When ex and I first moved to Portland I was a Stay At Home Mom by necessity. Childcare for the 6 month old Goblin girl and almost 4 year old Elf Prince cost more than anyone was willing to pay me. We were able to scrape frugally by on Ex’s grad school loans and my savings, but in the transition from down South up to Oregon the drop in wages and same price of child care locked me into staying home with small ones. Now this was something that I had always been curious about and as an idea it holds a Rockwellian charm. I would be Waldorf at home! I would read about simplicity parenting! This was an unexpected opportunity to
spend every waking moment with bond with the kidlets and be the awesome kind of mother that the free Portland Parenting magazine told me about.
And I did. I was.
Living near a natural area we went on walks EVERY DAY. Rain or shine. We visited every park in the city. We found neat rocks. We went on long bike rides to collect fall leaves and iron them between wax paper to preserve their color. I cooked three home made meals a day and baked bread regularly. I sewed Halloween costumes, made decorations, painted most of the rooms in my rental, found housemates so that we didn’t end up destitute, went berry picking on Mt.Hood. Cleaned constantly so our bare bone secondhand furnishings were obsessively clean and tidy. I was going to be the PERFECT SAHM.
I soon realized that to save my fraying bits of sanity I needed to take some short breaks. and the money thing was still a thing. So I got a job helping vend at the farmer’s market. I have vended at farmers’ markets almost continuously since I was 19 in addition to any other job that I was holding down at any time. Farmer’s markets are fun, I like being outside, I like food. I like taking home lots of free food and eating piles of vegetables that I didn’t have to buy.
However there is a dark path that leads from the intersection of lonely SAHM and excessive produce: Canning.
It began innocently enough with pickles. I love pickles! They are great! I had made them before in my all-of-the-time-in-the-world pre-child days of yore. I could do it with the Goblin in the ergo. And, when poor, home canned pickles make a great Christmas present. The kind that screams “I am too broke and cheap to buy you a nice gift so now I will fill you with guilt at my superior SAHM skills”.
Pickles were only the beginning. There is a natural progression from pickles to dilly beans, bread-n-butter cucumbers, beets in balsamic, jalapenos, carrots and cauliflower, apple sauce, jam, jelly , marmalade, and apple butter cooked in the slow cooker. Tomatoes could take me multiple cannings to go through 50lbs! Days of work! And I was feeding my family. I was providing. I was staying at home and taking care of everyone just like I agreed to.
By the end of summer I was prepared. There were 5 gallons of tomatoes. 60 half pints of jam, and enough pickles that I was considering buying vinegar in bulk. I felt empty inside. My hopes and dreams were stacked in mason jars in the pantry waiting to be served so I could prove that I was worth something. Look how fulfilled I am, we will not starve when the cold winds come!
There is no canners anonymous. Books, magazines, blogs and seasonal family friendly to-dos only enable someone with a problem. I never noticed the wan smiles of friends when I would show up at their house with another mason jar. My desperation was such that I couldn’t imagine them thinking “A fucking bottle of wine would be great next time”.
It wasn’t until the abyss was far behind me that I realized how bad things had gotten. Life changes pulled me out of my Martha Stuart Collection bear trap: Making art again, starting The Tinderbox with Jessie, working my way up from seasonal and then part time to full time at my rad job. Separating from Ex. While I deeply appreciated the opportunity that I had to try staying home, and am grateful for the solo time with my kidlets that life was not for me.
Though I no longer have to fill my emotional needs with seasonal fruits and vegetables I had developed a taste for the better things in life. The flavor of jam that actually tastes like blueberries and crushed tomatoes that smell like August. I do not have the time or energy to work at farmer’s markets. Same goes for nights in the kitchen over boiling pots armed with a jar lifter. I only canned 10 pints of tomatoes this year and 4 quarts of jam. Last night my Housemate/sister/wife opened a jar to make pasta sauce. I watched her jealously from across the kitchen, my brain ticking off how many were left. DOES SHE REALIZE THERE ARE STILL FIVE MONTHS UNTIL TOMATO SEASON ?. I don’t know if the supplies will hold out that long but scarcity makes me empathize with the problems faced by earlier settlers to Oregon. Will we make it to summer? Will we be forced to buy Prego?
If you or your loved ones are suffering from compulsive canning I would love to hear about it, or you can send pickles.