I recently won a Ball FreshTech Canner in a Grit blogging contest, and I couldn't have been more surprised. It's an incredible tool that I probably wouldn't have bought for myself, so I think it's very cool.
It's been here for a few days, and I still haven't taken it out of the box yet, partly because I started a new job this week and I have been slammed with unfamiliar activities, and partly because, well, I'm a little freaked. When I think of pressure canners, I can't help but think of explosions and food poisoning. I'm not proud of it, but this is new territory for me.
I was with a coworker this afternoon and I happened to mention the canner to him.
"I'll show you what you do with it," he said, and promptly led me out to his garage, where he showed me a whole shelf full of home-canned food: chicken, soups, relishes, carrots, beans, tomatoes ... it was amazing. He even sent me home with samples, which I can't wait to try.
Still, I have been feeling leery about trying this new thing that involves risk. I'm not a fan. And yet, I will definitely be putting this canner through its paces sometime in the future, because a wise little girl taught me, seven years ago now, that pretty much everything good or significant in life begins with three little letters: TRY.
As the parent of a young child, I spent a lot of time thinking about the content of her education. She was not yet “school age,” but we were still educating her every day. The education that she was getting would equip her — or not — for more academic activities. Which is why this was the very core of our homeschool curriculum: Try again.
I have been instructing my daughter in try again her entire life — from so early, in fact, that I didn’t realize that I was doing it. When she was very little, and she would erupt in a fit of frustration about something, I would tell her, you have two choices: ask for help, or try again. I wasn’t trying to teach her to always try again. I was trying to get her to stop screaming. In fact, I was so unfocused on the try again part that when it became clear it had taken root in my daughter’s character, it came as a surprise to me. Once I became aware of the extent to which she had internalized this lesson, though, I went out of my way to reinforce it.
My daughter loved to “be” other people, and one of the things I wanted to do was to take her to a play so she could see people onstage. Much to my delight, the absolute perfect opportunity cropped up. A local arts center put on a production of Sleeping Beauty, with a cast consisting of about fifty local kids. When I told my daughter that I’d gotten us tickets to see this production, she said, “I want to do that.” She was still pretty young, and it seemed prudent for her to actually see a play and know what one is before auditioning for one. Her response: “I don’t want to watch! I want to act!”
I explained to her what audition meant, and what a play was, and we’d been talking about it a lot. A few days before the performance, she announced, “I’m going to be in a play when I get older.” Every day or so, out of the blue, she would turn to me and say, “I’m going to audition and if they say yes I can be in it, and if they say no, I’ll try again.”
Because you see, when I defined “audition” for her, I included “try again”.
She enjoyed the play. I would like for her to have been a little more quiet; a little more still. But when you’re three, it’s hard to see over the heads of the people in front of you. It’s hard to sit silently still for an hour and a half, and all things considered, she did pretty well. At one point, she turned to me and whispered, “Can I go up there?”
“Where?” I whispered back. “On the stage?”
“Yes,” she nodded.
She watched. She laughed. She commented. She clapped. When it was over, we went back out into the lobby. I asked her if she enjoyed the play. Yes. I asked her if she was ready to go. No.
“I want to see Sleeping Beauty,” she said.
“I want to talk to her.”
“You mean the actress?”
She nodded. “I want to talk to her.”
“I think she’s pretty busy right now,” I told her. “She hasn’t come out yet. She might not even come out this way. She’s probably backstage changing out of her costume.” I looked down through the doors of the auditorium. “Look, she’s on stage right now, getting her picture taken,” I told her.
“I want to talk to her.”
Changing. Busy. Pictures. She may not come out. And the thing that was inherent in all of those excuses that I was making: Sleeping Beauty doesn’t have time for you. Just listen to me. For shame.
My daughter had a desire and she expressed it. She did not conceive of disappointment or failure. I would have accepted any of my excuses to avoid the potential of discomfort or embarrassment. And that’s when it first dawned on me that “try again” is more than the building back up of fallen blocks. Before try again, there must be a try. Sooner or later, both try and try again are going to take you out of your comfort zone, and traveling outside of my comfort zone has never been my modus operandi.
My daughter was no longer the student here. The grasshopper was teaching me.
“We’ll wait here for a few minutes,” I said finally. “Maybe she’ll come out.”
My daughter did get a chance to talk to Sleeping Beauty. We went down to the front of the auditorium. Her father got Beauty’s attention as she stepped down off of the stage. My daughter looked so small there amongst all of those adults and teenagers, but only in stature. Her personality, her spirit, her self-confidence was as large as anyone’s there.
I don’t know what they said to one another. I only know that Beauty leaned down towards my daughter and hugged her. They exchanged some words. My daughter’s face was positively aglow.
It was an amazing moment. Small in the overall scheme of things, I suppose, but momentous for my daughter, and momentous for me. The whole time that I watched her there, I was only one small gesture away from dissolving into sobs.
I think that I was just so proud of her.
Later, we were watching Max and Ruby on Nick Jr. It was the episode called “Max’s Music” or something like that. Ruby’s friends were arriving so that their musical trio could practice. Ruby was at the piano
“Do you want to play the piano?” I asked my daughter.
Ruby stood in the middle of her living room carpet. She said something about taking these instruments off “the stage.”
My daughter said, “That’s not a stage.”
“Do you still want to be on a stage?” I asked her.
She nodded. She said, “I want to act.”
“I think you need to be a little older to audition,” I told her. I’d looked into it. The local playhouses and theatre companies didn’t start letting kids audition until they were five or six. My daughter nodded, okay with that.
I’ve tried a lot of new things for the first time this year. I’ve started a garden from seeds. I’ve grown things that I’ve never grown before. I’ve canned pickles and tomatoes, sauces, jam, and relishes. I’ve made sauerkraut in a mason jar. And don’t even get me started on blogging. A year ago I didn’t even take “blogging” seriously as a vocabulary word. Today, I find that I am discovering people out there in cyberspace that I not only take seriously, but respect and admire. One’s world is always ready and waiting and able to expand.
But only if you try.
Only if you try again.
So... What can I say? I am absolutely going to have to can something because, for one thing, I sure want the grasshopper to be proud of me. I believe some research is in order. When I actually do the deed, I will be sure to post about it here.
Get Shannon's e-book, How To Be At Home: Essays on Parenting, Patience, and Creativity for FREE at www.shelfspacebooks.com.