The Nouveau Appalachia Parent


When you visit the Virginia mountains with your children, you are likely to encounter a specific type of mother.

She doesn’t vaccinate her children. She’s likely to call them “Moon Pie”. And she will allow them a healthy serving of dirt – as only a snack, of course.

True story.

And if you’re thinking that my words resemble judgment, it’s only because I envy the freedom this kind of parenting affords to children and parents alike.

But my graduate studies in infectious disease and the whole concept of herd immunity ruined me.

This week back home we dabbled in the nouveau Appalachia circles just outside of my hometown. Frankly, we all want similar things for our kids – at least in terms of big picture success and well-being. And since I don’t teach in the summer, I fit right in with the other sweaty mothers (even if my tennis shoes did violate footwear norms).

We were watching the children splash in collected rainwater at a local nature park when my mother did the unthinkable.

“Your daughter is eating dirt!” Truthfully, her pointing was almost more painful than her blunt intervention.

Silently, I prayed her grandmother status would diffuse what could easily be perceived as mommy wars ammunition.

The mother, standing in undone leather sandals, glanced at her daughter. “Oh, she eats dirt. She likes eating leaves and sand right now.”

But then the child looked over at us expressionless. Her mouth – complete with an ash gray beard – appeared to be full, too full to speak.

As the mother slowly climbed the makeshift wooden stairs, her fear was palpable. Her daughter had been eating rocks.

I remember the mother leaving shortly thereafter with final, overtly public commentary directed at her child: “Rocks are not a part of your beneficial diet.”

She quietly thanked my mother as she passed.

And somewhere deep down, I think my mother offered her own gratitude – that though her daughter be many things, she knows where to draw the line.

And, I’ll admit, I enjoyed carrying my dripping daughter back to the car in only a diaper.

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