was born.

All of the trees in our yard have shed their leaves, except one. One stubborn tree. Some of its leaves are still green, but the top ones are tinged red and I know it will only be a few more weeks before it, too, will be nothing but branches.

A few weeks ago the world was awash in color. Reds, yellows, and oranges against a blue, blue, impossibly blue, sky. The world feels different when it is so yellow, when the green is gone and hillsides become crisp and golden. Almost suddenly the slanted sun seems softer, less oppressive, and the world is one deeply drawn breath of fresh air. Ah…..fall.

When Robert Frost wrote  “Then leaf subsides to leaf/ So Eden sank to grief/ So dawn goes down to day/Nothing gold can stay” he was probably talking about Spring. But in my head I always picture the golden leaves of Fall. They drop and float down, almost imperceptibly–the glorious crown of a tree one day and then nothing but brown litter on your lawn the next. The leaves and with them, Fall, blow away with the winter wind. Nothing gold can stay.

This year, the beginning of my 40th year, I’m feeling the poetry of Fall more acutely. Since I was born on the precipice of winter, I’ve always known that  “nothing gold can stay.” But I’m feeling it increasingly in my bones.

I have one fall baby. The last baby. And I remember vividly watching my first son play in the leaves as we waited for his brother to be born. He would “choo-choo” through waist high piles of yellow and orange, the rustle of leaves matching the shuffle of his little feet. He was oblivious to the giant leap in maturity he would be forced to take any day. Instead the wind took his blond hair, turned impossibly golden by the fall afternoon sunlight, and lifted it, making a little rooster tail out of his bangs.

Robert Frost kept echoing through my head. Nothing gold can stay. Things are going to change. But let him run one more time around the park, kicking the leaves and laughing. Let him be oblivious to the setting fall sun.  

I know I’m not old. But nothing gold can stay. Things are going to change. And I see that I can’t run like I used to without a nagging pain in my hip. My back can get thrown out and my toes turn numb in my high-heeled boots. But please let me stay oblivious to the setting fall sun. 

I’m not dreading my 40’s. But I’m just not ready to say goodbye to my 30’s. It’s hard to say goodbye to the decade that brought me motherhood, to the decade where I settled into life. It feels like a golden decade.

And nothing gold can stay.

And this pairs well with what I wrote on the occasion of my 40th birthday.

To say goodbye to my 30’s, I made a list of 30 things that I loved to do. And because I’m a girl who loves a “to do list,” in the weeks leading up to my birthday I made a conscious effort to do them. They ranged from spectacular—swim in the ocean, to very simple, pause and look up at the stars if I come home after it’s gotten dark. There was a lot of food on the list—eat super delicious brownies, eat a slice of freshly baked bread and some that involved other people—play soccer with Zev, listen to Dave play the piano. A few pushed me–like try something new and others I could melt into—get a massage.

So the last couple of weeks have been full of mini-celebrations, moments like when I look down at the milk swirling in my tea and think, “Happy Birthday, self!” or when I’m talking on the phone to my cousin and I think, “Yes, this is a gift—a gift for my birthday!” And what I’ve realized is that, in fact, my days are full of gifts. Then, when I look back over my 40 years, they are a wonder, not because I’ve done anything spectacular but the exact opposite; I have thousands of ordinary and truly breathtaking moments. Like a highlight reel—that’s just for me. The first bite of warm gingersnap, the softness of Lalo’s hair when I kiss his freshly shampooed head at night, Mae hitching up her pants, the smell of Dave’s shirt before I toss it in the washing machine. I’m so grateful. I’m hoping to savor them more in my new decade. I’m going to slow down, take a deep breath and say, “Right now—this one—this is a gift to me.”

My Cup of Tea

The last couple of weeks I’ve been writing around the love I have of my cup of tea. It may not seem like a big deal–just a little cup of tea–but to me, it’s more. It’s this little rebellion, this thing that I’m not exactly ashamed of but not exactly proud of either. I don’t know so I’ve been chewing on it.

The essay that’s taking shape is one of those…I don’t know what the technical term is, fragmented essays? It is my favorite type of essay to write. I basically revisit three or four important moments in my relationship with tea and see what I can find there.

Here is one of them:

My friend Ryan was dreamy. He was handsome and athletic and fun and smart and also, actually, very nice.

For example: Three of us were on our way to home from a full summer afternoon of cliff jumping and swimming in the river. These are the days that when you are forty you sometimes dream about. Summer heat blowing through the windows, your favorite song playing on the tape deck, and nothing on your mind except for how much fun you just had.

Ryan went into the gas station to pay. When he came out he was carrying three glass bottles. Here I got this for you, he tossed it into the back seat.

It was a Snapple Iced tea.

As we drove away, the boys chatted and laughed in the front seat. The windows were down and the radio was on so I couldn’t hear what they were saying very well. But even if could, it wouldn’t have mattered. I was too panic-y to notice.

I stared at the cold Snapple iced tea on the seat. Peach flavored.

I had never drank a tea before, iced or otherwise. Heck–I think I had never even held one in my hand. It would be so easy. I was thirsty. Unscrew the lid. Hear the pop. Drink the cold, peachy tea. Done.

Ryan didn’t know or care that I was forbidden, yes forbidden, to drink tea. Scott couldn’t have cared. No one would notice.

But I didn’t. Instead I stashed it under the passenger side seat. Deep under the seat where Ryan would never find unless, somehow, he decided to deeply clean the car.

I was supposed to feel proud of myself. Here was a test and I passed it. I stuck to my beliefs  and didn’t drink the iced tea. But victory wasn’t sweet. Instead I felt bad. Deflated. Like I had rejected the basic terms of friendship. We don’t keep secrets. We break bread. We share the good, sweet, peachy things in our lives. He did what a good friend does. I did not.

I prayed he wouldn’t find it or if he did, he wouldn’t remember that I was the one who refused it. Or if he did remember, he would shrug his shoulders and think, “Huh, I guess Mandy doesn’t like peach iced tea. Why didn’t she just say so?”

What I’m Working On This Week

Spanish Lesson: Mira

As a parent, there are childhood developmental phases that you know are coming–learning to walk, eating solid food, starting kindergarten. Then there are phases you cannot wait for–learning to wipe, comes to mind. And then there are the phases that you didn’t even know are phases until one day your child doesn’t do them anymore. Like the last time they say “back and forest” instead of “back and forth” and you feel a weird ache. Like you’ve been cheated. Someone should have told you that was the last time!

The last couple of weeks Zev has been learning to ride a bike and I’ve realized that he, as the youngest, is still in a phase that I didn’t realize was a phase with the older two. No, it’s not the riding a bike without training wheels–I knew about that one. He is in the “watch me!” phase.

Somewhere around the time the kids begin to talk, they entered the “watch me!” phase. Mae, as the oldest, had a long, luxurious beginning to her “watch me!” phase. I must have watched her climb and slide and climb and slide a billion times. Each time she was more delighted than the next and each time it didn’t count unless I was watching. Lalo, as the second child entered his “watch me!” phase a little earlier. Toddling over to me and grabbing my fingers with his own chubby, little hand in order to show me something he couldn’t quite articulate but really wanted me to see before Mae had my attention again. Zev–the youngest, announced his “watch me!” phase from the top of the stairs. He would stand on the precipice of the stairs and yell, “Zevvie, poming down!” And proceed to smiley widely as I stood at the bottom and watched him (/stood ready to catch him) as he took the stairs, one…..at….a…time.

If I close my eyes, I can almost hear their little voices. Watch this. Watch this! Mommy, watch now! Mommy, look! Their voice full of delight and pride. It’s not a question or a request–Mommy, is what I’m doing awesome? It’s a command. Mommy–you must see this now or you will miss out!

Zev still has this delight and childish pride in his accomplishments. Every shot of the basketball–Mommy, watch this! Every leap from bed to bed–Mommy, watch! Every silly face–Mommy, you gotta see this!

In Spanish, the word for look or watch is mira. It was the same monosyllabic staccatic intensity of watch or look. And now, every time I hear it, I think of this childhood phase. People say it a lot. To their kids, to adults they are explaining things to, to someone trying to park a car. And each time, I hear the echo: Watch this, Mommy!

I wonder when the other kids stopped doing this. They still want to show me things they’ve done, sometimes. Mae, will ask me to listen her piano song, sometimes. Every once in awhile Lalo will want to show me something. But he does it in a grown up kid kinda way. He plays it cool, doesn’t beg or yell and also doesn’t reveal what he wants me to see. Mommy, come here. I want to show you something.

I admit I sometimes don’t have patience for this and will say, exasperatedly, Just tell me what it is. I’m not walking into your room to see your lava lamp bubble again. I’ve seen it!

Ouch.

Maybe kids leave the “watch me!” phase because adults tell them in a million subtle ways–old news! I’m not watching any more. They burst that childish bubble of pride and delight young children feel as naturally as breathing. When they want us to watch, it’s not like they are seeking approval but more like they are giving us their pride and asking us not to drop it. And then, we do.

I was the middle of a bunch of kids, so I don’t remember wanting my parents to watch my every move. Perhaps I was too young to remember. Perhaps there were too many of us to give that kind of undivided attention to. But I do remember being a teenager and not feeling compelled to tell my parents about a poem I wrote that the teacher liked but also the complete elation I felt when my dad whooped and hollered and rang a cowbell (hello, Idaho!) when I spiked the ball in a volleyball game. Someone is watching!

Now I feel a little childish when I present something to my parents to see. Here’s an essay I wrote. Here’s something the kids did that was funny. Here’s something I’m excited about.

But the thing is, my parents lap it up. They are hungry for these details that make up a life.

And I am, too. Because the “watch me!” phase is about sharing delight, I miss knowing what makes my children happy. Mae, why are you laughing out loud at your book? Lalo, what is it about that lava lamp that you love?

I know what makes Zev happy these days. It’s his bike. And it’s learning a new skill that is, as far as I can tell–mind-blowing. His favorite place to ride is in the plaza, where he can do laps. The wide sidewalk full of people strolling around the plaza is the perfect place to practice his ducking and weaving. It’s also the perfect opportunity for me to practice my poker face as I try not to let on the panic I feel as he barely misses an old lady and heads straight toward a stone bench only to swerve toward the man walking a dog and ever so slightly turns to somehow make it around each new obstacle. He comes barreling toward me saying, “Mommy! Did you see you that? I did it! Help me stop, Mommy?” (Did I mention he hasn’t figured out how to stop, yet?)

After a few laps (which is all my heart can handle), we left the plaza, hand and hand, and Zev, in his elation, was struggling to find the right word for what happened.

I’m perfect! Well, I’m not quite perfect.  No, I’m great! No, I’m better than great. I’m amazing! I’m wonderful! I’m amazing! I’m somewhere between amazing and great! Mommy, don’t you think I’m amazing?

Yes, yes. I do. And I’m so glad I was watching!

My First Post

The truth is I have my mother’s hands–overworked, baggy knuckled, a bit bony, sinewy hands. They are cracked, but not dry and they are skinny but not delicate. These hands are tools, not accessories.

I find it a bit poetic that my first post in my new blog is the essay I wrote about my mother. My mom has always been a champion of my writing–squirreling away the various poems and stories I’ve written over the years. She will likely be the only person who checks up regularly on this blog. She is also an artist herself and has discovered her artistic voice later in life. It’s never too late to start making beautiful things, eh, Mom? So this one is for you.

Fingerprints

by Amanda Hamilton Roos
Original published in Deseret News: Motherhood Matters: My Mother’s Fingerprints

“What are you, a nurse?”

“No.”

“Do you work outside a lot?”

“Um, no, not really.”

“A teacher, then?”

“Just a hard-working mom,” I quipped.

“Well, you use too much hand sanitizer or something because, honey, your fingerprints are terrible. They’re unusable! I mean, look at those cracks!”

I looked over at the scanned computer image. I saw the familiar whirls and loopy circles of a fingerprint, my fingerprint. It was true that there were a few lines dissecting those little hurricane patterns, but I didn’t see the problem.

“Is that not what fingerprints normally look like?” I asked, growing increasingly defensive of my apparently mutant fingerprints.

“Oh no! You have way too many cracks! Honey, you’re too young to have hands that look like this. They should be smooth.”

“Well, I need my fingerprints taken. And these are my fingerprints. So, won’t this image work?”

“I just don’t think they’ll accept them. But I’ll send them in.”

And then our conversation turned inward—with the lady behind the counter muttering about how this image would never work and me passive-aggressively whispering to the man behind me, “Well, I can’t be the only one with this problem.”

I have not failed a test in many years, but as I left the fingerprinting place I could sense the distinct taste of failure—a little disbelief mixed with an incensed, whiny it’s not fair—how was I to know you’re supposed to have smooth fingerprints?!

Once in the car, I looked at my hands more closely. Are these old lady hands? Can this problem be solved with the right hand lotion?

The truth is I have my mother’s hands–overworked, baggy knuckled, a bit bony, sinewy hands. They are cracked, but not dry and they are skinny but not delicate. These hands are tools, not accessories.

When I picture my mom, I picture her hands. I see her wiping down kitchen counters after many hours of cooking. I see her hands outstretched over the piano, reaching for a chord. Her hands guide fabric through the sewing machine or they clap and point with a story that she’s telling.

My mom is a doer. Part of this is a symptom of raising seven kids. When I was growing up, she never sat down because there was always something to do. But now that there is far less to do around the house, she still finds things to do. She takes art lessons and sews pajamas for grandkids.

But my mom is not busy just for the sake of being busy.

The other day we were talking on the phone and she mentioned that she was going to a Spanish lesson. “You see, there’s this lady in our church who just moved here and doesn’t speak a lick of English. Imagine how lonely you’d be! I mean, she was quite accomplished in her home country. So I thought, ‘Well, we can try to learn a little Spanish so she doesn’t have to do all the communicating!’ Now a group of us gets together and tries to learn a little. Of course, she’ll have to learn English. It’s really on her. But there’s no reason we can’t try to make it a little easier.”

That’s why she is busy. Because when she sees a problem, she thinks something must be done and she needs to be the one to do it. So she’ll take Spanish lessons or send a heartfelt card or deliver a warm loaf of bread.   

I thought of my mom making that bread in the years that I was growing up. I can’t count the number of times I walked into the kitchen and saw warm loaves cooling on the rack. To me, they just magically appeared. And I never thought about the work involved as I gleefully smeared a thick slice with butter and homemade jam. But now that I’m a mom, I know that she gathered the dough and shaped each loaf, one-by-one, in her hands, over and over again, so I could have a warm, soft, buttery, tangible expression of her love for me.

That’s what her cracked, strong, decidedly un-manicured hands do. They create love. And I hope that’s why my fingerprints are full of cracks, too.

I don’t sew like my mom, but I am trying to make homemade stockings for Christmas this year. Because I learned from her that handmade is best.

I don’t cook all the time, but I do make homemade bread because when I see my daughter gustily spread it with butter and honey, it feels good.

And I when I see something that needs to be done, I look down at my hands and think, Alright, well, what can I do?

They say that one’s fingerprints are completely individual, that no two fingerprints are the same.

But I hope that’s not true. I hope my fingerprints will someday look just like my mom’s. I hope they become cracked and worn from a lifetime of helping and lifting and doing. Because if they do, that will mean that I will have also developed my mother’s heart–her great big, energetic, optimistic, service-rendering heart.  And for that, I would gladly fail any fingerprint test.