A Condensed Parenting Manual

There’s an odd line from Lee in Steinbeck’s East of Eden that’s always stuck with me, since I first read the book when I was sixteen or so: I will not put my finger in any human pie. What a strange metaphor (as if we’re baked goods?).

Tomorrow is Woodbury Pie Breakfast, the community-wide sit down to pie and coffee, live music and cabin fever conversation. This afternoon is pie baking in my house, as I suspect it will be in many Woodbury kitchens. The question around town is, What kind of pie are you baking? Or, wishfully muttered, I hope I get some of Skip’s chocolate with raspberry swirl this year.

Pie is easy – crust and filling – but human pie? Human creation? A family member this winter drove to North Dakota and joined the Standing Rock Protests, then disappeared underground, in a variation of Five Easy Pieces, with not a word to family he had left behind. He must have profoundly believed he was called to that Jihadist path, leaving behind a grief like earth crudely harrowed up but untended, uncultivated.

Steinbeck is likely at the heart of my own raw parenting philosophy. As one daughter steps into adulthood, and the other teeters on adolescence, my mantra repeats Socratic self-examination: What the heck are you doing – and why? What an annoyance it must be to have a mother more concerned with keeping the darkness of Nihilism at bay, rather than building a really stellar college application.

March is always the season of entropy, cabin fever, quarreling. We’re surrounded by depths of snow: Currier and Ives picturesque, and a real complication, too. And that’s another metaphor.

I believe that there is one story in the world, and only one. . . . Humans are caught—in their lives, in their thoughts, in their hungers and ambitions, in their avarice and cruelty, and in their kindness and generosity too—in a net of good and evil. . . . There is no other story. A man, after he has brushed off the dust and chips of his life, will have left only the hard, clean questions: Was it good or was it evil? Have I done well—or ill?

– John Steinbeck, East of Eden