Babies, tarnish and dust.

Woodland trail, Shelby Farms, November 2012The part of this that is a story, at the beginning, is mostly true and very short – hardly even a story, it’s so short. But it’s true nonetheless, in the important ways, and amended appropriately because it isn’t mine.

A number of years ago a dear friend was hosting Thanksgiving dinner. More specifically, a dear friend who at the time had four children, all under the age of seven, the youngest only a few months old, invited friends and family to her house for Thanksgiving dinner because it was easier than getting four children, all under the age of seven, dressed and out of the house and then spending a seeming-eternity worrying about the children’s behavior around breakable things that didn’t belong to them.

So they had Thanksgiving dinner together, with all the usual fare: candles and blessings and gravy and Sister Schubert rolls. And when it came time to say their goodbyes, one of the guests thanked her hostess and added, “next time I’ll come early and bring my silver polish.”

Of course the silver was tarnished and unpolished; my friend was busy taking care of the baby.

I’ve told this story many times over the past few months, mostly at work when making decisions with a group. We’ll come to a certain critical point, and I’ll ask something along the lines of, “do we need to polish the silver or take care of the baby?”  It isn’t always as easy a decision as you might think. And besides, the silver is a mighty siren with a quick, shiny prize at the end. The baby is messy, the reward often elusive.

And yes, it’s similar to “keeping the main thing the main thing,” except that, to me, it’s more like what my mother’s friend Mary A. used say, that a well-dusted house was in need of more good books and a comfy reading chair.

And, as an aside, the world is complicated mix of house-cleaners and readers. When you’ve grown up being one, it can be hard to comprehend the other. Moreover, it isn’t just that there are silver people and baby  people, but that the notion of which one’s the baby and which the silver can vary greatly.

I’ve been thinking about the baby and the silver, and about well-dusted houses, partly because it’s Thanksgiving week, but mostly because, come a certain age, the line defining what really matters begins to look different. Also, it has been a particularly long year. A long two years, even. Or 16 o 25 or 50. Perspective is the gift and curse of history. Pick any distant reference point, and the path from it will always be the same.

Here’s one: Last year I spent Thanksgiving weekend starting (and then recuperating from) a new exercise program. I’ve kept it up for the full 12 months since, faithful (almost) every Saturday morning at 9:00 and sometimes days in between. I have both a few new friends and stronger shoulders as a result (Bernard says my yoga pants look different now, too), but the price was surrendering what had become my sacred Saturday morning writing time. It was an easy enough decision at the time. I needed a shiny distraction.

Only, as it so happens, I think I just needed a change of routine, an interruption to force re-examining my priorities. In the past 12 months I’ve actually written more, and made more art, and cleaned less than in the year before that, though I’ve shared less of what I’ve written or made because most of it is messy and unfinished.

And no, I don’t know how all this ends, either, whether things eventually fall back into a neat, predictable order again or not. But that’s how I know for certain that it’s the baby, and not the silver, at least to me.

So, when I go missing here and there, as I have in recent weeks and as a couple of you have been kind enough to notice, think of babies and tarnish and dust, and you’ll know exactly where I am.

Food | Week of November 28, 2016

Garlic Soup with Potatoes and Poached Eggs

Spaghetti & Drop Meatballs

Winter Salad with Brussels Sprouts & Citrus

Turkey Tikka Masala

Charlie Bird’s Farro Salad


  1. First: Yikes. Second: I am not a silver polisher. It wears down the finish, so I only do it when necessary, but I did find a solution that seems to work great! You place aluminum foil in the bottom of a nonreactive container (my kitchen sink is deep and porcelain). Add a generous amount of cheap iodized salt to mostly cover the bottom. Add very warm water. Then your silver. It forms a chemical reaction and you can watch it fade off. You may have finish with a short amount of polishing, but we’re taking a little buff. Not a full scrub. Third: How did she even see the silver with four children in the house?


  2. Polishing silver, dusting, and -may I add? folding children’s laundry- are for chumps. Life’s too short and the dreams too big. (Although I confess, there does almost always seem to be something in the way.)
    Wishing you more baby, less tarnish, and the wisdom to know the difference.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I love the reality and analogy of this, having experienced both… I will admit to having been quite OCD in the past concerning my home when my children were small. This led to some tense situations as I gradually learned the lesson of babies, tarnish, and dust…. These days I am much less concerned with the cleaning of stuff and more focused on the people and relationships… after my children are grown and as the grandchildren begin. Life is Good!! Love to you….


  4. I’m with you on the baby thing… silver has to take a back seat when it comes to the important things in life and there are a lot of things more important that polishing silver. Having said that… HOW FREAKING RUDE of someone to say something like that! Obviously they have no children and their house stays dusted and the silver polished. I have people in my life like that too. I have missed seeing you and I look forward to more of your writing. Mine is on the back burner for now. School is my baby for the moment and takes all of my time. If I have time to write, I can’t get past the guilt of having homework or a paper that I should be writing instead. Maybe over Christmas break I can sit down and put words down for the project we discussed in earlier post…
    I hope you had a great Thanksgiving! And congrats on your commitment to exercise. I am not that dedicated. Maybe one day… 🙂


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