The landscape of my childhood was not a green square. “Out of the house!” my mother would insist on summer mornings. We were not welcome back until lunchtime, when she would pass paper plates through the back door to us, cool, conditioned air creeping through the crack for a moment before it was slammed shut again. No one asked us where we were going or what we were doing. We dug holes in the sandy soil, built a fire inside, and boiled muscadines and flower petals to make potions, spread our shorts and t-shirts on the sandy bank of the slough so we could return home clean, waded through brackish water to conquer cities of abandoned concrete culverts, climbed trees, fought, spied through windows, frightened each other in the pet cemetery, slept outside, faced off mean dogs, caught tiny frogs and lightening bugs, and never got lost. I imagined my children would do the same. From the moment they were born, though, I was constantly bombarded with a single message: the world is dangerous, they must not go out in it, keep them close. Maternal fear and protectiveness is a powerful instinct. And so they have grown up safe, strapped in, fed well, protected. I have searched my neighborhood online for sexual predators. They have never, not once, ridden in a car without a seatbelt. They do not eat high fructose corn syrup or trans fats. Their water bottles are BP free. We lock the doors at night. They know what to do if someone tries to touch them inappropriately. They have our phone numbers memorized. The batteries in our smoke detectors have been tested and are working.
Several weeks ago, I woke up in the middle of the night, gripped by a new fear: what is happening to their childhood? Tess is 11, almost a teenager, and she has never explored the world on her own, woven a reality for herself out of bits of string and crossed fingers, never navigated secret paths, or looked to the sky to judge how far away the rain is. Liam, not quite two years younger, has never come home with his pockets full of dead crickets and sticks, has not put a penny on a railroad track, has not followed his sister up a tree away from my watchful eye, buried anything nor dug it up later, has not eaten anything from the woods on a dare, or skipped rocks. What startled me awake was the tiny frogs from my own childhood. I woke up remembering that after a rain, you could run out into the ozone-scented air, the sky still purple, and collect them by the hundreds in a jar. I haven’t seen them in years. Where have they gone? Have they been decimated by pollution, contamination, disturbance to their habitat? I don’t know, but I do know that if I had spent every summer afternoon carefully sequestered inside or safe in a green square yard, I would never know that they had ever been there in the first place, and not able to worry now about where they’ve gone. Not only have I been coddling my children out of the uninhibited joys of childhood, but I have been robbing their adult selves out of a precious belief that the world is beautiful, magical, worth saving. So, armed with the knowledge that the world is actually safer than it was when I was a child, I sent them out into it. For the first few days, I fretted, and they skulked around the door, trying to come back inside. Soon, though, I began to need to call them home for dinner, and they came tumbling back, muddy, pink-cheeked and laughing, hungry for a warm dinner, their eyes wide with secrets and the shared knowledge of what they’d been up to. I didn’t ask.
Roasted Winter Squash with Porcini and Cream
adapted from Roast Figs Sugar Snow
This is more of a method than a recipe–the quantities are adaptable and will vary depending on what sort of squash you use. You could even use a small pumpkin, or a red kuri squash.
acorn, butternut or confection squash, tops cut off and seeds scraped out–if using butternut, cut lengthwise
dried porcini mushrooms, covered in boiling water and soaked until tender
very thinly sliced garlic (about 1-2 cloves per squash)
fresh rosemary, minced
softened butter (about 1 T per squash)
salt and pepper
grated parmesan (about 1/4 c per squash)
Preheat oven to 350. Rub the cut sides and cavities of squash with softened butter and season with salt and pepper. Drain porcinis and chop coarsely. Place sliced garlic, porcinis, and a good pinch of minced rosemary inside each cavity. Fill cream about 2/3 way up cavity. Place in oven and roast until squash is tender. Top off with a little more cream if it looks as though they’re drying out. Near the end of roasting, sprinkle each squash with parmesan and return to oven until cheese is golden and squash are completely tender. To serve, top with sprigs of rosemary and let guests scoop out squash with cream and mushrooms.