Peanut Butter and Parenting: A True Story

I want to thank Jennifer Blanke for her submission ‘Peanut Butter and Parenting’, a true story about parenting and being parented.

Jennifer Blanke has a BS in Elementary Education and a Master of Fine Arts in Writing degree from Lindenwood University where she was an editorial assistant for two issues of The Lindenwood Review. She is a wife, mother, teacher, and writer in St. Louis, Missouri and has writing published in Mum Life Stories and Her View From Home.

Website: http://jennifermblanke.com/home/



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Peanut Butter and Parenting

   My fondness for peanut butter began at Rowan Elementary School in Mars, PA when I was somewhere between the ages of eight and ten. My exact age is a bit fuzzy because let’s be honest, elementary is an age. I was teeter-tottering, rocking my Jordache jeans, and could barely close my mouth around a wad of the newest trend, Hubba Bubba gum, which for some unknown reason was allowed in school. The monstrous pink glob flew out of my mouth as if it were escaping into freedom and unfortunately for both of us got captured in my stick-straight, long blond hair. I tried to remove the gummy mess, but there was nothing I could do except make it worse. My mother was called. I braced myself for a lengthy lecture on the short drive home.

I am the oldest of four children; I was five when the baby was born. My mother loved and cared for us, but she did not have time to coddle us. Growing up in the 70s and 80s was perfect for her authoritarian/authoritative combo parenting style which was a healthy combination of enforcing rules, focusing on obedience, (mostly) fair punishments, and positive relationships. My childhood is filled with happy memories and I attribute that to clear parameters that helped me feel safe and secure to roam the neighborhood with the littles tagging along behind me from morning until the dinner bell (which was basically the yelling of our names for all to hear). Of course, we’d head home mid-day and find a PB&J waiting for us on the back deck so we didn’t drag in dirt or extra mouths to feed. I grew up on peanut butter by choice because the alternative was hot dogs cut up in scrambled eggs or baloney and cheese on white. 


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As I was sitting in a chair right outside of the school office, I saw my mother approaching with a scowl on her face and a jar of peanut butter in her hand. Wait? What is she doing with that? I honestly thought she would take me home and work her magic until every last piece of sticky goo was out of my hair, but nope, as she got closer I could tell that Mom, me, and The Peanut Man, cane and all, were about to put on a show. 

I’ve never had a gum and peanut butter moment with one of my children, but there have been a few shows. I parent just like my mother. I’m tough and I’m driven by an unwillingness to allow my children to become less than their destiny demands. Words like you’re so mean and I bet other parents wouldn’t… and I’m over eighteen have bounced across the wood flooring of our tiny ranch on many occasions. These words echo back:  I’m not your friend, I don’t care what other parents do, and as long as you live in this house. It’s called tough love and thankfully their father is a stable presence in all of our lives because he brings calmness and balance to my crazy.

My two kids never slept in bed with us, they toddler marched to timers and routines, and they know the embarrassment of not having their homework or PE uniform because their mom refused to bail them out. They both have jobs because one wants to replace the 1997 Chevy that his grandpa gave him and the other wants a new phone. I’ve gotten plenty of sideways glances from the helicopter moms as they’re flying their darlings from one sporting event to another with a stop over to pick up the homework paper forgotten at school or from the lawnmower moms plowing a path and eviscerating anyone who stands in their child’s way of success. My children are fiercely independent and fiercely loved. I firmly believe that my responsibility isn’t to rescue them every time they falter and fall into the deep end, but rather to teach them to swim so they can at least tread water long enough to drift to the shallow end of the pool while I cheer for them from the deck. There have been a few near-drowning experiences, but they know how to do their own laundry and pack a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for lunch.

Many battles have ensued with my oldest because stubbornness is a family trait and giving up a good argument is just not in our DNA. He’s been arguing since he could talk which was early compared to some and not surprising if you’ve encountered him when he’s pursuing one of his innovative ideas. The arguments now are about politics, religion, and why he shouldn’t have to follow our unnecessary rules instead of naptime, snacks, and why he should be able to wear his PJ top and inside-out socks to school. The sock thing really bothered me and it’s laughable now, because that was so insignificant compared to the struggles that followed. I’ll never forget the image of a kicking-screaming-thrashing little boy who didn’t get his way in the dollar store causing me to abandon my cart full of his birthday decorations. The scene that followed of me force-strapping him into his car seat as I uncontrollably sobbed, unfortunately, happened more than once. He is strong-willed, but I learned to be stronger. There is a fine line between parenting and hostage negotiating. My years of the former could probably land me a career in the latter.

My daughter is shy, but when she’s comfortable in her environment, her sassiness appears. She’s also brutally honest, if you can get her to talk. When she was in Kindergarten she told a classmate that her shoes were ugly and asked if she got them at the Goodwill. After a call from her teacher, a conversation about being kind to others took place with my five-year-old questioning me about whether or not she should lie next time. So, I should have lied and said that I liked her shoes? Well, maybe you could find something to like about them and only say that. Isn’t that still lying? In third grade at a sleepover, one of her friends called her fat. So, we had an honest conversation about beauty and body image and I gently reminded her that this is exactly why it’s important to think before you allow every thought to escape from your mouth. I hope she never forgets that God masterfully created her to be beautiful on the inside and when she lets the inside shine bright, it makes her radiant on the outside. A propensity for music has grown in the past few years and I find myself needing to push her toward growth. I’m always in a tug-o-war with these two kids; the oldest needing to be tugged back in and the youngest needing to fly.

I will advocate for them, love them even when they make poor choices, and they will always have a safe haven when life gets tough; I will give them exactly what my mother gave me.

            I can still feel my mother’s vigorous hands working the peanut butter through my locks every time I open a jar. She pulled that peanut butter through my hair so rough that day and removed every last stringy piece of bubble gum. Honestly, it’s a wonder that I can still eat the stuff. Her hands said more than her words ever could. I don’t remember much else other than hoping Ronnie, my first crush, was not walking down the hallway; I would have died if he’d seen my mother at school! I did get quite a few glances from my classmates when I returned to the classroom. Apparently eau de peanut parfum was not a fragrance trend at Rowan. You probably figured it out, but I was not taken home to shower and remove the greasy film that coated my hair; I was sent back to class, probably to make sure I’d learned my lesson. Tough love. It worked because I’m now a responsible mom showing up when my kids need it the most.


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Mom’s Girdle: A Micro Story

We’d like to thank Ann Hultburg of the USA for her Micro Fiction submission ‘Mum’s Girdle’. Based on true events ‘Mom’s Girdle’ is a story written by a mum about her mum.

Ann Hultberg of Western PA and Southwest Fla is a retired high school English teacher and currently an adjunct composition instructor at the local university. She writes nonfiction stories about her family, especially focusing on her father’s escape from Budapest, Hungary, to the United States. Her essays have been accepted by Persimmon Tree, Dream Well Writing, Drunk Monkeys, The Drabble, The Story Pub, Kindred VoiceFevers of the Mind, Mothers Always Write, Elixir Magazine, The Ekphrastic Review, and Moonchild Magazine. You can follow Ann on Facebook at ‘60 and writing‘ and @Hajdu on Twitter.

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Mom’s Girdle

Mom was always losing or fighting with her 18-hour Playtex girdle. It seemed as if this contraption had a mind of its own, wanting to be seen, calling attention to itself, almost like a neon light flashing from a bar window. The trampoline-like material sucked in all the fat so clothes appeared smooth and seamless without the ripples of excess pounds. From waist to upper knee, this apparatus was popular with Mom in the 60s and 70s. Her belly was flattened and thighs were made to look slimmer, something she said she needed after birthing four kids.
The first time Mom lost a hold of her girdle was when she was out shopping, and the elastic, which had been shriveling on the waistband, probably from its years of wear, let loose. Like a broken rubber band snapping off a ponytail, the entire garment fell to her knees. Though in public, with many eyes upon her, mom simply shimmied the girdle down to her ankles, like a girl slinking down a fashion show runway; she peeled it off her ankles, and with a kick, tossed the girdle in the air like a spinning pizza crust. She grabbed at it and stuffed the undergarment in her purse as carefree as she would a wad of Kleenex. She continued on with her shopping.
Mom also had to be careful that her dresses weren’t too short or else the bottom few inches of the girdle would peek out from under the dress, the white contrasting against whatever colorful attire she wore, lest she have another embarrassing episode with the girdle exposed, like an exhibitionist flashing himself in public. Mon Dieu!
When her father died, my parents and we children were in the car on the way to his funeral. My then baby sister who was sitting on Mom’s lap (seatbelts and car seats weren’t required yet) had wet through her diaper and soaked Mom’s skirt and girdle. Off came both items—she held the underwear out the window, flapping like a starched flag, hoping the August sun would dry off its wetness. Beads of water clung to the fabric like a waterproof watch. As much as she shook the garment, the fabric refused to dry. Luckily the skirt dried in time for the funeral, but the girdle remained in the car — the punished step child left behind.
The things we remember from our childhood become the talk at the Thanksgiving table. We reminisce about mom’s girdle, dubbed her fifth child: unruly (falls apart), unyielding (holds in the fat), attention-seeking (an egoist). But hail to this piece of rubber that kept our mom, content and secure, in her hourglass figure.


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Baby Oak: A Micro Story

She’s done it again, captivated the imagination with a descriptive, true-to-life tale, full of warmth and nostalgia, in her latest micro story contribution entitled ‘Baby Oak’.

Fiona M. Jones is a regular contributor to our site and the subject of one of our Mum Life Success Stories (which you can read here). Fiona lives with her husband and 2 teenage sons in Fife, Scotland, where she works, writes & ministers. If you’d like to follow Fiona’s work and journey, simply visit her Facebook page.



 

Baby Oak

In the muddy, brambled place we still call the Hundred-Acre Wood, a tiny oak stands barely waist-height: my babies’ baby tree.

A decade ago my children played in autumn’s treasures of conkers and acorns. They planted some in flower-pots behind the greenhouse. They neglected and forgot them, discovered something still living two years later, and began to love it again with clumsy hands and far too much water. I took pity at last on the poor stunted treelet, still hardly more than a seedling; I gave my children a spade and told them to go and set it free.

They carried the pot and the spade away down the trod path towards the old railway, through the small wooded area that probably equals an acre or two but seemed big to them when first they named it. They dug a hole, not very deep, and planted their tree; and they showed me, later, where to find it.

Half-forgotten once more, Baby Oak hides in among the tall, ragged grasses. It hasn’t yet learned to drop its leaves in autumn. It hasn’t yet claimed its own piece of sky above undergrowth and broken stone wall. But out of sight it slowly spreads its roots and survives.

When I walk through our old Hundred-Acre Wood I turn off the path to look at it again. It will grow up, as other babies do. It will spread gnarling, asymmetric branches and drop acorns of its own—for mice and squirrels to eat, for little children to collect and treasure, for future oaks to grow.

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Read more Flash Fiction stories like this one, including Fiona’s stories Mud and Tiny Green Apples.

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The pace and intensity of our lives, both at work and at home, leave many of us feeling like a person riding a frantically galloping horse. Our day-to-day incessant busyness — too much to do and not enough time.

With this ebook you will learn to approach your days in another way, reducing stress and getting results through prioritizing, leveraging and focus!

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Now You See Me: A Short Story

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We’d like to thank Alison Drury of the UK for her short story submission entitled ‘Now You See Me…’. This story is based on true events and has been accepted for an anthology by the Open University Write Club, called ‘Generations” target=”_blank” rel=”noopener”>Generations’, copies of the anthology are available on ebook or in paperback through Generations” target=”_blank” rel=”noopener”>Amazon.

Alison is studying for a BA(Hons) degree in English Literature and Creative Writing with the Open University. She has lived in Kent’s Garden of England for more than forty years and knows that everything comes to those who want it badly enough. A daughter, Mother, professional plate-spinner and writer, she believes now is her time to dance.

Alison’s descriptive prose paints a relatable picture in this beautifully written, true-to-life story about the ravaging affects time can have on the mind of an ageing Mother.



Now You See Me…

‘Suddenly, as rare things will, it vanished.’
Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Outside, here in the garden, the fresh air has blown away the cobwebs and the sunshine has fused her neural wiring. Pulling up the roots, teasing apart the strangled knots, picking up the windfalls and turning over and over the soil that clouds the water. I stand there, at the top of the path, watching. She hasn’t seen me yet. I don’t want to jinx this moment where, in this one place, her world makes sense. She’s tiny now, with the tenacity and strength of a little sparrow.

I’ve seen her doing this same activity, in this same garden, year after year and I’m reminded of when we first came here. They say your earliest memories tend to be few and traumatic – you rarely remember the more numerous happier times.

So then, why is my earliest memory of me sitting on my Father’s knee in the lounge of our brand-new house? It was so new there wasn’t even carpet on the floor. The earthy sweet scent of his pipe tobacco lingers, like dried hay, blended with the fresh sawdust left by the builders and the wooden tea chests stacked in the corner of every room. This smell, and the noise. We were one of the first families to move in and the estate was still a building site. Between eight in the morning and four in the afternoon the thunderous hammering and drilling was unrelenting – for months. But after a while it was only noticeable by the intense silence once the workmen had left for the day; the eerie, un-echoing sound like when everything is muffled by a blanket of snow or water or ash.

Time distorts memory.

It was unusual he was home before my bedtime; work or sport generally kept him out till late. I hung on, to him and his words. I devoured his stories as we snuggled in the high-backed winged armchair in front of the electric fire. His bristly whiskers tickled my cheek and my skinny spaghetti legs, in their knee-length white socks, draped over his lap. That’s all I can remember. There are photographs, of course, of other times, but they’re not memories – they have no lingering aroma nor give out any tingling pops of electricity. Nobody shared that moment except him and me. I was four years old, and a few months later he was gone – my Mother was a widow at thirty-two.

It wasn’t until I was thirty-two, also with a child of four, when the grief brought me up short, like I was trapped momentarily in a turnstile on the London underground. I remember it vividly. I tried to imagine how that situation had been for my Mother. One of those things that can never be prepared for, like losing a limb or a sense. My Mother had been amazingly pragmatic; no histrionics, or wallowing in self-pity. She just quietly shut that door and walked through the next one, and the next one and the next – throughout various episodes of her life.

Her ‘episodes’ read like a soap opera and are equally numerous, funny and tragic. Over eighty-three years she has had her appendix out, a baby out, her womb out, wisdom teeth out, nose, wrist, bladder and bowel repaired, and now sports a titanium knee. She has lost an eye, two husbands, two dogs, two guinea pigs, three cats and a rabbit. She has swum for Sheffield, travelled the world, para-glided in Florida and, water-skied in Corfu. Even now she swims, drives and dances and the garden remains a constant where she still digs her potatoes. It has grown and flourished, changing with the seasons; the Wendy House is now a hot house for her tomatoes, the swing has been replaced with a Victoria Plum, and the exotics have been composted and replanted with root vegetables and raspberry canes. I think back to the time I first noticed the brick path becoming disjointed and furred over with moss, and the pond-life increasingly trapped in algae-infested stagnation. The bugs were sneaking in, burrowing and eating away the goodness, stealing her words: there was the gentleman friend who, ‘poor thing’, was in hospital having a ‘hysterectomy’; she excitedly told us how she had packed all the ‘furniture’ into her suitcase for the Retirement Group charabanc to North Wales. Her confusion at the drop in visiting birds – probably due to the fish food in the bird feeder – and her muddled days as she found nobody at the Doctor’s surgery on a Sunday.

We had time.

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The tests called on her artistic skills but she was better at drawing water to feed the flowers, than five past five on a clock-face. She would curse at the bindweed, anchoring her peonies, but could only identify an anchor on the Doctor’s sheet as ‘that thing that stops a boat from floating away’. In another picture, she knew it was a musical instrument, miming how it should be played, like Lisa from The Simpsons. When asked, she thought it was Tuesday (‘or was it Thursday’), and recalled the Prime Minister’s name was David ‘something’ – he had the same name as her childhood sweetheart. The amber warnings of bleak times ahead led to sandbags and countermeasures at the ready. The boost from the medication was like the heater in the hot house or weed killer in the rain; the memories blossomed and the woolliness evaporated. The side-effects, however, were impatience and sheer bloody-mindedness. These would, of course, have been perfectly harmless if they’d helped in solving Sudoku, or deciphering the bus timetable. However, it’s a different story when they stimulate super powers to ascend into the loft to sort through the ‘keep list’, or climb out of the window to prune next door’s hedge, because the side gate was rusted shut.

It was early enough in the diagnosis that she understood the concept that things die eventually: branches fall from the old apple tree, and leaves become brittle and shatter. She accepted the fact that a certain amount of chemical fertiliser could help, but it couldn’t prevent the inevitable. She was driven to do anything that would enable her to remain in her house with her beloved garden; ‘the only place I can think straight because of my bloody brain.’

I quietly slip inside to put the kettle on and glance at the charging unit for her shiny new pendant blinking expectantly. I smile as I think back to the reason for inviting ‘Big Brother’ to be her chaperone; like the time she disappeared without leaving a ’flight plan’ having taken the scenic route across the fields to the church, the precariously rigged steps to facilitate the hedge-pruning incident when she could have been trapped in the passageway for days. This had been an exercise in patience; not for her, but for us. She had been more than willing to have it but couldn’t quite grasp that (a) she needed to wear it at-all-times, and (b) it needed to sit in its cradle occasionally to recharge the battery. Her trajectory of understanding is precariously heading for an escarpment but we are holding her hand every step of the way, encouraging her to seek new and easier paths through the increasingly befogged jungle. As I look around the house, our way-markers are everywhere; the sprinkling of pink and yellow Post-it Notes, like long-blooming perennials, written with instructions and diagrams on how to use the washing machine, how to switch from the radio to the record player, when to take her pills, and how to reinvigorate ‘Big Brother’.

We have time.

The house is clean and tidy and her slippers sit waiting to be exchanged on newspaper by the door. Her lunch is prepared on the side and her diary is full of appointments and social engagements.

I walk down the garden and surprise her with a cup of tea. We sit on the bench, her little legs swinging like a child’s in her red wellies, and admire the trench she has prepared for the potatoes.

‘I’ve been thinking Mum, if you want to go on the next trip, perhaps I’ll come with you.’

‘What trip pet?’

‘The next trip with your retirement group, the Turkey & Tinsel to the Isle of Wight in November.’

She wiped away the constant tear from her unseeing eye. ‘Oh darling, are you sure? That would be incurable, I’d love you to come.’ Leaning in conspiratorially, ‘Jane said she didn’t think I should sign up for it. I think I was an annoying whatsit in Wales and she got a bit stressed.’

‘I know, she told me.’

‘It wasn’t fair! My room was miles from anyone else’s and I kept getting lost. I couldn’t sleep, thought I’d miss breakfast.’

‘Shhhh! Also, you can’t just go wandering off without telling anyone.’

She flung her arms up in exasperation, spilling her tea, ‘I only went for a walk for heaven’s sake, I couldn’t bear being cooped up inside. And anyway, I couldn’t find anyone to tell.’

I stilled her hands and saved the tea, ‘Well, we can do our own thing, we can be rebels together, and they won’t have to worry.’

I want more time.

A mother-daughter relationship is like a cat’s cradle: the care threaded around our fingers, controlled by one, and then passed to the other in varying sequences. Like the convolvulus, strangling her herbaceous peonies, my Mother’s changing character needs liberating and befriending. Letting go of that other person is hard for both of us but, hands clasped, another door awaits and we step through it together.

~ Alison Drury


More stories

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How To Accomplish More In A Fraction Of The Time eCOVER WHITE

The pace and intensity of our lives, both at work and at home, leave many of us feeling like a person riding a frantically galloping horse. Our day-to-day incessant busyness — too much to do and not enough time.

With this ebook you will learn to approach your days in another way, reducing stress and getting results through prioritizing, leveraging and focus!

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