According to Merriam Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, 10th edition, “feminism” means: 1 : the theory of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes 2 : organized activity on behalf of women’s rights and interests.
Last Friday I attended a dinner for homeschooling mothers. The teenage daughters served us our chicken and rolls and salad. For dessert we got to choose from a wide array of thinly sliced (so you can try different kinds, we were told) cheesecakes and tarts, and there were pots of herbal teas. One of the girls played the harp during the dinner; I heard whispers that she will be attending a national competition. I sat beside a conservative Mennonite woman (eight children) and her sister (four children). Diagonally across from me sat the events organizer, a bubbly, smart woman (nine children). Conversation flew along at a rapid clip.
From the woman of four children: she has two PKU children and has to measure and chart everything they eat. They can have no protein or soy, and if they do, the consequences are not just a simple stomachache, oh no, they can have brain damage. She has to cook two different meals, every meal. It made my little food squabbles with my children look like silly knock-knock jokes.
From the woman of eight children: They buy raw milk (under the counter from their neighbor’s farm) for a four-dollar donation per gallon. They only get two gallons a week because it costs too much to buy more, but once when the farmer friend had to dump a tank of perfectly fine milk because of some technicality, they went speeding over and filled five gallon bucket after five gallon bucket. “Drink all the milk you want!” she gleefully told her children. She was genuinely interested when I told her that we grew our own red beans. They eat a lot of beans she said, and a lot of tortillas. I asked if she buys her tortillas from the tortilla factory in town, but she shook her head, no, she makes her own. With Maseca flour, I inquired? No, with her own grains that she grinds herself. I started laughing at how far off track I was, “Lemme back up the boat!” She happily explained how she grinds up corn, wheat, and sometimes millet, and adds oil, lecithin, and water. She presses the tortillas in a hot press thingamabob that then cooks them. (Has anyone heard of this dohickey? Would it be a worthwhile purchase?) She had just finished up her apples, turning them into 78 quarts of pie filling, 50 quarts of applesauce (won’t be near enough, but it’s a little something, she said), apple butter, and dried apples. Then we chattered away about our dehydrators.
The woman of nine children and the woman of eight children began comparing their freezer space and how much canning they had done. For the first time this year oh-woman-of-nine-children had kept count of how much she had canned—900 quarts of produce. About 400 quarts were tomato products and several hundred of those tomato products were spaghetti sauce. (I’m a little fuzzy on those numbers because right around that time my eyes popped clear out of my head and I had to blindly slap about on the table to locate them so I could stuff them back in their eye sockets. So that’s why I was kind of a little distracted.) Well, yes, you probably use two quarts for a meal, woman-of-eight-children said. No, oh-woman-of-nine-children laughed, We use a gallon; well, we have leftovers but that is intentional since my teenagers eat five meals a day.
I commented to the oh-woman-of-nine-children that she must be in the kitchen all day long, and she said that no, she’s actually hardly in the kitchen at all—the kids do most of the cooking. I pounced: So how did you get there? I explained my frustrating problem: the older kids are ready to cook but the younger ones are always in the way clambering to help and I go bonkers and lose my patience and it goes downhill really fast. She said, with great feeling and understanding, “Oh I know. It is really hard.” I scooted forward to the edge of me seat, which was a mistake since I was already on the edge of my seat, but by grabbing the table edge and tensing my leg muscles, I was able to keep one butt cheek demurely on the chair edge so I don’t think anybody noticed—when someone knows how hard it is, then I’m ready to listen to any morsel they toss my way because there is a very good chance it’s a gem. This is what she said, so listen up ya’ll.
When her kids reached eight or nine years of age, they got to choose a lunch that they wanted to learn to make (ham and cheese sandwiches, mac and cheese, whatever). The child was assigned one lunch a week, say every Tuesday. For several weeks, or months, that child made that meal. For the first several times the mother was right there, directing, assisting, and teaching, but eventually she removed herself until she was totally out of the kitchen. The first few weeks were tough, she admitted, because there were all the other kids in the way, but eventually the cooking child was working alone. Once the child was proficient at that meal, he moved on to another meal. And so on. Eventually she could call on the child to make that meal for supper if she was sick or too busy. And now she’s not in the kitchen all that much.
So now Yo-Yo is making buttermilk pancakes for lunch every Tuesday and Miss Becca Boo is making bologna and cheese sandwiches, carrot sticks, and apple slices every Thursday. There is a purpose to these intense kitchen lessons, and in short order I will reap the rewards. They do not need to know how to bake a cake and make a lasagna before they are able to make a full meal—this is revolutionary for me. We can start small and move forward steadily. And so we will.
Ps. I later heard oh-woman-of-nine-children say that at one point she had five kids in diapers at night and three during the day. And she was using cloth diapers. Gulp.
Pps. There is more coming, in case you wondered (thus the title “Feminism: Part One“)—this post is background/warm-up. Hold tight.