A good friend, who had three boys as well, told me she only bought white sports socks, the same brand every time. After doing the wash she threw all socks into the "sock box" — no pairing necessary. When the kids needed socks they would go to the box and pick out two. She knew they would match. I asked her what she did about dark socks for dress? She said white worked fine. Her boys went to college never having worn anything but white athletic socks. She had saved herself hundreds of hours of matching and folding socks. It was brilliant.
Unfortunately, I heard this little nugget too late to implement in my own home. After years of going barefoot, Tommy developed a heightened sense of touch and became particular about the socks he wore. Because I was unable to figure any of this out myself, I had to take him to different stores, where he would put his hand inside dozens of socks and usually reject them. "They have to feel right," he would say, "or I can't wear them." I hope he has a kid just like him.
But I did pick up some valuable hours when I abandoned my mother's incredibly high standard for homemade dinners. She was an amazing cook and an even more impressive baker. When I think about my childhood, I remember coming down the stairs in the mornings to one of my favorite hot breakfasts. A cake or a couple pies would already be in the oven, and on the counter sat eight to ten lunch bags, packed with thick meaty sandwiches, potato chips, and homemade cookies, brownies, or a large piece of triple-decker chocolate cake. On Fridays, lunch was tuna fish sandwiches along with all the goodies. One of my brothers would sometimes ask Mom for an extra dessert so he could trade up or sell it. (He became a lawyer.)
I made it easy for Mom — no sandwich Monday through Thursday, just peanut butter crackers. Tuna worked fine for Fridays. Even though our names were on the brown paper bags, I would still occasionally get the wrong one. Don't know how, as the boys' lunches weighed in at about five pounds. But when it happened, I would open the bag at lunchtime and gag. I couldn't even look at the monstrous sandwich. But I wasn't worried. I knew somewhere in the school one of my brothers was staring at peanut butter crackers — he'd be around shortly.
Mom fed 11 mouths once again at dinner, and every night we ate a balanced meal: meat, potatoes or rice, vegetables, bread and a homemade dessert. We never had pizza. There was no way I could match her. As fine a tradition as it was, and as great as it would have been for my boys, I couldn't manage it most of the time — not even with only a third the kids.
Instead I did take a few of her recipes and treated my kids to them regularly. I learned to make her spaghetti sauce, for instance, and would make a double batch — we would eat it for lunch or dinner for days. And like Mom, I loved to bake, so homemade cookies were a common sight in our home. But so were mac 'n' cheese, Spaghetti-Os, and pizza. I would make the boys drink a glass of milk with these meals to calm my conscience.
Once, a friend told me Wednesday was pancake night in her home. What a terrific idea, I thought — simple and easy. I tried it. My kids balked, "This is breakfast food, Mom. Where is dinner?" So I got out the Hot Pockets — they were easier than pancakes anyhow.
Did I feel good about this radical drop in standards from my parent's home? No. But I was a single mom, and I had to find the time to be a good one. So I simplified my life every way I could. It's why I let the boys dress themselves — one less thing on my list. Admittedly this came with a painful adjustment. I liked a clean, sharp look and they couldn't have cared less; comfort was all that mattered to them. Every couple days I'd make certain the clothes on the floor (the boys never used hampers — another guy thing, I think) were washed. Then for school, church and special occasions I required a higher standard — collared shirts and long pants. Pressed and spotless? Not so much.
Much to my amazement, my boys all eventually became remarkably good dressers. So the only damage was to my pride. At times, I was downright embarrassed at how they looked. But I learned not to care. Instead I would laugh — at their clothes and at myself. It really was amusing if you looked at it in the right light.
Reprinted courtesy of Da Capo Lifelong Books.
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