Strawberry Fields, Parenting, and Focusing on the Berry

Oh my gosh, it's Tuesday! And I post here every Monday. And you know what? This Monday I totally forgot. Yesterday was Memorial Day here in the US and this long weekend swept us away. And then this morning when I woke up I wholeheartedly believed it was Monday.

But it's Tuesday. Good grief. It only seemed right to share my Monday adventures with you here on this Tuesday afternoon. (And for the record, I'm planning to stick to my usual Monday blog posts in the future. Seems the holidays have a way of spinning my brain around. Sorry about that, my friends.)

Each year we make our pilgrimage to the Swanton Strawberry Farm in Davenport, CA to pick pounds upon pounds of strawberries. We jam them. We freeze them. We make various compotes and sauces. And we eat them by the hardy handful. This year we were particularly excited to take our two-year-old on the trip. We took him last year but he wasn't yet fully aware of the relationship between food and the soil. Or between the things he loves most to eat and where they originate.

So we drove about 90 minutes south of Oakland to Swanton Farms. The weather was perfect: blue skies, light wind, mild coastal temperatures. We left soon after breakfast and made it to the farm before 10am. But when we arrived at the farm and the farmer politely told us that they were not letting customers pick any berries because they had been over picked on Sunday--well, we tried not to cry over sized tears.

And we tried to fend off our disappoint quickly to keep things on track for avoiding a two-year-old meltdown. "What do you mean we can't pick the berries, Mama?" Becomes a trickier question if Mama, herself, is pouting on the bench next to the smorgasbord of delectable strawberry goods.

But my husband asked a few more questions and the kind farmer agreed to let the children walk through the strawberry fields if they pinkie-swear promised to only pick a handful of berries. We crossed our hearts and eagerly agreed. We could manage.

So fast-forward past a very long sugary snack of strawberry brownies and strawberry cheesecake (Yes, I let my toddler eat sugar and yes, he also eats an array of vegetables and whole grains and dairy and a long list of other foods too) and then we headed towards the fields. And as we arrived to the berries and carefully turned over the many overripe or under-ripe fruits that remained from the busy weekend I was reminded about one of the many things I love about parenting. The opportunity to be fully and completely engrossed in a visceral experience.

Yes, visceral. You cannot eat food around a toddler without being reminded of the very physical experience of eating: preparing food, handling food, chewing food, swallowing food, and tasting food are very dramatic toddler events. And eating strawberries from the vine in an organic strawberry field overlooking the Pacific Ocean on a mild and sunny Monday afternoon? My idea of bliss.

I watched him evaluate each berry on the very technical criteria we had established: Not too mushy and no white parts. And then the predictable squeal of accomplishment when he found the rare red berry that was ready for picking. And then the brief moment of struggle as he twisted the berry from its stem. And then the complete and utter focus as he lifted the warm berry from the plant to his mouth and sank his small milk teeth into the ripe fruit. And then the bliss. His bliss from eating the rare ripe berry, sure, but my bliss in witnessing his experience.

Parenting a toddler is hard. Parenting a toddler is tiring. There are meltdowns. There are tantrums. There are moments when he moves slower than humanly possible when we need to hurry and moments when he moves quicker than comfortable when I want him to slow down.

But it's also so rich. It's so full. It's so completely and utterly touching. Deepening. Expanding. Connecting. Humbling. Playful. Rewarding. And also visceral. He is in his body and his body is his tool to experience the world. And that tool is rapidly gaining technique and precision. It's amazing to watch.

In those moments when something so simple as a ripe strawberry in an over-picked field brings total satisfaction. It's those moments that fill me. That raise my confidence. Not because I'm taking my toddler on excursions to coastal strawberry fields but because I'm being present. Because I'm working on his timeline. Because I'm literally down on his level. I'm helping. I'm noticing. I'm witnessing. And I'm cheering for him. And I'm cheering for me too. Because I know that he sees me seeing him.

And I know this will get more difficult as he gets older. As I get older. As we all get older together. But I also have to genuflect to that over picked strawberry field for all it still had to offer. For the moment to slow down. To be present. To watch him wonder. To adventure together. And for the memory it imprints on my new mother brain. The impression that remains in the midst of all that swiftly changes.

The new voice that says, "Hey, look here, in all this chaotic movement you are somehow totally and completely alive. Now, eat another strawberry before it's too late." And while we didn't get to pick our usual bushels and baskets of berries we did come home with a 1/2 flat of berries picked by the farmers. And we had our fill of strawberry brownies and strawberry cheesecake. And the warm strawberry apple cider was a visceral experience all its own. Yum.

Dear friends, I hope you had a lovely weekend.



  1. Shirley5/30/2014

    Yes! Strawberries! and little kids on small farms is a wonderful thing.

    1. I agree. Little kids on farms is pretty special. And strawberries, no less!


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