broccoli in the mac and cheese

September 24th, 2015

MacCheeseBrocCaulThere comes a day as a parent when you realize you have accomplished nothing because there was nothing to accomplish.

I have a strange relationship with readers. Or rather, they have a strange relationship with me through my books. Some of them are new to parenthood, and so they find me musing about the first terribly shocking and sincere years of raising a child. Some of them are at a later stage and so they find themselves on the outer edge of midlife with grown children. And then there’s me and my family, defying the demography, crossing the currents, merging the streams.

Sixteen years of personal research into parenting and I can tell you this much: it doesn’t work. My conclusions have been premature. The early signs were irrelevant. We do not raise our children. They do not conform to a graph, a glyph, or a stamp. We do not mold them. We have been thoroughly misled and mistaken.

I started clapping before the scene was over; stood up to leave before the encore. There’s a twist, an alternate ending, an extra feature, a director’s cut!

They grow up to make their own choices, and it doesn’t matter if they liked asparagus at age three.

It doesn’t matter if you hid spinach in the meatballs, zucchini in the muffins or broccoli in the mac and cheese.

They have their own interests, and their passions are not based on how many evenings you read them to sleep.

It doesn’t matter if the preschool aide called them a “genius.” I, for one, will never forget that day.

They don’t floss just because you nagged them nightly until they were twelve.

They don’t care just because you do.

Nothing was lost by waking up four times in the middle of the night; nothing was gained by sleeping through.

They have their own hearts, and you cannot mend them.

Their own feet, and you cannot steer them.

Their own voice, and they do not speak the words you sounded out for them so long ago.

My child will not be a giraffe when she grows up (her first choice), not a superhero, a princess, or a cowboy. She probably doesn’t even know what a cowboy is. Or was.

My daughter was born premature, but I was the one ahead of myself. Every expectation has been erroneous. I can finally admit that I don’t have any idea what will happen next or when. I’m eavesdropping through a soundproof door.

I no longer think of my daughter as something for me to do, or parenting as something to accomplish. We are ordinary people who love and need each other in ever-changing and unpredictable ways. Let’s hope I can keep the broccoli out of it.



  1. I love the word unpredictable in this post. In My Stroke of Insight, is a book I love largely for the secondary plot in which a daughter and a mother find themselves together again in a way that was totally unpredicted. And please keep me in your thoughts as I attempt to extract myself from broccoli routine…

    Comment by Cristina Spencer — June 17, 2013 @ 9:01 pm

  2. “I no longer think of my daughter as something for me to do, or parenting as something to accomplish. ” I love this line. Thanks for the beautiful reminder.

    Comment by Sarah @ LeftBrainBuddha — June 18, 2013 @ 3:29 am

  3. Wow. Sounds just like my marriage. I certainly had expectations and hidden broccoli. It was such a shock to realize he was not wrong, just because he wanted to watch the news while he ate dinner. And how I hate to admit it, but, gulp…I am not right just because I want to eat at the table. You hit on my biggest expectation — that relationship could be accomplished. Done. Finito. Thank goodness I was wrong! All the conflicts have drawn us deeper into caring about each other. Love- who would want that to be done?

    Comment by Dawn Downey — June 18, 2013 @ 3:31 am

  4. “I’m eavesdropping through a soundproof door.”

    Amen, sister!

    Comment by adam fisher — June 18, 2013 @ 3:41 am

  5. I love this post! I love how it up-ends the idea that if we just do everything right as parents our child will not have to struggle down their own paths. None of us can predict the future as much as we might want to try. Beautifully written. Thank you.

    Comment by Allison Andrews — June 18, 2013 @ 6:03 am

  6. Brilliant!! Having had not one, but two dawghters who are as different as night and day. My first one (also a premie) never even walked until she was way past the year, Oh! how I drove that poor pediatrician mad! Well, some teachers these two women have turned out to be (and I, the student).How I have marvelled at the way they have handled the sour lemons of their lives! I thought I did so well, here, I wasn’t even clever enough to put broccoli in their mac & cheese. They only have sons,but I’m forwarding this to them.

    Comment by Daisy Marshall — June 18, 2013 @ 12:37 pm

  7. Thank you for saying out loud what I have suspected for so long, but thought I had to be wrong to think.

    Comment by Anonymous in Mpls — June 18, 2013 @ 5:15 pm

  8. Amen.

    Comment by Connie Assadi — June 19, 2013 @ 8:21 am

  9. how terrifying and liberating at the same time. thank you for the reminder that we need again and again.

    Comment by Rachel — June 19, 2013 @ 10:58 am

  10. So utterly beautiful. I love this so so so so much. Thank you.

    Comment by Sarah — June 19, 2013 @ 3:57 pm

  11. […] I hung up, I stumbled upon this wonderful post by Karen Maezen Miller and I realized how many parallels it had with my thoughts on coaching and […]

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  12. […] on a non-related bunny trail from this incredible blog post that has absolutely nothing to do with broccoli in the mac and cheese.  It’s just right in so many […]

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  13. “there comes a strange day when you realize you have accomplished nothing because there was nothing to accomplish”

    these are words on fire, words clear as water, high as the sky–no problem, just take the next step

    thank you teacher


    Comment by daniel — June 19, 2013 @ 7:21 pm

  14. oops, I added “strange” to what you said my ego not fully accepting


    Comment by daniel — June 19, 2013 @ 7:23 pm

  15. a beautiful piece! Having been raised myself by two amazing boys I watch them now with my “daughters” parenting their own children. I am often brought to tears by all the love I am priveliged to witness.

    Comment by Kathy Stanton — June 20, 2013 @ 3:20 am

  16. I have yet to read something from you that doesn’t leave me a little more hollowed out and expanded. Thank-you for this view. 🙂

    Comment by Deborah Boettcher — June 24, 2013 @ 9:11 am

  17. Well shucks..none of it matters? Not even a teeny tiny wee bit? Maybe that’s it then…it does matter but only a teeny tiny wee bit.
    Does this mean I can stop feeling guilty too?!!

    Comment by Crystine — June 25, 2013 @ 10:07 am

  18. “They don’t care just because you do”.

    This explains my 17 year old son a little more for me…thank you.

    Comment by Nancy — July 9, 2013 @ 2:40 pm

  19. I’m reading Momma Zen on our road trip to NY (currently in the car!) Next to me in the front seat sits a bag of zucchini muffins I baked last night for snacks and at our lunch stop I ordered a side of broccoli to add to my kids Mac and cheese. I was discouraged that the muffins are untouched and only 1 of 3 kids ate the broccoli. I’m so glad I stumbled upon your blog and specifically this post. How timely!

    Comment by Corie — July 21, 2013 @ 12:24 pm

  20. I am realizing how true all of this is in my role as a daughter dealing with an elderly mother. The unpredictability of every day, the realization that I can’t fix it, that she will only get older and sicker, is a pall I am having trouble shaking. Thank you for this, Maezen. I will read it several times through today.

    Comment by Clare — September 24, 2015 @ 7:19 am

  21. I am terribly attached to broccoli

    Comment by MJ — September 24, 2015 @ 7:29 am

  22. “They have their own hearts, and you cannot mend them.” Oh my Maezan, how I learned this lesson first hand this past year! Watching/bearing witness to your son/daughter’s first experience with grief…there are no words.

    ps. generously throw freshly harvested green chili into mac n cheese…you’ll never go back.

    Comment by Mary — September 24, 2015 @ 7:54 am

  23. Beautifully put Karen. Thank you for sharing your wisdom. You’ve hit the nail on the head. Bullseye actually. Except, it’s the same with life. We have our expectations, wants, thoughts etc and then what happen’s ….. life.
    It’s a rollercoaster with hidden doors, scary monsters, traps, dead ends but only because we think so and only because we expected something else. And, it’s all perfect. And, I suspect me. you, and others, are in a perfect spot to take the next step …. wherever that goes.

    Just enjoy the process and the scenery. Letting go and trusting.

    Much peace and very much gratitude.

    Comment by Mirosan — September 25, 2015 @ 4:00 am

  24. I love this! I have 16 year old twins and this is exactly where I am right now. Good to know it’s where I am supposed to be.

    Comment by Trish — September 25, 2015 @ 7:32 pm

  25. If nothing is holy, then everything is sacred. Even broccoli. Rock on in your way, Maezen. It’s the only way there is, and I’m so happy you can share it with us! <3

    Comment by Jean Breheney — September 25, 2015 @ 9:11 pm

  26. Everything you write and do is an offering to the universe!
    Happy Birthday Maezen!

    Comment by Rosie — September 26, 2015 @ 1:36 pm

  27. A while ago my daughter (12) and I spoke about puberty. I told her that puberty is about us giving her to herself, letting go and allowing her to be the owner and keeper of herself and her life. Already she is so strong, determined and fierce in her sense of where she wants to go. It is as if she has a rocket inside her that is pushing her towards where she needs to go. It is a mystery to me but amazing to see.
    And I love her so very much. I believe that she will be fine.

    Comment by Simone — September 28, 2015 @ 12:50 am

  28. So. Much. Truth.

    Comment by BK — September 28, 2015 @ 7:17 am

  29. Thank you, as always. A much needed reminder to just get out of the way! I love it. And you.

    Comment by Tina Cornell — September 30, 2015 @ 7:50 am

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