Brussels Sprouts

Austin Brimley eating Brussels Sprouts

A few days ago, I came home from an afternoon at the pool and said “screw it” to a formal dinner.  The kids were starving and I had eggs in the refrigerator, so that’s what everyone was getting.  I also decided that we’d all get in our PJs and then eat dinner while watching Kung Fu Panda.

Obviously, there’s a lot of “winging it” going on now that school’s out.

In any case, I sent Claire and Tommy up to take baths, and Austin begged to go over to see the next-door neighbor.  I relented.  He’d taken a shower (I think?) at the pool, or at least he told me that he did.  It’s not like there was anyone in the locker room with him to report back.  It’s one of the things that I didn’t realize I’d miss about Shawn that in fact I do – his ability to go in spaces with my boys where I’m not allowed, like the pool changing room.  Instead, I just yell from the door, hoping everything is okay.  Sometimes I send in a male friend or I ask some teenage lifeguard to help me.  At times like these, I just hope my oldest boy is making good choices and using at least a little bit of soap.

Anyway, that night Austin went to the neighbor’s house, and Tommy finished his bath.  He wanted to eat immediately.  I figured it would be okay to just make each kid food as they came down and we’d eat in front of the TV.  So Tommy got his eggs and a few minutes later, Claire got hers and I made some too.  We sat down and watched the movie together and I sort-of forgot about Austin.

It was probably 45 minutes later when he came home.  “Do you want some eggs for dinner, baby?” I asked him.

“Oh, I already ate,” he said.  He explained that he had arrived at his friends’ house right before they were sitting down to eat dinner.  They had texted me to ask if it was okay if he stayed, but I missed it.  “They had chicken and Brussels sprouts and all sorts of things,” Austin told me, clearly impressed.

“God,” I thought to myself, “the neighbors are going to start worrying about me if I send a hungry kid over right at dinner time.”

I texted back to say thank you, and my neighbors were really sweet.  Then I got all three kids to bed and nearly fell asleep before 9 pm.

As I was letting my mind wander, I started to think about Austin that night.  The poor kid was probably starving, and I had brushed him off when he whined.  Then he had arrived at his friend’s house and excitedly said yes when he was asked to stay for a meal.  Was I really letting things slide that much?

Damn, were people starting to think they needed to make sure my kids were fed?

I remember kids like Austin from growing up.  To be clear, no one in my hometown was starving, but there were certainly kids who ended up at my family dinner table with great frequency.  I never thought that much about it, really.  But when I think about it now, it strikes me that maybe some of the kids that often ate dinner at our house were doing what Austin was doing that night – just trying to find a place to sit down for a calm meal in the middle of chaos.

Maybe I’m being too harsh on myself.  I know I’ve fed countless kids that aren’t mine throughout the years.  It’s just that now that I’m a single parent, I feel this great pressure to do things “right.”  I don’t know exactly why I feel that way, but I guess I have this idea that if I serve a great dinner and we all eat together at the table every night, then my kids will be okay.

Of course, reality – especially summer reality – means that I’m not really doing that at all.

There’s a million other things that I’m not doing that I wish I was doing as a single mom.  For example, I never used to care if my kids’ socks had holes, because seriously, that is just a part of childhood.  But now I see those holes and I think, “what if someone else sees the holes and starts to think that my children are being neglected?  What if they think my kids will never be okay because their dad died and now they can’t even get hole-less socks?”

I know no one is actually thinking these things.  Or at least I hope not.  But those thoughts persist in my mind.

I’m trying to talk back to these negative thoughts.  Yes, I ignored Austin’s hunger.  Yes, I didn’t check up on him when he’d been gone for 45 minutes.  Yes, he ended up intruding into another family’s dinner.

But – as I said to myself that night – Austin figured out what he needed and went to a house where he is loved.  They asked him to join because they care about him.  They fed him and they probably talked with him about his day.  I am sure that they didn’t think twice about feeding him, just as I know I wouldn’t think twice about doing the same thing if the roles were reversed.  Austin got a good meal with good people.

I’ve spent my entire time as a mother trying to show my kids the importance of community.  I think Austin gets that, or at least he’s inadvertently building community in times like these.  And so, I’m trying to stop myself from feeling guilty in these moments and instead feel grateful for the people that surround us.

Plus, he ate Brussels sprouts!

Image Credit: Stefanie Harrington Photography.

16 Replies to “Brussels Sprouts”

  1. “I just hope my oldest boy is making good choices and using at least a little bit of soap.”

    I love this and am cracking up at it because I think we’re going to be hoping for the exact same thing for the next couple of decades!

    No one can take away your worries, but I can tell you that from the outside looking in, it sure looks like you’re doing the most amazing job raising your kids. Eggs for dinner and holey socks don’t matter anywhere near as much as the love and community you have in your lives.

    1. Well that’s the truth! And I know that you’re right – who cares about dinner and socks when you have community?

  2. Trust me, no one is questioning your parenting. Everyone is in awe of you. I think most jump at the opportunity to feed your kids because they’re lovely, as are you.

    On a related note–you have shown them the importance of community by actually building this community. You are a critical piece to this neighborhood and without you, we would not have the same sense of closeness. If your kids ate dinner every day at someone else’s house, no one would question it because it would just feel right. You would do the same–and have done the same for years.

    1. This means the world to me. In an odd way, I do feel the bonding that has happened this year with our close friends and the larger community. I wish the circumstances were different, but since they are this way, I feel so lucky to have such a strong community that has rallied around my family. Thank God for that!

  3. I see the other side of the story. I’m betting the neighbours felt warm and fuzzy knowing that after the turmoil of this year, Austin came over and was comfortable enough to hang out with them and share a meal. My guess is the thoughts that went through your head and the thoughts they had were two completely different things!

    1. I think you’re right. Knowing my neighbors, I think they actually delight in having Austin around. I just need to keep reminding myself of this!

  4. Hey Marjorie – I love your blog and I think you are doing a great job. I love this one in particular – I have five kids and while I know this is no comparison to what you are dealing with, my husband is away for work a lot. I used to try and do everything myself and beat myself up at night when I was thinking about our day and how many times I screwed up as a parent … believe me it is usually a pretty long list … but as my community of friends grew, I started to realise that as long as my kids were getting what they needed, it didn’t have to be from me? Does that make sense? So I would see my twins sitting on the laps of my friends getting great hugs and snuggling in … I would have loved to have done that with them, but I was usually tending to their baby sister … so I thought about it and thought how lucky we were to have an extended community to help give our kids what they needed … whether it was hugs, or a ride home from activities or a snack … or dinner, as in Austin’s case. As long as they are getting what they need, it doesn’t always need to be from you … XX

    1. That totally makes sense. I love the idea of thinking, “as long as my kids are getting what they need, does it have to be from me?” The answer, of course, is no. There are so many people who want to love my kids….and I need to keep reminding myself that they are better when we are loved by many. Thanks so much for this sweet comment!

  5. Any Brimley child is welcome at our table any time just as my kids would be welcomed at yours unconditionally! Xoxo

    1. Love your family, Julie!

  6. Your candor in expressing your self-doubts is remarkable, but – yes – you are being to harsh on yourself. You may feel too overwhelmed and inadequate to appreciate it, but your blog itself is a tremendous gift to others, and through it you are building and strengthening community. You are also giving your community an opportunity to support you and to act out of empathy and love, and – although it is rather paradoxical – that opportunity too is a gift.

    1. Thank you for your kind comment! I do see – at least a bit – how much it is also important for others to come together to help our family. I need to keep reminding myself of this!

  7. Henry said it best – it is a gift that you give others when you allow them to help, contribute and love your family. You are doing an incredible job and I’m so in awe of you! ❤️❤️

    1. Thanks mama. And thank God I have support from people like you!

  8. I’m in that year-end teacher maelstrom right now, Marjorie, so I’m a little behind in my chiming in. At any rate, this post and the following one really impress me. Everything you’ve done this year is impressive, come to think of it. Over the last few weeks (and I hope I’m not wrong) I feel like things are rising a little for you, and it makes me so glad. The kids are figuring things out, and you are too. It’s amazing, and I’m so happy to know you’re constantly surrounded by love and support.

    1. Thanks for reading and for this sweet comment. And yes – I’m so lucky to have such love around me and my family.

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