Elphine and Tea

Elphine and Tea November 24, 2015

In the spirit of thankfulness, which, like the spirit of Christmas, is kind of an angsty fit for me, I want to deviate from my normal garbaging up of the Internet and join in the blogging giveaway going at tweetspeak. They’re giving away lovely beautiful copies of Laura Brown’s Everything That Makes You Mom. You should stop reading this and rush over there and enter, but then come back here and read this, which is my own entry–a song of love for that life giving elixir, Tea.

As I mention so frequently, my oldest child is now thirteen. She is my practice child, the child for whom I have done everything wrong and been relieved to discover that it didn’t really matter. Since the first moment of holding her tiny person, to being bashed in the shins by her careless, hefty, enthusiastic and klutzy boot, she has exerted her own personality into the world. Whereas I am pretty sure nobody should be doing whatever it is, eventually she helps me see that, in fact, yes she should.

This is more true than anything in the matter of Tea.

Now you have to understand. We don’t drink tea around here in order to relax and be refreshed and stop for a quiet moment of reflection in the hurly burly of busy life. When a person wants a cup of tea, around here, it’s not the moment we begin pulling out the pretty cups and the strainer and rummaging around for a box with a flavor on it. Tea is a matter of survival. I would go even so far as to say it is a matter of life and death. When the Americans threw all the tea into the Boston Harbor, some small part of me that wasn’t yet in existence, obviously, died.

Tea is what you drink first thing, furtively, desperately, knowing that if you can’t down the whole pot without interruption, the day won’t be live-able. It has to be dark, black tea, in a teapot, with boiling hot water poured straight in, and then you walk away and let it sit and chew your fingernails in an effort to cope. Where you all have counseling and therapy, I have Tea.

Being a mother, of course, the tea is mine. Small children can drink milk or something. But my mother comes to visit every now and then, and, in the early days of the children, she would arrange them all in the kitchen and give them tea behind my back. It’s not that I didn’t want them to have tea, it’s that I didn’t want them to like it because eventually she would leave and I would be the one standing there, slewing milk and sugar and hot liquid and losing my temper. I would sidle in as she poured and chatted and mopped up and make speeches about how they should enjoy it now, while Nonnie is here, because it’s back to plain milk when she’s gone.

As Elphine got older, and Nonnie kept visiting, she would, through the persuasive arts of chiding, whining, and picking at me, manage to extend the tea time for some many weeks longer. I would be shoved into the role of standing in the kitchen pouring and mopping, sometimes chatting, though not so cheerfully and graciously. And then, finally, came the moment when Elphine, sizing me up with a critical air, seeing that my feet were up and that I clearly didn’t want to do anything, asked if she could have tea.

“Of course not,” I said, “I just sat down.”

“Oh,” she said, “well, I’ll make it.”

I looked at her. I observed her short stature, her wild hair, her wiggling feet.

“Really?” I said, “You’ll make it? Do you know what to do?” She looked at me in gentle condescension. Of course she knew what to do. I didn’t even say yes. I just lay back in my chair and closed my eyes and praised the God of Love who causes children to grow up and gives them whatever it is that’s required but is beyond the parent to provide.

She banged around the kitchen for awhile and emerged with a tray, the bigger pot, cups, milk. And then she sucked her’s down. Which is where we are now. She walks in to wherever I am and says “is there fresh tea” and I shake my head sadly and she goes and makes some and then she sucks it loudly through her teeth and I say, “don’t do that.” Sometimes I find her in the kitchen, the little girls arranged around the table, pouring and chatting, though, to my total chagrin, never mopping up.


Photo by Sonia Joie. Used by permission.


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