An embarrassment of parents.

camp swim test

I dreaded the mornings when my father drove my third grade carpool. Daddy, whose one-time party boy reputation was unknown to me at the time, insisted on listening to WEZI, the easy listening station that played nothing more radical than instrumental Perry Como covers. He would hum along, occasionally opening the window to spit, the way men do. He would stand for no stronger language than “golly,” and he was quick to bark at any violator. Insult to injury, he often brought with him a cup of foul-smelling bouillon that he called breakfast.

Daddy was the designated morning driver because he was a morning person, he was headed to work anyway, and he drove an Oldsmobile Cutlass, a 4-door model that had, in 1974, room for a driver and five passengers, two in the front, three in the back.

My mother, who must have swapped her Mustang with him at some point during the day, drove the afternoon run. To her credit, she would switch the radio to a station playing popular music, but she liked to sing along. And she didn’t know how to tell funny jokes and stories like Mary’s mother did, so it was only a marginal improvement from the morning mortification.

When I moved on to 4th grade my mother, who began driving both morning and afternoon runs since my sister started kindergarten, traded her sports car for a vintage 1968 Lincoln Continental, green with a black top and the suicide doors that opened from the middle. “You’re driving me to school in THAT?!” I shrieked. The idea was horrifying, truly horrifying. I wanted to leave carpool, ride the back way to school, get dropped off on Ridgeway Road and walk the long path up to campus so no one would see me. But carpool continued, and the weekly spectacle of my mother’s “green monster” was a source of ongoing disgrace.

The carpool violations were just warning shots, indicators of what would come during middle school, teens and 20s. My father’s plaid pants and nylon shirts, in mis-matched color schemes. My mother’s arriving at school with loud flourish and a bouquet of flowers, but on the wrong day for awards. Inappropriate non-sequiturs. Public displays of emotion. Whistles during curtain calls.

I could chronicle all of the terribly uncool things my parents did, from how they dressed to the way they talked to my friends. But such a detailing would exceed the word count of War and Peace. Besides, you know them anyway – if not in the specifics of my personal experience, then likely in the reality of your own.

If there were a collective noun for the adults entrusted with child rearing, surely embarrassment would be it. A congregation of alligators. A drunkenship of cobblers. An embarrassment of parents. What word would better fit the group of people who, without any encouragement, will bust out Y-M-C-A moves in the middle of a school field trip or serenade sleepover guests with songs from Wicked. (Yes, I have done both of these things, in this calendar year alone, much to my daughter’s chagrin.)

I am, in spades, the embarrassment to my own children that my mother was to me. It’s a scourge they believe belongs to them alone, because they are too young to know that every active parent, no matter how attentive, popular or competent, is at some point an embarrassment to his or her child.

It’s a gift that comes with aging, this realization that all children see their parents as doofuses, the recognition that the cool kids’ cool parents were just as embarrassing to them as the uncool parents were to the uncool kids. No one was immune, nor will anyone ever be. With this realization comes the additional understanding that such tender feelings of self-consciousness can arise only from love, deep and unbreakable. It’s why Greg Kinney’s Diary of a Wimpy Kid series is so poignantly funny, laying bare the indignity of adolescence, the awkwardness of parental dis-composure, and the eternal truth of a uniquely challenging bond.

To every parent who has accidentally left home wearing clothes inside out, cat-called too loudly at a school assembly, walked up the movie theater aisle on the pretense of a restroom visit, or forced wearing of a dreaded UPF50 swim shirt: We, the Embarrassment, salute you. Long may our ranks prosper.

To every child, young or old, still sighing and eye-rolling and dreading the inevitable continuation of mild humiliation: may you see, before it’s too late, that one day you’ll look back upon the Embarrassment as the greatest richness you ever knew.

Happy week.

*******

Food | Week of June 30, 2014

market harvest june 2014

This week we’ll enjoy cabbage slaw with grilled chicken, tomato sandwiches, roasted potato salad, green salad with blackberries & peaches, and corn relish – simple summer fare while the season’s high.

Green Cabbage-Feta Slaw | Grilled Chicken

This is an easy slaw that I make often, and that I’ve posted before, I think. Top with sliced grilled chicken and maybe some grilled bread:

Green Cabbage Slaw

  • 1 head green cabbage, shredded
  • 1 bunch green scallions, shredded
  • 1 small white onion, sliced into thin half rounds
  • 1 package Feta cheese (solid or crumbled)
  • Vinegar
  • Vegetable oil
  • Sugar
  • Salt
  • Black pepper

In a large glass bowl combine cabbage, scallions, onion and Feta.  In a glass measuring cup mix vinegar (I use apple cider) and vegetable oil, about 1:2 (1/4 c. vinegar to 1/2 c. oil, for example).  Add sugar and salt (about 1 tsp. each), then black pepper to taste (I like a hefty dose of fresh, coarsely ground mixed peppercorns).  Since cabbage sizes can vary, the amount of dressing you’ll need will also vary; you’ll need enough to coat the greens, but not so much that they’re drowning.  Cover and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes; it will improve with time, and the cabbage will soften after a day.

Tomato Sandwiches

A tomato sandwich is essence of summer to me. There’s no wrong way to make a tomato sandwich. You can go fancy, with basil mayonnaise or strips of bacon if you want. I like the base model, however: thick tomato slices with a bit of salt and pepper, layered between two slices of white bread (I like sourdough or potato bread), each coated with Duke’s mayonnaise. You can serve with chips or green salad. Or you can serve two sandwiches per person and call it good. (Yes, this is my preference. How did you know?)

Roasted Potato Salad | Grilled Sausage

Cut small red or fingerling potatoes into bite-sized chunks, toss with olive oil and salt, spread on a baking sheet and roast at 370-400 degrees until the edges are crisp (20-25 minutes). Let them cool, then toss in a bowl with onion (scallions or a small yellow onion, thinly sliced) and either vinaigrette (you know I like Brianna’s) or mayonnaise. Season with salt, pepper and herbs, to taste. Serve with some simple grilled sausages and hearty mustard.

blackberries june 2014

Greens with Fruit, Cheese & Nuts

It’s impossible to list all of the combinations for this type of salad – it’s truly a mix-what-you-like endeavor. If you need some suggestions for combinations, Mark Bittman’s are the easiest to follow. I let the fruit (either dried or fresh) macerate for an hour or so in the dressing before tossing everything together. Serve with a hearty, whole-grain country bread.

Lamb Sliders | Corn Relish

I make lamb burgers the way I make beef or turkey burgers, which is to say relatively un-embellished. I’ll mix the meat with salt, pepper and some dried oregano and cook in a cast iron skillet. For a different twist, this recipe from Giada, of whom I’m not usually a fan, is also good and basic. It’s a nice approach if you’re serving people who aren’t big fans of lamb. Note also that lamb from a local farmer usually tastes different (better, by far) than lamb from a conventional grocery. For corn relish, I’ll usually roast fresh kernels (again, in a bit of oil at 370 degrees) then toss with diced jalapeños, diced sweet red pepper, red wine vinegar, salt and a pinch of sugar. Chopped cilantro or parsley also works well in the relish, but it doesn’t keep as well with addition of either.

6 Comments Add yours

  1. Barbara says:

    It’s is a parent’s job to mortify their children.

    1. Agree. We’ve earned it.

  2. Oh, the eye-rolling! I like this piece, especially your last paragraph. I couldn’t help but think of the children out there who yearn for any attention from their parents.

  3. Cristina says:

    Jennifer………….oh yes, I remember. I remember my father picking me up at the Memphis Country Club in his dirty, go fishing in – JEEP!!!! It was a Willy’s Overland JEEP!!! I literally jumped out of the car by the MCC pool………..hoping no one had seen me with him. Then when he picked me up I told him that I’d meet him on the corner of the entrance – again hoping no one would see me get in THAT CAR. Of course, what goes around comes around and I’m CERTAIN our kids felt the same way about all of our clunkers!!!!!
    I ALWAYS look forward to what you remember!!!!!
    Cristina

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