The teacups lined the counter—our yellow chicken mug (my personal favorite), the floral rose, the black hand-made, the one we won at the library. My three oldest girls had taken to an afternoon teatime, likely from reading too much British literature, and I watched my 8-year-old Wendy pour and stir her own tea, then grab the pink depression glass salt shaker and begin shaking furiously over the teacup.
“Hey, hold on there, baby, you know that’s salt right?”
She set it down, satisfied with the hefty pour, “No Mommy, that was Gagi’s sugar shaker.”
My mom had remarried earlier that year, and she and her new husband Mark (both widowers) had built a new house as a fresh start. Combining 30+ years of household stuff had left them with an abundance of odds and ends, which gradually found their way to either the Goodwill or my doorstep.
My kids were thrilled—sifting through boxes of old books, toys, puzzles, dishes, and art was like digging for treasure. My husband and I were happy to get a needed twin bed for our youngest, who had outgrown his crib, and a couch that was much less peed on than the one in our living room. But the favorite find by far for the family was the set of pink depression glass tea cups, plates, bowls, and the salt shaker that made our British teatimes as fancy as any tea held on the British Isles.
That week, I’d posted on the mom’s chat for our church: Any good sugar-free or low-sugar recipes? We are cutting back as a family.
All week, I reported how my kids had really taken to the honey and peanut butter protein balls, the applesauce banana muffins, the maple syrup coffee cake. We would have dessert only once or twice a week, increase whole foods and decrease convenience foods, and we would all feel so great! I made cauliflower rice and roasted chicken legs for dinner, and there wasn’t a single chicken leg left!
Little did I know, my chicken had been seasoned with garlic, paprika, rosemary, and a hefty dose of sugar from the pink depression glass—I had assumed salt shaker my mother had left on my counter.
When my oldest daughter Zuzu was born, my husband and I vowed that nary a granule of sugar would touch her perfect lips until she was at least one year old. When she was three months old, we watched in horror as my mother—Gagi, as the children call her—held her sitting across the booth from us at Steak and Shake, spooning whipped cream into her pink, rosy mouth.
I had talks with her. Reminders—so many reminders—about how we are doing less sugar as a family, which means they don’t need ice cream every day, or gummies for a snack, or cake after every meal. Just cutting back a little from what I grew up with.
My wishes were largely disregarded. But when my mother started visiting us in Georgia, twelve hours away, and brought as many tears as she did Twinkies, it just didn’t seem so important anymore. My father’s alcoholism had reached a point where it had begun to change who he was. We all mourned losing him, tried saving him, and watched him drift further and further away.
I set the pink sugar shaker in the pantry, tallying up all the meals I’d cooked thinking I was salting something when I was sugaring it: broccoli, French fries, hamburgers, zucchini, carrots. I laughed and took a picture and texted it to my mom and sisters in our family group chat telling them what happened. A sugar shaker. Only my mom would have that.
Sometimes we need to let others bring a little sweetness to our kids’ lives even if it isn’t the all-natural, unrefined sweetness we’d choose. Maybe that looks like letting an auntie take a child to a movie when you aren’t big on screens, or playing dressing up for a birthday party even though you aren’t big on Harry Potter, or a dollop of whipped cream in your baby’s perfectly untainted little mouth.
The sugar shaker reminded me not to be so rigid. It showed me that I don’t allow others to love my kids in their own way. Sure, my mom brings in more sugar than I’d like, but she also brings hiking, kayaking, game nights, and the love of a good party. Not to mention, as far as moms—and Gagis—go, mine is really sweet.