Squash custard and the pure devotions of children
Col is on the couch reading, staying one chapter ahead of us in Harry Potter, dropping occasional spoiler-bombs on innocent ears. “I just learned that Rita Skeeter has been eavesdropping by–”
“Coe-uhl, DON’T TELL US!” Rose roars, her feet kicking out of a handstand and crashing down on her rat’s cage.
Col grins, snark pinching the corners of his mouth. He returns to his book, buoyed by his supreme reading power over his sister, who is still swimming in the shallow end of Frog and Toad.
“You shouldn’t be reading ahead, Col! It’s not fair,” Rose protests. I wonder if Rose will someday harness her sensitivity to injustice for the disenfranchised of the world.
“Why do you care?” Col replies.
All I have for them is sighs. Where do they get the energy for all the arguing?
Col returns to reading The Goblet of Fire, the words lifting off the page, creating an impenetrable force field around him. Somewhere on the couch is a boy who needs to clear his airplane drawings off the table, hang up his jacket, but I’d need Harry Potter’s magic to pierce his literature-o-sphere with my voice.
Rose’s body flies past me. Her feet pound the mat in a round-off. Her legs kick over backwards. I think of a spider. So many limbs, all moving at once.
“Are you having a piece of your valentine chocolate today, Col?” Rose asks, mid-cartwheel.
“That means you’ll have nine pieces left and I’ll only have four. That isn’t fair.” Rose stands for a brief moment, arms folded accusatorily across her heaving chest. I don’t tell her that’s because she ate most of her candy the first day she got it. Harness that power for good , Rose.
Col goes back to Harry Potter, his eyes swimming inside a flood of words.
I should be cooking dinner, or editing stories for the magazine, or persuading Col to hang up his jacket but I lie down on the couch, resting my brain, absent-mindedly watching Rose flip back and forth. She does a back walkover for the first time. It’s sort of slow and creaky and hesitant, with a crux moment where she seems to be prodding her legs along like you would a recalcitrant horse.
“You did a back walkover!” I announce, trying to be appropriately excited for her but not praising-excited like the good 21st century mother I’m training to be. Really what I want to say is: holy shit, girl! You fucking rock! You practiced and practiced and taught yourself to do a back walkover for the pure joy of it!
Just like I want to say to Col, You’re reading a 735 page book, dude! Sure, you might ignore a house fire or your own mother’s voice, but I remember when you struggled and struggled through reading, when there was worry and tears. Now you can’t pull yourself out of the orbit of a book.
Here’s the thing. When kids are motivated, they give it all they’ve got. They’re like that: dedicated to their passions without doubts and fears wrestling them into some submissive posture. They push forward as if knocking on a vacant door they’re determined to get through. Rose was bent on learning how to hula hoop, then cartwheel, then to snap with both hands, and now, the back walkover. Knock knock knock.
Col once collected and curated a large collection of rocks. He had a short, loud whistling phase (which I still shudder to remember). His fingers were magnetized to legos for years and then three months ago, he announced, “I think I’m done with legos.” Drawing airplanes followed. Now, reading.
My job is not to panic when their interests can’t be measured on a standardized test, nor when they’re messy or loud or so quiet all you hear is the sounds of boarded up windows advertising “no vacancy,” behind which a small child crouches with his book. This focus and devotion will be their ally as they mature into the complex world of adulthood. My job is to allow space for what wants to emerge next, to celebrate their passions, to allow a metropolis of legos to occupy a corner of our living room for four years, to continually scoot the gymnastics mat (formerly known as my camping pad) out of the kitchen when it migrates, to let the kitchen table become plastered with airplane pictures, to get off the couch and make squash custard.
It’s dessert, breakfast, snack, and side dish. It’s the nutrient dense, yummy, healthy answer to the 55 winter squash we tucked into our root cellar back in October. Plus, the kids *ask* for it.
One large winter squash (or approx 4 cups cooked squash). We’ve used every squash you can think of. All successful.
1/2 can coconut milk
4-6 TBSP softened butter
4 TBSP honey (Optional: we don’t use sweetener, but our kids are brainwashed to think fatted-up winter squash is sweet enough).
1-2 TBSP pumpkin pie spice (cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves)
1 TBSP vanilla
1/2 TBSP salt
Mix everything in one bowl, or in food processor for super smoothness. Pour into greased casserole dish. Bake at 350F for 40 minutes or until cooked through and nicely browned on top.