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A page from her book: Mrs. Sowerby
I’m on a bread-baking kick, and it has reminded me of a passage from one of my favorite books from childhood, The Secret Garden. Mrs. Sowerby is the mother figure of this book, and her ways remind me to get back to basics when it comes to raising kids. Mary and Colin, the central figures, are introduced as petulant, sickly children who spend most of their time isolated inside their grand estates being cared for by servants. The rural Mrs. Sowerby's son Dickon helps them to reclaim their physical and emotional health, as he is the epitome of rugged well-being: “I never ketched cold since I was born. I wasn’t brought up nesh enough. I’ve chased about th’ moor in all weathers same as th’ rabbits does. Mother says I’ve sniffed up too much fresh air for twelve year’ to ever get to snifflin’ with cold. I’m as tough as a white-thorn knob stick” (99). Dickon is compassionate toward Mary and Colin and teaches them how to marvel at the wonders of plants, animals, and human nature inside the secret garden, which is ultimately what makes them whole.
Mrs. Sowerby recognizes that her kids need good food and good fun as much as they need the fresh Yorkshire air. As she chats with her son about Mary and Colin, she says, “‘Good, healthy child laughin’s better than pills any day o’ th’ year. That pair’ll plump up for sure’. … ‘When tha’ goes to ‘em in th’ mornin’s tha’ shall take a pail o’ good new milk an’ I’ll bake ‘em a crusty cottage loaf or some buns wi’ currants in ‘em, same as you children like’. … ‘They’re two young ‘uns growin’ fast, an’ health’s comin’ back to both of ‘em. Children like that feels like young wolves, an’ food’s flesh an’ blood to ‘em’, said Mrs. Sowerby. Then she smiled Dickon’s own curving smile. ‘Eh! But they’re enjoyin’ themselves for sure,’ she said.
She was quite right, the comfortable wonderful mother creature--” (233-4).
The joy of feeding growing kids is for me an inherent part of motherhood. I love watching my young wolves gobble down fresh bread and butter, or a big plate of spaghetti, and there is something so satisfyingly primal about providing it for them. And a healthy appetite really does come from letting them get dirty and play outside. Think of your kids after a day at the beach: they’re wiped out, sun-kissed, and starving. I worry about bug bites, sunscreen, broken bones, allergies, germs. But that connection to the earth and to each other is as natural as mother’s milk, and just as essential.
Once while at the park, my middle (about two years old at the time) wanted to splash in a muddy puddle. My first instinct was “Omg he’s going to get filthy, I don’t have extra clothes with me, he’s not even wearing boots, etc,” but as he looked up at me with a dimpled smirk and gleam in his eye, I let him go for it. As he was stomping away, another toddler ran over and wanted to do the same. His mother grabbed his hand and said, in a perfectly enunciated and purposefully loud manner, “No no. WE don’t do things like that.” As she scooped him up and walked off in a huff, I felt embarrassed, annoyed, and a bit defiant. I began to think about what it meant to be the kind of mother who does “things like that”. And you know what? I say let them splash. I’m pretty sure Mrs. Sowerby would say so, too.
Burnett, Frances Hogdson. The Secret Garden. Watermill: 1987.