I have a theory about the three little ones (ages 10, 9 and 5) that I am raising. As a parent, I remind myself that I can build them up or tear them down when I don’t even know it.
When I was about 10, I was given the responsibility of cooking dinner for my family while mom would head out to the factory for the 3 p.m. to 11 p.m. shift. I learned to make things like pork chops and casseroles. I found ways to put things in the oven and then go next door and play. Most of the time I made it back before anything burned.
My cooking training came whenever a meal was being made. I would assist my mom or dad, since both of them were talented in the kitchen.
One time I was given the task of peeling some potatoes for the Sunday dinner. For some reason, we never used the classic potato peeler on potatoes. We only used it for carrots! Instead we used a small, sharp paring knife similar to the one that my Grandma Isabel used in her farmhouse. I have very vivid memories of creamy yellow potatoes piling into the dented aluminum pot, their jackets left in heaps on newspapers that made cleanup quick and easy.
On this Sunday, I wanted to show my mom that I was speedy and helpful so I peeled those potatoes as fast as I could while standing at the stainless steel sink set into the rust orange counter tops. Imagine my surprise when instead of praise, I got a stern, “you have wasted more potato than we have left to boil. You need to work on removing the peeling and leaving the potato. “
Today, whenever I peel a potato, I think of those words. Silly words, really.
Now who would think that comment would stick with me? Who would think that a comment about peelings would pop into my head every time I prepare potatoes for the next 28 years?
We never know when the words that we say will become the defining moments in our children’s memories. When I’m on the verge of ranting about some mistake my children make, I remember the potato peelings in the sink with all the white starchy flesh attached to my mom’s disappointment.
As a parent I never know what will make a dent in my children’s memories or how they will hear my words and for no reason at all, some of them will echo in their little heads later in their lifetimes. And the echo will tell them lessons that I didn’t mean to teach them that day.
I hope they hear the spirit builders, and only listen to the best of me. And just to be safe, when my kids are helping me with dinner, I encourage them to reach for the potato peeler instead of the paring knife every time.
About Annita Wozniak
Annita Wozniak grew up in a large, imperfect family in the Midwest. "As adults we have the power to build children up or tear them down," she says about the challenges of being a responsible parent, "and we never know when what we say is going to be a defining moment in a child's life." Woz is a writer and child-grower living in the Midwest with her husband and their three inspirational children. She is always learning. You can visit her website at annitawoz.wordpress.com