Animal, Vegetable, Miracle
I read Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle as my summer fun book. I didn’t expect it to be rigorous and I didn’t think I would enjoy the writing, but I was wrong. I read it in just a couple of days, immersed in her life as a small family trying to eat only the food they grow for one year. I am a sucker for books about food — I could probably read Michael Pollan daily — and this book was no exception: I was inspired to make my own bread and cheese and eat everything from our garden.
But what made the book more difficult for me was their insularity and its contrast to our life’s porousness. Their family of four has their own unique rules that start with food but encompass a lifestyle: living with enough land to grow food means they don’t live in the city; working to grow everything on their own means that everyone pitches in with growing, weeding, canning, and cooking; eating only local food means there’s no room for sugar and prepackaged items. With summer’s schedule we have Rosie this week, and I’m reminded too strongly how little control either house has. While last week she lived like a vagabond, crashing at one friend or another’s house each night, in our house I want her to have a good night’s sleep and I can’t tolerate friends in our basement each night — not because I don’t like them, because I do really like her friends, but because it means teenagers want food at midnight and want fancy breakfast in the morning, and Rosie doesn’t get a good night’s sleep. Rosie is mad at me for my rule: two sleepovers a week at our house sounds more than fair to me but she wants more. She comes to our house with money her mother gave her, then it’s gone and there are Pringles and soda in the downstairs trash. I watch her walk out the door wearing my jacket without asking, and I know this rule about privacy and clothes-sharing is different at her mother’s, but I am not so kind — it was in folded my bedroom on my dresser and it comes back smelling like perfume I wouldn’t wear with a movie ticket in a pocket (I am especially rigid, I’m afraid, because much more than once a shirt of mine never came back). Jack comes over and almost immediately turns on the computer to watch a re-run of a show called Family Guy, then he’s singing a song from the show about a bag of weed. He knows the rules, no television before it’s dark outside, and certainly not that show, but he also doesn’t know, he tests, just to see, because life between two houses is unstable.
When we have a kid that’s just ours… I have said in my head for six years. But I don’t give up on these kids who didn’t ask to teeter-totter between two worlds. And I also try not to let the rules of my house alter by a world I am not a part of. I want this house to be completely ours, no compromises. At her mother’s Rosie doesn’t have to pick up her own towel because her mother is good enough to pick it up for her, but at our house I make her because I’m not her maid and because these small details help keep her connected to reality and responsibility and that’s that.
I know that the outside world is always going to intrude, even when I raise a child all in one house. I know that I prefer to live close enough to town that we can walk to the farmer’s market, and I know that that means we’re close enough to town to also buy a soda. But this week I can grieve for all I can’t choreograph that I wish I could. I am sad to build a family culture in this way, part-time, that often doesn’t feel whole.