The Foraging Explorers – author of the Homemade pantry shares worries about children
by Alana Chernile
My children have a new activity. When they have read too many books, art seems boring, and we have said “enough PBSkids.com!” they put on their backpacks and go exploring.
From what I can tell, the contents of the backpacks are strictly defined. There is a water bottle, a notebook in each, and a pen or pencil. One of the girls volunteers to carry the potato chip bag swiped from the shelf, hopeful that she will have control over who eats what is inside. There are random articles—some useful, some not: a magnifying glass, a doll’s sweater, a book to read together in case they find a place to rest, a few random pieces of jewelry. Sadie, the elder, wears her watch and lets me know that they will be back at precisely 3:00. That is hours off, and I know that they’ll be back in 20 minutes, but I nod at the 3:00 deadline. In their minds, there is a full day of adventure ahead.
Right after Sadie was born, I started to imagine the most horrible things. I couldn’t drive a car without envisioning another car plowing into the door that protected her little car seat from the rest of the world. As firm as I held her, I saw her fall to the hard floor in my mind, and in every corner there was an imaginary spider or some other monster waiting to bite her translucent baby skin. By the time she was a month old, it was getting out of control. I was happy, and I didn’t seem to have the postpartum depression that was plaguing so many moms. But in these isolated moments, I was terrified, and I was convinced that she wouldn’t make it to her first birthday. I went to see a therapist who had helped me through a hellish year before college, but this time I only needed to see him once.
“Of course you’re terrified,” he said, gesturing to Sadie sleeping with a wheezy snore in my arms. “Look at her. Have you ever been responsible for anything so valuable? Have you ever held anything more perfect?”
I had not.
“By dreaming up these horrible fates,” he continued. “I think you’re praying. I think you’re saying, ‘Bring it on. I can imagine your worst, world. I am ready for it, and you can’t surprise me.”
With his assessment, along with the passage of time and the lessening of post-birth hormones, I began to trust that Sadie, and then her younger sister, Rosie, would be okay. Those waves still show up now and again, and it remains to be the case that the fear I feel as a parent is powerful and overwhelming thing.
Regardless of my quiet fears, the girls have their backpacks on and they want to go exploring. They are learning the rules, and with every new piece of knowledge, they help me to let go of my fears. They laugh at my anxieties, but they answer my charges nonetheless.
“If you see the bear?” (My heart beats faster even to think the sentence. There is rumor of a mama bear in the neighborhood.)
“If it doesn’t run away, I lie on my belly and play dead.” (They giggle at the words “play dead.”)
“And what can you eat?”
“Chips from the bag.”
“Very funny. You know what I mean.”
“Garlic mustard. No berries. Lamb’s quarters.”
“Did you sunblock your sister?”
“Yes! We’re going!”
I know that I should savor the simplicity of what they need to know right now. Right now they go just beyond my sight, not so much further. I test their knowledge on edible plants and bear safety. What will we be talking about in ten years? First relationships and designated drivers. Now that scares the hell out of me.
I think we keep our children on a tighter leash than we did a generation ago. I’m pretty sure the world isn’t more dangerous; it’s just that there are more ways to hear about the bad things. I have such clear memories of lying in the middle of a field with my friend Sarah, far behind the house that our single mothers shared. We would run out there, naked, splitting open milkweed pods and spreading the milk over our little limbs, pretending it was sunscreen. We were three years old. I don’t know which part to be more shocked about, that two little kids were running around alone so far from home, or that we were running around naked without any actual sunscreen. Either way, it’s clear that the rules are different now than they were then.
Long before 3:00, the girls tumble in the front door. They are sweaty and flushed and there is a wilted dandelion tucked behind Rosie’s ear. They show me their little sketches of buttercups and the plant specimens they found in the field. They report, with a bit of disappointment, that there was no bear to be found. The bag of chips is empty, and in addition, they have come back with some greens for a salad for me. Sweaty and wrinkled from Rosie’s hand, there are lamb’s quarters and a few leaves of baby lettuce. Edible plants are always part of the adventure, and the girls will eat anything they pick themselves, especially if they are weeds. We are very careful that each plant has been carefully identified, and there are only two or three that the girls know they can munch without checking in with me first. Clover flowers, and those little sour bursts of green leaves we have incorrectly named lemon grass, the invasive but tasty garlic mustard; they graze on these here and there and fancy themselves in their own version of My Side of the Mountain. I’ll admit it—they walk through the threshold of the front door and the fear in my stomach releases. I may let them go, but it is far from easy. But I know that for now, the girls will always make their way back home.
About the Author:
ALANA CHERNILA writes, cooks, sells fresh vegetables, and teaches cheese making. She created the blog www.EatingFromTheGroundUp.com in 2008. Alana is a graduate of St. John’s College in Santa Fe and lives with her husband and two young daughters in western Massachusetts.
Click Here to read about Alana’s new book, and to enter until May 25,2012 to win a copy: The Homemade Pantry