Balance

October 20,2008
Professor Mom
Aliki McElreath( )

Aliki is a writer and college English teacher. She lives in North Carolina with her husband, two children (ages seven and ten), a dog, a cat, a rabbit, and too many fish.

This weekend was a long and difficult one, because we spent much of it doing the dirty work of parenting: enforcing consequences (also known as punishment). L. did hardly any work at school last week, and his teacher sent it all home ("Who's being punished here?" Scott wanted to know, which was a pretty good question), and we had to exact consequences on L. for a moment of extreme folly last week that ended up costing us $120. But enough said. Remember that adage parents like to pull out when they're discussing consequences with kids? The one about how this hurts me more than it hurts you? Well, it's true.

Despite all of the unpleasantness from the weekend, we did have a chance to do several fall-themed activities, as per the Professor Mom Family Vow we took a couple of weeks ago.

We got our pumpkins--they look like this:

(That's T., hugging her pumpkin)

We always pick out four, one for each of us. Before T. was born, it was three, and the year I was pregnant with her over Halloween we picked out a teeny, tiny pumpkin and set it next to L.'s. "This one's for your baby sister," we told him. He studied it carefully, probably wondering a million different things, but still not even guessing how his life would change so much in a matter of 2-1/2 months.

I also got started with T.'s Halloween costume. We found a long-sleeved pink T-shirt, and I bought some felt from A.C. Moore for the ears. She already has a narrow black head band, so we covered the head band in pink felt and we glue-gunned the ears to the head band. I couldn't take pictures because my camera batteries ran out, but I am particularly proud of how the head band came out.

"But, Mama!" T. protested. "What about my FACE?" When I told her we could paint a small heart shape on her nose, and give her rosy Care-Bear-esque cheeks, she was concerned. It took some talking to convince her that Mama just couldn't manage to create a full bodied Care Bear suit complete with Care Bear fuzzy face mask.

And finally, we ate a pomegranate. When I was younger, my mom would bring these home from the store for a treat. It was a huge production to cut and open the first pomegranate of fall without the staining juice squirting everywhere. We would don aprons, and then watch as she cut it open and let the seeds tumble, like rubies, into a bowl. I have since learned that you can cut the top off the pomegranate, score it along its sections, and remove the seeds in a bowl of water--this stops the juice from squirting out all over the place. My mom used to mix a little brandy and sugar and pour it over the seeds (maybe this was a taboo thing to do, letting your kids have a taste of brandy, but it didn't develop in any of us kids a taste for alcohol, or set us on the wrong path and into lives filled with dark and sordid pursuits). We would scoop out spoonfuls of the rubies, admiring the color and crispness, and then bite in, and I still remember the crunch and tingle sensation the pomegranate seeds made against my teeth and cheeks. Cutting into the first fall pomegranate was just another of many magical moments in a season filled with family traditions, good food, a warm house, and that feeling of rightness and peace in your own small and miraculous world.

To me this is the best part of parenting, this legacy we can pass onto our children: weaving a little magic into the day--magic we pull from the simple, sweet, and joyous things in life. Somehow this always outweighs those bitter moments--the slammed doors and the yells and the tedious unpleasantness of doling out consequences.

(You can do as we did, and mix some brown sugar together with apple or orange juices. Then pour into the pomegranate bowl, stir, and enjoy.)