What is Mama Ragout?

My thirteen-year-old son thinks I know absolutely nothing about parenting. The funny thing is, I figured that out years ago, back when he still thought I had access to a giant book of Mommy Rules that parents were given with every new baby.

Oh, there was a time when I thought I knew a lot about parenting. I read all of the books. I had a graduate degree in education, which—really—is just like being a parent, right? My someday-children were going to be well mannered and sweet. They would play happily with their organic, hand-made wooden toys while I prepared wholesome foods that would forever train their waiting taste buds to prefer natural goodness and whole grains over processed and artificially sweetened junk food.

And then I met my kids. They’ve taught me that life rarely goes as planned, and that preparing yourself for every possibility will only ensure that the reality you actually face is more bizarre than you ever thought possible.

Some kids are born early. Some decide not to be born at all. Some come out screaming for no good reason and continue at top volume until some predetermined trigger inside them flips and says it’s time to stop. Some kids are fiery, passionately running headlong into the world, ignoring pleas for caution and turning chaos into the status quo. Other kids decide that they’ll only eat beige foods or that they must have everything on the plate covered in glutinous orange cheese sauce. Socks will rub the wrong way after a third attempt at tying finally gets the laces to lay flat the way they want them. Your son may decide that, despite your own preference for cute preppy looks from The Gap, he will only wear elastic-waisted sweats and tee shirts. And no coat.

Life is quirky. It’s messy and spicy and mixed-up and chaotic. At least, that’s how I would describe my life. And while other parents may have experienced a reality that falls closer to their imagined someday-children, I believe that a lot of what we go through in our private, secret lives is universal. It’s like a ragout (rag-ooh)—a highly seasoned stew with a changing combination of ingredients. The results are unique, but still somehow similar to every other stew. And that’s the point here. Welcome to my ragout. Feel free to add something to the mix.

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